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Historic England Research Records

Grimes Graves

Hob Uid: 382869
Location :
Norfolk
Breckland
Weeting-with-Broomhill
Grid Ref : TL8175889781
Summary : Grime's Graves is a flint mining complex dating to the Neolithic period with the earliest evidence of activity from around 3000 BC. It comprises 433 mineshafts, pits, quarries and spoil dumps which survive as earthworks covering an area of 7.6 hectares. It is one of just ten Neolithic flint mines known to have existed in England, of which six still exist as earthworks. The reason why flint was ever mined here, however, remains uncertain as sufficient amounts exist on the surface. It may be possible that mined flint was highly prized for its aesethic appearance and that mining for it 'was invested with important ceremonial purpose.'While there was very little Early Bronze Age activity on the site, there is vast evidence of occupation during the Middle Bronze Age period from circa 1500-1150 BC. While the remains of any houses are yet to be found, archaeologists have discovered large rubbish deposits dating to this period. They contained many types of animal bones, evidence of crop cultivation as well as indications of textile production, pottery manufacture and leather and wood working.Pottery sherds and two inhumation burials provide evidence of Iron Age occupation (800BC-AD43) while further pottery sherds have been found to date to the Roman period (AD 43-410).The site is thought to have been used as a rabbit warren by Broomehill Priory from 1224, however by the 16th century it was used for grazing sheep. Coniferous woodland was planted here in around 1820 and it was well established at the time of the first archaeological excavations in 1852. The site passed into public ownership in 1931 and is currently opened to the public by English Heritage (2010).
More information : (TL 817898) Grime's Graves (NR) Flint Mines (NAT) (TL 81908981) Grimshoe (NAT) Tumulus (NR) (1)

See pamphlet. (2)

Grimshoe is not a very convincing round barrow; probably a dump of flint mining refuse. Evidence of Late Bronze Age occupation in the area has been found in at least nine places. The principal site, now cleared of all but young bushes, is in the care of the DOE and comprises nearly 300 recognisable pits, many overlapping and run together. Two pits at TL 81718988 and 81708992 have been excavated and are open to the public at times. Another at TL 81708967 has also been explored as can be seen from the spoil in the two adjacent pits to the NE and SW. There are two current excavations: a very deep pit at TL 81878993 by the DOE, at present covered by a temporary corrugated iron shed; at TL 81878977 by the British Museum. This latter is Canon Greenwell's original pit, and from re-excavation it is hoped to gain further clues regarding the location of the occupation site. Surface excavations have been conducted along the E and S perimeter. West of the main concentration, but within 150m, are a few more scattered pits, and to the NW, in an area 900m E-W by 400m N-S centred TL 811902, nearly 40 random pits could be identified. Depths range from the merest depression to 5.0m in the extreme in the main area, whilst the NW outliers are mostly shallow. Re-surveyed at 1:2500. (3)

Full Report on excavations 1971-72 (4)

Additional references (5-7)

The earthworks at Grimes Graves were surveyed by RCHME in April-May 1995 as part of the project to record industry and enclosure in the Neolithic. At the same time, documentary evidence relating to all known archaeological investigation at the site was examined (NOTE that Grimshoe has, as a result, been recorded separately as TL 88 NW 61). Today, the extant earthworks cover some 6 hectares, and represent some 433 flint mine shafts and associated spoil heaps. In general the smaller, shallow shafts lie on the northern and western slopes of the valley, while the larger, deeper depressions cluster in the south-west. The largest reaches over 20m in diameter, and the deepest is just over 3m in depth. A series of double, triple, and linear quarries are present within the complex, and these may represent two-level working. Shafts covering a further 4 hectares of the valley slope have been obscured by cultivation. A parchmark appearing to represent a penannular ring ditch of c20m diameter was recorded just to the south west of the extant earthworks. Earthworks on MOD land to the north of the mine complex, and referred to by the OS as mine-shafts, are in fact recent artillery positions.

The first major excavation was undertaken by William Greenwell in 1868-70, and represents the first occasion at which the existence of deep shaft and gallery flint mining was recognised in Britain. No further excavation appears to have occurred again until 1914, following erroneous suggestions that the mining may have been Palaeolithic rather than Neolithic in date. Subsequently numerous individuals undertook work at the site, most notably Leslie Armstrong whose excavations continued almost uninterrupted until 1939, although supporters of the Neolithic dating had won the argument by the late 1920s. Among Armstrong's most notable discoveries was the existence of considerable evidence for later, Bronze Age, activity at the site, as well as the fact that flint extraction in the Neolithic had covered a much wider area than that represented by the extant earthworks, and had taken a variety of forms. Among his more notorious discoveries were a number of flint flakes with incised designs, some apparently resembling animals, scratched into their outer surface. The apparently fortuitous similarity between some of these designs and examples of Palaeolithic cave art from the Dordogne and other areas did not escape attention at a time when the dating of the site was still in dispute. More notorious still was the carved chalk figurine, or "goddess" which, along with other items of carved chalk, was found at the bottom of Pit 15 during Armstrong's last summer at the site, 1939. Although long regarded as an authentic piece of Neolithic sculpture, there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest that the piece is of rather more recent origin.

Excavations did not resume until the 1970s. Roger Mercer (1971-2, on behalf of the Dept of Environment) and the British Museum (1972-76) have ensured that Grime's Graves remains the most widely explored and best known flint mine in England, though ironically it differs from other known sites in a number of important respects. Most significant of these are:

i) date - mining at Grime's Graves was wholly Late Neolithic, occurring during the early to mid 3rd millennium BC. The others, where reliable dating evidence exists, belong to the Early Neolithic - the first half of the 4th millennium BC, with little indication of overlap;

ii) location - the other confirmed sites are all located on the chalk of Southern England, particularly the South Downs in Sussex;

iii) the clear association of Grooved Ware pottery with the mining process.

In addition to the Neolithic mining, the site has also produced extensive evidence for Bronze Age activity, something initially encountered by Armstrong and subsequently targeted by both Mercer and the British Museum. The Middle Bronze Age debris seems to comprise primarily midden material, with no indication of in situ occupation. The site has produced one of the largest collections of Deverel-Rimbury pottery so far found in southern England, as well as the largest assemblage of Middle Bronze Age metalworking debris, including mould fragments which appear to represent the casting of bronze spearheads.

For full details of the earthwork survey, see the RCHME Level 3 archive report, which also contains an account of the field walking, as well as plans and interpretative drawings of the earthworks. The original earthwork plan at 1:1000 scale, together with photographs of the earthworks and accessible mine shafts, are also held in the archive along with a more detailed account of archaeological work at the site and a fuller bibliography. (8)

Additional references. (8-29)

Anglo-Saxon in origin, the place name Grime's Graves is derived from the pagan god Grim and means 'Grim's quarries' or 'Devil's holes'. It was one of just ten Neolithic flint mines known to have existed in England, of which only six still exist as earthworks. It covers an area of 7.6 hectares and consists of 433 mineshafts, pits, quarries and spoil dumps.

Grime's Graves is a multi-phase site which dates back to the Neolithic period, with evidence of activity from around 3000 BC. There was very little Early Bronze Age activity on the site, however there is vast evidence of occupation during the Middle Bronze Age from circa 1500-1150 BC. While the remains of any houses are yet to be found, archaeologists have uncovered large middens, numerous pottery fragments, evidence of metal-working and a vast amount of worked flint. The middens revealed evidence of the production of textiles, as well as pottery manufacture and leather and wood working. The presence of wheat and barley seeds suggests crop cultivation and numerous types of animal bones indicate the consumption of meat and dairy products.

Evidence of Iron Age activity at Grime's Graves, from around 800BC to AD43, has been discovered in the form of pottery sherds of this date, as well as two inhumation burials. Pottery sherds dating to the Roman period (AD 43-410) are all that have been uncovered from this time, however the weathered nature of them suggest that they may have even been brought to the site after this period.

Grime's Graves is thought to have been owned by Broomehill Priory from 1224 and it may have been put to use as a rabbit warren. By the 16th century the site was used for grazing sheep. Coniferous woodland had been planted above the mines in around 1820 and it was well established by the middle of the century.

The site was first excavated in 1852 by Reverend Pettigrew and Reverend Manning. Reverend Manning excavated the site again in 1866. The records from these early digs were fairly poor however. The most significant excavation work was carried out in 1868-70 by Canon Greenwell who identified for the first time that flint mines were prehistoric sites.

Grime's Graves passed from the Forestry Commission into public ownership in 1931. It was designated as a Sit of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1985.

Questions have been raised as to why the flint was mined when there were adequate quantities available as surface deposits. Some argue that the deeper layers contained the better quality flint, especially for making axes and other large tools. While it wasn't essential to use mined flint to make large tools, it seems that mined flint was of a particular value to Neolithic people who mined in a small-scale fashion and carried out rituals within the mines. The two main tools produced at Grime's Graves were axes and discoidal knives, however cutting flakes, points and scrapers were also made. Tools made for piercing were also found, dating to the later Middle Bronze Age. (30)

This article highlights a new interpretive exhibition to open at Grime's Graves in 2010. It provides a brief overview of the site's history and questions why flint was mined here in the first place when there were sufficient amounts available on the surface. It is assumed that the mined flint was highly valued for aesthetic purposes and was quite different in appearance to surface flint. Furthermore, 'if it was prized for its beauty, then that would chime with evidence suggesting mining here was invested with important ceremonial purpose.' (31)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1959
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Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Clarke, RR. 1970. Grimes Graves (Dept Of Environment Guidebook)
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Source Number : 11
Source : Excavations at Grimes Graves, Norfolk, 1972-1976. Fascicule 1 : Neolithic antler picks from Grimes Graves, Norfolk, and Durrington Walls, Wiltshire: a biometrical analysis
Source details :
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Source Number : 12
Source : Excavations at Grimes Graves, Norfolk, 1972-1976. Fascicule 2 : the Neolithic Bronze Age and later pottery
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Source Number : 13
Source : Grimes Graves Neolithic flint mines, Norfolk: report on geophysical survey, November 1992
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Source Number : 14
Source : Excavations at Grimes Graves, Norfolk, 1972-1976. Fascicule 4 : Animals, environment and the Bronze Age economy
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Source Number : 15
Source : Excavations at Grimes Graves, Norfolk, 1972-1976. Fascicule 5 : mining in the deeper mines
Source details :
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Source Number : 16
Source : Excavations at Grimes Graves, Norfolk, 1972-1976. Fascicule 3 : Shaft X: Bronze Age flint, chalk and metal working
Source details :
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Source Number : 17
Source : Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia
Source details : Armstrong, AL. Flint-crust engravings and associated implements from Grime's Graves, Norfolk.
Page(s) : 434-443
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 3, 1921
Source Number : 18
Source : The Antiquaries journal : journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London
Source details : Armstrong, AL. The discovery of engravings upon flint crust at Grime's Graves, Norfolk.
Page(s) : 81-6
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 1, 1921
Source Number : 19
Source : Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia
Source details : Armstrong, AL. Further discoveries of engraved flint-crust and associated implements at Grime's graves.
Page(s) : 548-558
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 3, 1922
Source Number : 20
Source : Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia
Source details : Armstrong, AL. Discovery of a new phase of early mining at Grime's Graves, Norfolk; preliminary report
Page(s) : 113-125
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Plates :
Vol(s) : 4, 1923
Source Number : 3
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 BHS 29-NOV-74
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 20
Source : Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia
Source details : Armstrong, AL. (1) Further researches in the primitive mining area; (2) discovery of an Early Iron Age site of the Hallstatt Culture.
Page(s) : 182-193
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 4, 1924
Source Number : 21
Source : Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia
Source details : Armstrong, AL. Further excavations upon the Engraving Floor (Floor 85), Grime's Graves.
Page(s) : 194-202
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 4, 1924
Source Number : 22
Source : Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia
Source details : Armstrong, AL. The Grime's Graves problem in the light of recent researches.
Page(s) : 91-136
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 5, 1926
Source Number : 23
Source : Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia
Source details : Armstrong, AL. The Percy Sladen Trust Excavations, Grime's Graves, Norfolk. Interim Report 1927-1932.
Page(s) : 57-61
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 7, 1932
Source Number : 24
Source : Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia
Source details : Armstrong, AL. Grime's Graves, Norfolk. Report on the excavation of Pit 12.
Page(s) : 382-94
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 7, 1934
Source Number : 25
Source : Antiquity
Source details : Clark, JGD and S Piggott. The Age of the British Flint Mines.
Page(s) : 166-183
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Plates :
Vol(s) : 7, 1933
Source Number : 26
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Clarke, WG (ed). 1915. Report on the Excavations at Grime's Graves, Weeting, Norfolk, 1914. (Prehistoric Society of East Anglia monograph)
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Source Number : 27
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Greenwell, W. 1870. On the opening of Grime's graves in Norfolk; Journal of the Ethnological Society of London new series 2, 419-39.
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Source Number : 28
Source : Archaeologia : or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity
Source details : Smith, RA. On the date of Grime's Graves and Cissbury flint-mines.
Page(s) : 109-158
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Plates :
Vol(s) : 63, 1912
Source Number : 29
Source : The Neolithic Flint Mines of England
Source details :
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Source Number : 4
Source : Grimes Graves, Norfolk. Excavations 1971-2, volume 1
Source details :
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Vol(s) : no.11
Source Number : 30
Source : Grime's Graves
Source details :
Page(s) : 3-4, 12-24
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Source Number : 31
Source : Heritage Today
Source details : Stephen Adam. (2010). A mine of information.
Page(s) : 16-18
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Plates :
Vol(s) : 89
Source Number : 5
Source : The Archaeological Journal
Source details : Ashbee, P
Page(s) : 355-6
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 137, 1980
Source Number : 6
Source : The flint arrowheads of the British Isles : a detailed study of material from England and Wales with comparanda from Scotland and Ireland
Source details :
Page(s) : 381-2
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 75
Source Number : 7
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Green B. 1984. Grimes Graves (Dept Of Environment Guidebook)
Page(s) : Jan-17
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Source Number : 8
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : RCHME: Industry and Enclosure in the Neolithic: Grimes Graves
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Source Number : 9
Source : Grimes Graves/ink survey
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Source Number : 10
Source : Grimes Graves, Norfolk. Excavations 1971-72, volume 2 : the flint assemblage
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Vol(s) : no.11

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Neolithic
Display Date : Neolithic
Monument End Date : -2200
Monument Start Date : -3000
Monument Type : Flint Mine, Mine Shaft, Spoil Heap, Quarry
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Bronze Age
Display Date : Bronze Age
Monument End Date : -1150
Monument Start Date : -1500
Monument Type : Midden, Lithic Working Site, Bronze Working Site, Pottery Manufacturing Site, Textile Industry Site
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Iron Age
Display Date : Iron Age
Monument End Date : 43
Monument Start Date : -800
Monument Type : Inhumation
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : From 1224
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date : 1224
Monument Type : Rabbit Warren
Evidence : Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : 16th century
Monument End Date : 1539
Monument Start Date : 1501
Monument Type : Pasture
Evidence : Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : 16th century
Monument End Date : 1600
Monument Start Date : 1540
Monument Type : Pasture
Evidence : Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : From 1820
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date : 1820
Monument Type : Wood
Evidence : Documentary Evidence

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NF 66
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Norfolk)
External Cross Reference Number : 5640
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : NMR 15717/27
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : NMR/15769/10
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 24
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : NBR Index Number
External Cross Reference Number : AF1076471
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : TL 88 NW 4
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1268933
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1076402
Relationship type :

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1850-01-01
End Date : 1859-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1852-01-01
End Date : 1852-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1852-01-01
End Date : 1852-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1866-01-01
End Date : 1866-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1868-01-01
End Date : 1870-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1914-01-01
End Date : 1915-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1916-01-01
End Date : 1916-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1917-01-01
End Date : 1917-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1919-01-01
End Date : 1919-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1919-01-01
End Date : 1919-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1920-01-01
End Date : 1920-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1921-01-01
End Date : 1922-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1922-01-01
End Date : 1923-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1923-01-01
End Date : 1923-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1924-01-01
End Date : 1926-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1927-01-01
End Date : 1933-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1934-01-01
End Date : 1939-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1971-01-01
End Date : 1972-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1972-01-01
End Date : 1976-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1972-01-01
End Date : 1972-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON TL 88 NW 4
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1974-11-29
End Date : 1974-11-29
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1982-01-01
End Date : 1983-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1984-01-01
End Date : 1984-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, GRIME'S GRAVES
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1992-01-01
End Date : 1992-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: INDUSTRY AND ENCLOSURE IN THE NEOLITHIC: GRIMES GRAVES
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1995-04-01
End Date : 1995-05-01
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT GRIMES GRAVES
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2007-01-01
End Date : 2007-12-31