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Prehistoric Copper Extraction in Britain: Ecton Hill, Staffordshire

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 December 2013

Simon Timberlake*
Affiliation:
Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3DZ Email simon.timberlake@gmail.com

Abstract

Major investigations were undertaken of the Ecton Copper Mines, Staffordshire, following the discovery of hammerstones and a red deer antler tool dating to the Early Bronze Age during surface and underground exploration in the 1990s. Ecton Hill was surveyed, the distribution of hammerstone tools examined, and two identified sites of potential prehistoric mining close to the summit of the hill excavated in 2008 & 2009. Excavations at Stone Quarry Mine revealed no in situ prehistoric mining activity, but hammerstones and Early Bronze Age bone mining tools from upcast suggest that an historic mine shaft had intersected Bronze Age workings at around 10–25 m depth. On The Lumb one trench revealed evidence for medieval lead mining, while another examined the lowest of four primitive mines associated with cave-like mine entrances along the base of a small cliff. Evidence for prehistoric mining was recorded within a shallow opencut formed by during extraction of malachite from a layer of mineralised dolomite. Traces of the imprint of at least 18 bone and stone tools could be seen and seven different types of working were identified. Most prehistoric mining debris appears to have been cleared out during the course of later, medieval–post-medieval prospection; some bone and stone tools were recovered from this spoil. The tip of a worn and worked (cut) antler tine point was the only such mining tool found in situ at this site but nine tools were radiocarbon dated to c. 1880–1640 cal bc. Bayesian modelling of the dates from both sites probably indicates mining over a much briefer period (perhaps 20–50 years) at 1800–1700 cal bc, with mining at Stone Quarry possibly beginning earlier and lasting longer than on The Lumb. A single date from The Lumb suggests possible renewed mining activity (or prospection?) during the Middle Bronze Age. The dating of this mining activity is consistent with the idea that mining and prospection moved eastwards from Ireland to Wales, then to central England, at the beginning of the 2nd millennium bc. At Ecton the extraction of secondary ores may have produced only a very small tonnage of copper metal. The mine workers may have been Early Bronze Age farmers who occupied this part of the Peak District seasonally in a transhumant or sustained way

Résumé

Extraction de cuivre en Grande-Bretagne à la préhistoire: Ecton Hill, Staffordshire de Simon Timberlake

D'importantes fouilles des mines de cuivre d'Ecton, Staffordshire, furent entreprises à la suite de la découverte, au cours d'explorations en surface et souterraines dans les années 1990, de percuteurs et d'un outil en bois de cerf datant de l’âge du bronze ancien. Ecton Hill fit l'objet d'une prospection, on examina la répartition de l'outillage de percuteurs et on fouilla en 2008 et 2009 deux sites proches du sommet de la colline ayant été identifiés comme d’éventuelles mines préhistoriques. Les fouilles de la mine de Stone Quarry ne révélèrent pas d'activité minière préhistorique in situ mais des percuteurs et des outils de mineur en os de l’âge du bronze ancien provenant de déblais donnent à penser qu'un puits de mine historique avait entrecoupé des ouvrages de l’âge du bronze à une profondeur d'environ 10–25 m. Sur The Lumb une tranchée a révélé des témoignages d'extraction de plomb au moyen-âge, tandis qu'une autre examinait la plus basse de quatre mines primitives associées à des entrées de mines ressemblant à des grottes le long de la base d'une petite falaise. On a répertorié des témoignages d'extraction préhistorique dans une mine à ciel ouvert peu profonde formée par l'extraction de malachite d'une couche de dolomite minéralisée. Des traces d'empreintes d'au moins dix-huit outils en os et en pierre étaient visibles et on a identifié sept différentes manières de travailler. La majorité des débris de la mine préhistorique semble avoir été déblayés au cours de prospections plus tardives, médiévales ou post-médiévales; des outils en os et en pierre ont été récupérés de ces déblais. La pointe d'un bois d'andouiller de cerf usée et travaillée (coupée) fut le seul outil de ce type découvert in situ sur ce site mais neuf outils ont été datés au C14 d'environ 1880 à 1640 av.J.-C. cal. Un modèle bayesien des dates des deux sites indique probablement une exploitation pendant une période beaucoup plus courte (peut-être de 20 à 50 années) entre 1800 et 1700 av.J.C.cal, l'exploitation de la mine de Stone Quarry commençant peut-être plus tôt et durant plus longtemps que sur The Lumb. Une date unique de The Lumb suggère une possible reprise de l'activité minière (ou de la prospection?) au cours de l’âge du bronze moyen. La datation de cette activité minière concorde avec l'idée qu'exploitation minière et prospection se déplacèrent vers l'est, de l'Irlande au Pays de Galles, puis au centre de l'Angleterre au début du deuxième millénaire av.J.-C. Il se pourait qu’à Ecton l'extraction de minerais secondaires n'ait produit qu'un très petit tonnage de métal de cuivre. Il se pourrait que les mineurs aient été des agriculteurs de l’âge du bronze ancien qui occupaient cette partie du Peak District de manière saisonnière étant soit de passage soit sédentaires

Zussamenfassung

Vorgeschichtlicher Kupferabbau in Großbritannien; Ecton Hill, Staffordshire von Simon Timberlake

Nach der Entdeckung von frühbronzezeitlichen Schlagsteinen und einem Werkzeug aus Geweih vom Rothirsch während Feldbegehungen und Bodenuntersuchungen in den 1990er Jahren wurde eine umfassendere Erforschung der Ecton Kupferminen in Staffordshire vorgenommen. Ein Survey des Ecton Hill wurde durchgeführt, die Verbreitung von Schlagsteintein-Werkzeugen des dokumentiert und zwei beobachtete mögliche Plätze prähistorischen Abbaus nahe der Hügelspitze in den Jahren 2008 und 2009 ausgegraben. Die Ausgrabungen in der Stone Quarry Mine erbrachten keine in situ erhaltenen Hinweise auf Abbauaktivitäten, aber Schlagsteine und frühbronzezeitliche Abbauwerkzeuge aus Knochen aus dem Ausziehschacht lassen vermuten, dass die Spuren der bronzezeitlichen Arbeiten durch einen Schacht aus historischer Zeit in einer Tiefe von etwa 10 bis 25 m überprägt worden sind. Ein Grabenschnitt in The Lumb erbrachte Hinweise auf mittelalterlichen Bleiabbau, ein anderer untersuchte die niedrigste von vier primitiven Minen, die mit höhlenartigen Mineneingängen an der Basis einer kleinen Klippe verbunden waren. Hinweise auf Abbautätigkeiten in prähistorischer Zeit konnten in einer flachen Tagebaugrube festgestellt werden, die durch den Abbau von Malachit aus einer Schicht mineralisierten Dolomits entstanden war. Spuren der Eindrücke von mindestens 18 Werkzeugen aus Knochen und Stein konnten erkannt und sieben verschiedene Typen von Tätigkeiten unterschieden werden. Die überwiegende Menge des Abraums des prähistorischen Abbaus scheinen im Laufe der späteren mittelalterlichen und neuzeitlichen Prospektionen ausgeräumt worden zu sein; aus diesem Schutt konnten einige Knochen- und Steinwerkzeuge geborgen werden. Die Spitze einer abgenutzten und bearbeiteten (abgeschnittenen) Geweihspitze war das einzige derartige Abbauwerkzeug, das noch in situ an diesem Platz angefunden wurde, aber neun weitere Werkzeuge wurden C14-datiert in den Zeitraum 1880–1640 cal bc. Die Bayes'sche Wahrscheinlichkeitsmodellierung der Daten von beiden Fundplätzen deutet möglicherweise den Abbaubetrieb während einer deutlich kürzeren Zeitspanne an (vielleicht 20 bis 50 Jahre) zwischen 1800 und 1700 cal bc, wobei der Abbau in Stone Quarry möglicherweise früher beginnt und länger andauert als in The Lumb. Ein einziges Datum von The Lumb lässt vermuten, dass eventuell der Minenbetrieb (oder die Prospektion?) während der Mittelbronzezeit wieder aufgenommen worden war. Die Datierung dieser Aktivitäten passt zu der Vorstellung, dass sich Abbau und Prospektion am Beginn des 2. Jahrtausends bc ostwärts bewegten von Irland nach Wales und schließlich nach Mittelengland. Die Extraktion sekundärer Erze in Ecton mag eine nur sehr geringe Tonnage von metallischem Kupfer geliefert haben. Die Minenarbeiter waren vielleicht frühbronzezeitliche Bauern, die diese Region des Peak Districts saisonal genutzt haben, auf transhumante oder dauerhafte Weise

Resumen

Extracciones prehistóricas de cobre en Gran Bretaña; Ecton Hill, Staffordshire por Simon Timberlake

Las principales investigaciones en las Minas de Cobre de Ecton, Staffordshire fueron llevadas a cabo durante las exploraciones superficiales y subterráneas desarrolladas en los años 1990, a partir del descubrimiento de los martillos y herramientas realizadas en asta de ciervo y que fueron datados en el Bronce Inicial. Se estudió Ecton Hill, se analizó la distribución de las herramientas documentadas y se excavaron dos sitios cercanos a la cumbre de la colina con gran potencial para la minería prehistórica entre 2008 y 2009. Las excavaciones en la mina Stone Quarry no revelaron una actividad minera prehistórica in situ, sino que los martillos y las herramientas en hueso del Bronce Inicial sugieren que una mina de época histórica perturbó los depósitos de la Edad del Bronce hasta una profundidad de 10–25 m. En The Lumb una trinchera reveló la existencia de actividades mineras de plomo durante época medieval, mientras que otra permitió examinar la inferior de las cuatro bocaminas situadas en la base de un acantilado. Las evidencias de minería prehistórica fueron documentadas en una zanja poco profunda formada por la extracción de malaquita en un nivel de dolomita mineralizada. Se pueden observar impresiones de, al menos, 18 huesos y utillaje en piedra y se han identificado siete tipos diferentes de trabajos. La mayor parte de los restos mineros prehistóricos parecen haber sido vaciados durante las actividades de prospección posteriores, medievales y postmedievales; algunos huesos y herramientas en piedra fueron recuperados en estas alteraciones. Un pitón de asta deteriorado y trabajado (cortado) fue la única herramienta de minería encontrada in situ, aunque nueve herramientas fueron datadas por radiocarbono c. 1880–1640 cal bc. La modelización bayesiana de las dataciones de ambos sitios indica que la actividad minera cubre un período más breve (quizá 20-50 años) entre 1800 y 1700 cal bc, siendo la actividad en Stone Quarry posiblemente más temprana y duradera que en The Lumb. La única datación de The Lumb sugiere una posible renovación de la actividad minera (¿o prospectora?) durante el Bronce Medio. La datación de esta actividad minera es consistente con la idea de que la minería y la prospección se trasladan desde el este de Irlanda a Gales, y después a la parte central de Inglaterra, a inicios del segundo milenio bc. En Ecton la extracción de minerales secundarios podría haber producido tan sólo un pequeño tonelaje de metal de cobre. Los trabajadores de la mina podrían haber sido los propios agricultores que ocuparon esta parte de Peak District estacionalmente, de forma trashumante o interrumpida

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