Written and Illustrated by J. H. PULL
TWENTY years ago, in December 1932, we began our excavations on the prehistoric flint mine site on Church Hill, Findon,* and the pre-war results have already been described in the SUSSEX COUNTY MAGAZINE.
In November 1945 we made a new survey and maps, and resumed digging with a band of enthusiastic helpers from the Worthing and from the Brighton and Hove Archaeological Societies. The results of their work can now be described.
MINE SHAFT 4
No-one can say accurately how long this had taken to form, but near the bottom of it were fragments of Roman pottery and shells of the Roman snail, Helix aspersa, never found on undisturbed downland sites below the surface layer. Pits on Cissbury filled in with chalk rubble eighty years ago by General Pitt-Rivers and others have not yet accumulated sufficient surface soil to support the thinnest layer of turf.
Interesting finds were made in various layers. Among the lower strata of chalk rubble was a heavy mallet formed from a red deer's antler, such as we know was used for flint knapping. Two layers below the stratum of silt and rainwash were a large sherd of Neolithic A pottery and the carbonised remains of a wooden bowl of black poplar, still a favourite material for making "treen." Enough was preserved to make a reconstruction possible, with its slightly beaded upright rim and ornament of close vertical incisions (fig. 1). We had long suspected from the design of certain flint tools that a high degree of skill had been developed in the manufacture of wooden objects, but this was the first actual proof discovered.
At the same level were two most interesting flint axes. One was the largest, the other the smallest completed tool found on the site, but both appeared in shape and workmanship to be the product of the same hand. The larger was clearly meant for a woodman's felling axe, the smaller, identical in all but size, could hardly have been intended for anything but a child's use.
In the base of the layer of silt, and sealed beneath the large undisturbed chipping floor which lay above it, were fragments of three Middle Bronze Age urns, with overhanging rims (c. 1400 B.C.), of an Early Bronze Age beaker (B2 class c. 1800 B.C.) and of a Neolithic B type bowl, while from the floor above came two celts sharpened by the "tranchet" technique, and flint knives and scrapers pressure flaked after the manner of the Beaker folk.
The cleared shaft presented one of the most interesting sights in prehistoric mining. Roughly circular and slightly tapering, sixteen feet in diameter at the top and twelve at the bottom, it had been sunk to a depth of sixteen and a half feet, passing through four seams of nodular flints on the way. Some attempts had been made to work the third seam, but it was the fourth which the miners wished to reach, and this had been removed from the shaft floor and followed up by driving galleries as shown in the plan (fig. 2). These were from three to four feet in height, from four to seven in width, and up to thirty in length. Nearly all the work had been done with picks, levers and punches cut from red deer antlers, and shovels made from the shoulder blades of the ox. Many of these tools of every kind were found in the shaft filling or on the gallery floors.
In one gallery, however, other tools had been used, not hitherto observed in any Stone Age Sussex flint mine. Large wooden bars with rounded ends had been driven into the chalk with heavy mauls, and where masses of rock had thus been broken away, the holes were left in long section, so effectively that it was possible to make plaster casts of the wooden punches, and to show the progress made by every successive blow.
Over the heads of the galleries were found symbols cut in the chalk with antler tools; miners' marks, apparently, but quite incomprehensible to the excavators, and unprecedented either at Church Hill or Blackpatch (See fig. 3).
THE HUT SITE AND COMPOUND
THE GREAT HEARTH AND SHAFT 5A
Below the hearth we found the rim of another unknown mine shaft, 5A, which was not the shaft we were seeking. This, when cleared, was circular, nine feet across, and twelve feet deep to the flint seam mined.
Galleries on the south-western and southern sides led us to the bottom of shaft 5 which we had originally sought, and on the floor of one of these was a much-worn two-handed antler pick, which is now preserved in the Brighton Museum.
THE GREAT DUMP
SHAFTS 6 AND 7
Shaft 7 was much larger than 6, eighteen feet by sixteen and eighteen feet deep. Here some attempt had been made to work the fifth seam of flint, by means of short and high cave-like excavations. In this shaft a very interesting discovery was made while clearing the chalk rubble with which the shaft had been filled: two slanting holes were found, six to nine inches in diameter, and fifteen inches apart, parallel with each other. Careful measurement showed that their lower ends terminated on the middle of the shaft floor, their upper ends on the lip of the shaft on its south-east side. They clearly indicated the decay of two stout wooden poles, which might have been either the sides of a ladder or of a slide, up which bags of material might he pulled. This is the first direct evidence found as to the miners' methods of descending the shaft or of raising material to the surface. More shoulder blade shovels and antler picks were found in the filling of pit 7, and also a flint pick, a flint axe and two flint knappers' mallets (Fig. 4) made from antlers, these last from a spot where a side heading only partially filled in had provided a sheltered spot for the workmen.
Here, as elsewhere on such floors, we found numbers of butt ends and points of good flint blades, with the central portions missing. But on this floor we found also a number of their central sections, and after careful comparison realised that they had been deliberately broken out to form the teeth of compound reaping sickles, matched and cemented in a grooved wooden armature, probably with some sort of gum or resin. We were even able to reconstruct one of these, as the accompanying illustration shows (Fig. 5).
With the excavation of Floor 14 our work at Church Hill draws to a close. Twenty years of work will take a long time for complete sifting and analysis, but we hope that a full report will eventually be available. The bulk of the finds are now securely housed in two large cases in the Worthing Museum, and small selections have also been presented to similar institutions.
Our sincere thanks are due to Mr. C. A. E. Hartridge, the owner of Church Hill, for permission to dig, and to his long-suffering tenants, Messrs. Langmeads, for their kind tolerance of our working parties; to all those specialists of the Universities and learned societies whose advice and help have been invaluable, and to the directors and staffs of various Government departments, among whom are H.M. Geological Survey and Museum, H.M. Ordnance Survey, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Museums of Geology and Natural History, South Kensington, for their long continued help and cooperation.
* For the site see 1 in. Ordnance Survey National Grid, Sheet 182, ref. 113,083.
Sussex County Magazine 27 1953 Page 15-21
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