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Sep 25

Guide – Bronze Age Mining

Mining in the Bronze Age

In the last twenty years or so, some thirty copper mining sites of Bronze Age date have been identified. This has allowed us to create a reasonably accurate picture of the tools and techniques used during the extraction of copper ores in this distant prehistoric period.

It is only recently the date of such “old Man’s” workings has been verified with carbon dating, prior to this, antiquarians of the past tended to point to a Roman origin for these works.

One of the key sites has been the Munster mines in north central Wales. Here carbon dating of charcoal deposits found in mining spoil in galleries and surface dumps proved the Bronze Age date, these were the remains of fire setting.

It appears that Bronze Age miners exploited visible outcrops of ore. These non ferrous ores where subjected to fire setting, this technology was still in use in the nineteenth century, fires were lit against the surface of the ore, which was then rapidly cooled by the application of water, this caused the rock face to crack so allowing the easier reduction of the ore by hammering.

Hammer stones are often the only visible remains from these very early mines, here natural hard stone cobbles of a handy size are bruised at the ends from use, often they have shallow pecked grooves around their central girth either to secure rope or as a result of hammering. Such cobbles can acquire percussion bruising at any date and on their own cannot form conclusive proof of early mining activities.

The natural occurrence of copper ores, along with tin, lead and zinc in the British Isles tend to be restricted to the Pre Triassic date strata, these are today well known and mapped, although there os also the probability of an even larger number of ore sites available to the Bronze Age peoples, sites that may have been worked out by the time historic mining activity allowed the mapping of ore deposits.

Process

Resources Used

Evidence Remains
Mining Activities
Extracting ore: Fire setting.
Fire wood stocks.
Charcoal.
Hammering: Breaking off ore fragments.

Hard stone cobbles, bone and antler points and wedges.

Discarded hammer stones.
Removal of rock from mine.
Wood for tools and containers.
Organic items in suitable condition.
Surface processing activities close to mines
Ore Dressing: Crushing and selecting copper minerals.
Hammer stones and anvil stones.
Waste heaps of non-copper minerals and rock fragments.
Ore Concentration: Fine crushing of copper minerals.
Hammer stones and anvil stones.
Discarded hammer stones and anvil stones.
Roasting: to reduce sulphide ores only.
Fire wood stocks.
Hearths, charcoal.
Smelting: Ore mixed with charcoal, heated in furnace producing metallic copper.
Charcoal prepared from selected wood, clay for furnace wall.
Charcoal, slag, burnt and fused clay, run-copper.
Workshop activity, close to or distant from mine.
Casting: Collected metallic copper in crucible melted in a furnace and poured off to produce a ‘cake’ or ingot.
Hardwood charcoal, refractory clay for crucible and furnace.
Charcoal, furnace and crucible fragments, metal splashes.

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    George
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    Mining in the Bronze Age In the last twenty years or so, some thirty copper mining sites of Bronze Age date have been identified. This has allowed us
    [See the full post at: Guide – Bronze Age Mining]

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