11. Rituals could occur at any time and in any place in Neolithic Britain- even flint mines.
Stone tools were an integral part of Neolithic life, and flint, in particular, was essential. So, by 2600 BC, Grimes Graves in Norfolk had become a particularly essential flint works, extracting flint and fashioning it into functional, everyday items. The stone for these knives, axes and arrowheads lay close to the surface. However, for sacred, ceremonial objects, the miners had to dig deeper, for subterranean flint was harder to come by and so deemed sacred.
Such was the demand for its underground flint that by the end of its lifespan over 400 mines pitted Grimes Graves, some with shafts up to 13 meters deep. Archaeologists have discovered unused ceremonial axes, made from Grimes Graves flint in sacred hoards, miles from their source suggesting the area and its rock were deemed particularly sacred. The miners seemed to think so for chalk altars complete with ‘offerings’ have been found in the galleries of the mines.
Those exploring the mines have found practical items such as antler picks and pottery vessels alongside small balls and phallus. These offerings, probably made to the subterranean gods where probably made by miners grateful for their continued safety or the abundant veins of flint. Eventually, however, the rock ran out, and the mineshafts were filled in and abandoned. However, the miners do not seem to have seen their earlier offerings as futile. For the abandonment of Grimes Graves was not without ceremony.
Fires, believed by archaeologist to be part of a purification ritual, were lit at the base of each shaft, as well as yet more offerings. These were particularly special. At the bottom of one pit-shaft, someone carefully laid a rare Cornish greenstone axe and an even rarer bird’s skull between two parallel antler bone picks. Excavators have also discovered human, and animal remains in other shafts. Whether they were animate or inanimate, these offerings suggest that the miners believed they needed to make extraordinary sacrifices- possibly in the hope that the gods would renew the flint supplies.