Set in stone – the wonders of Norfolk flint

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Set in stone – the wonders of Norfolk flint

From tiny rural cottages to impressive country mansions, Norfolk’s flint has been used in the construction of all sorts of homes and other properties across the county.

Indeed, flint-knapping was a skill that was passed from generation to generation in Norfolk and the results can still be seen in walls, barns and other outbuildings, as well as houses.

Now English Heritage has created a new entrance and exhibition that will give people greater insight into the county’s relationship with the stone.

Visitors to Grime’s Graves near Thetford can now descend into the oldest human-made underground space in England.

The new entrance provides access to subterranean world, while the exhibition of Neolithic tools tells the story of people 4,500 years ago.

Found in chalk, with layers in various shapes and sizes, flint is almost pure silica, and any impurities provide its variation in colour.

A very hard black mineral similar in composition to glass, when worked correctly it is capable of a very sharp cutting edge.

In Neolithic times, flint was sought after for its versatility and durability, as well as perhaps spiritual value, and was used to fashion tools, weapons, and ceremonial objects.

The flint at Grime’s Graves was of such good quality that it would have been used for fine, specialised tools.

Now thanks to a new structure over one of the mineshafts, known as Pit 1, visitors are able to easily descend nine metres below ground into one of the flint mines dug over 4,500 years ago.

Jennifer Wexler, English Heritage’s properties historian, says: “What makes Grime’s Graves such a special place is that there are still so many secrets to be unlocked.

“It was not until 1868 to 1870, when one of the pits was excavated, that this was even identified as a Neolithic flint mine.

“To this day, most of the over 400 pits remain untouched and geophysical surveys suggest that the mines covered a much greater area, so we are getting a tantalising glimpse into a place full of hidden mystery.

“What I find remarkable is the deep understanding the miners had of their environment.

“The mines are a feat of great engineering skill, showing sophisticated geological knowledge of the earth.

“The site was in use at the same time that Neolithic people were transforming their world on a massive scale and building impressive monuments across the British Isles, such as Stonehenge and Avebury.

“It’s brilliant that visitors will be able to see a few of the remarkable objects we have recently excavated in our new exhibition and then descend deep underground to have this totally otherworldly experience.”

Image: Howie project of remodel at a Bacton holiday let