On a warm, sunny afternoon on 17th June, 15 members visited the Great Orme Bronze Age Copper Mine Llandudno, giving the full title of the mine. We were welcomed to the mine by Doctor Harriet White who gave us a brief introduction explaining the Covid rules in operation. This was the first time we were able to meet in person and coincidentally, we were the first group to visit the mine since the virus lock down too.
The mines were discovered in 1987 during a survey of the land which was to have been developed into a car park for visitors to the Gt Orme. It was known that a Victorian mine existed on site and a survey of the ground was necessary before any work could progress.
Commercial mining ended around 1881.
When the Victorian mine shafts were opened and investigated, the surveyors realised that a very important archaeological site lay below. The plans for the car park were halted and eventually abandoned.
Waste from the Victorian mines had been placed over mines from a much earlier period. Over the next few years, this Victorian waste was removed from the site revealing an open cast mine and entrances to underground Bronze Age tunnels. The mine was opened to the public in 1991 with a visitors centre extension built in 2014.
It is estimated that there are 5 miles of tunnels within the area, but the true size may never be determined due to access to some of the tunnels. The tunnels near the entrance are easy to walk through, whilst the majority of tunnels are small narrow passages, requiring skilled pot holing techniques. Thankfully our visit to the mine was to include a walk only through the former!
We exited the safety of the lecture theatre to descend into the open cast area of the mine. From here we could identify the deep Victorian mine shaft and the entrances to some of the Bronze Age mine. Our route was clearly marked towards a hole in the rock, and after a few seconds while our eyes adjusted to the light, we entered further into the mine.
We had been “warned” to wear an extra layer of clothing since the temperature underground would be much cooler than above ground (in June). Doctor Harriet did say that in the Winter months some of the archaeologists preferred working underground rather than in the buildings above ground due to lack of heating.
The plastic hard hats issued to us were a much welcome addition to our personal safety. Every so often the roof would be low and our, or at least my, ears would resonate to the dull thud of plastic against rock! I should have concentrated more on the rocks above my head rather than marvelling at the colours of the rocks around me.
Walking further into the mine other smaller tunnels could be seen to our left and right, where the miners had followed the minerals in the rock and digging out the rock with the tools available to them. Initially this had been using bones from animals, or stones shaped to dig out the ore.
After exiting the mine we followed the tour to an external audio visual unit which explained how the ore from the mine may have been processed into palstave axes, daggers and spears. Another building houses over 2,500 “hammer stones” used to excavate the ore from the mine. These stones were gathered from the local beaches by the Bronze Age miners and were used to break the rock in the mine.
The shop on site has an extensive range of books explaining the mine and the area, which visitors can purchase, the cost of which supports the the archaeological investigations.
The work in the Gt Orme mine is still ongoing; to understand the people that worked there, where they lived, what type of society was in place, how was the metal traded and transported and much more. Some research has been done to identify that metal from this mine has been found in bronze tools throughout Western Europe, including France, Germany, Denmark, Poland and Sweden. The communication network to support this trade seems amazing to us now, specially when we have problems exporting to these countries post Brexit!
The History of Deganwy group are grateful to Doctor Harriet White and her team for allowing us to visit the mine as a group and telling us about her work there. It certainly was a most memorable trip for our members.
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