SCM Volume 27
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FURTHER DISCOVERIES AT CHURCH HILL, FINDON

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
A well marked depression showed the position of a large infilled shaft on the south west corner of our area. Clearing this took just two years, and meant careful removal of fifteen different layers. The lower of these were tips of chalk rubble thrown in from later shafts, separated by floors of flint flakes and chippings, which showed the use of the partially filled pit as a shelter for flint workers. Then came a layer of coarse chalk silt and rainwash formed by the crumbling of shaft sides and nearby chalk dumps, which must have taken many years to accumulate, and which, before soil could be formed upon it, had been covered by a great flint workshop floor extending well beyond the area of the pit's mouth. On this lay another dump of chalk from a later shaft nearby, and the whole was covered with a fifteen inch deposit of soil and turf.

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
South-east of shaft 4 lay a circular area about twelve yards across, faintly bounded by a shallow ditch, and containing on its western side a circular depression ten feet in diameter. Excavation proved the latter to he a sunken hut floor, surrounded by its own compound. The post-holes of the outer palisade, the holes made by the timbers supporting the hut, and flint implements, worn and blunted with much use, embedded in the silt which had covered the original hut floor, were all there. In the outer ditch opposite the probable entrance to the hut was a small hearth of burnt flints, and nearby were more flint tools, and bones and teeth of oxen and pigs. Fragments of pottery vessels of Middle Bronze Age type with overhanging rims dated the occupation at about 1400 B.C., and also showed that pots of this type were not specially made to enclose the ashes of the dead, a purpose for which they were often used, but also formed part of the domestic equipment of the occupiers of the hut. These must have had a few domestic animals, penned within the compound, probably to prevent their falling into the deep mine shafts all round.

THE GREAT HEARTH AND SHAFT 5A
One of the south-eastern galleries from shaft 4 had been found to end in another shaft, No. 5, of which there was no trace on the surface. We resolved to try to locate the upper part of this shaft, and chose a point forty-two feet from shaft 4 for a deep exploratory trench. But when we raised the turf we found ourselves in an area of burnt flints, reduced almost to powder, ten feet across, showing the remains of a large hearth. The only charcoal on this was at its northeast corner, and we concluded from this that a fierce fire of small wood had burned here while a strong northeast wind was blowing. Such a fire would consume its own charcoal except in a windward direction. Its purpose is a matter of guesswork. It might have been the communal hearth of the miners, it might have been a sacred fire connected with some rite, it might even have been the cremation place of the chieftain whose ashes were found in 1933 interred in shaft 1.

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.

 

FLOOR 12
When shaft 5A had been cleared, an exploratory trench was dug forty yards northeast of Pit 1, which led to the discovery of a small flint knapping site, with the usual flint debris, unfinished tools, and flint cores. But overlying the north end of this there was a hearth site with hones and teeth of a shorthorned ox, and pottery fragments of the Late Bronze Age, apparently marking a camp site of about 7(111 B.C., which had no connection with the flint knapping floor below.

THE GREAT DUMP
Scattered among the shaft heads at Church Hill are many turf-covered spoil banks or dumps, which are composed of old mining debris, and had never been allowed to rise so high as to endanger workers in the surrounding shafts. The largest of these, seventy seven feet by twenty-five, was excavated during the winter of 1949, to gain more information on mining methods. The main fact learned was that its contents came from shafts which were all being worked about the same time, and there is other evidence to show that mines were worked in groups rather than singly.

SHAFTS 6 AND 7
We next tackled the largest depression which appeared to indicate a pit head, and were impressed to find that it included two shafts 6 and 7, of which 6 had been sunk first, and 7 had been dug later, so close to it that the dividing chalk wall was only a foot thick at the surface and 32 feet at the base of the shafts. Shaft 6, 19 feet deep, passed through five seams of inferior flint to work a sixth, in the course of which five short lateral headings had been driven from its base. The chalk rock was good, and there was no apparent reason why these should not have been extended much further. When clearing ancient flint mines one often gets the impression that certain pits have been suddenly abandoned by the miners and never worked again. In these lateral headings, apparently just as the miners had left them, were found a variety of antler mining tools, by no means all worn out, a broken ox blade shovel, and several very good flint knives. No reason for abandonment was perceptible---perhaps the flint miners knew more about the instability of chalk rock than we do.

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.

 

FLOOR 14
Shafts 6 and 7 had been sunk through the site of a large flint knapping floor, No. 14, where the flints produced by earlier mines had been dealt with by the workers who produced the finished implements. Only the eastern third of this remained and, as elsewhere, among the debris we found a number of highly finished tools. Here there were a number of axes and knives, a very fine toothed saw, and a most beautiful pressure flaked scraper. These always present a puzzling problem. Were they lost among the debris, deliberately hidden by the knappers to be smuggled away to some prehistoric "black market," or left when the workshops were suddenly attacked by some outside enemy, human or animal, or, conceivably, set aside as sacrifice to some unknown deity of the flint world? Cornish miners in later days made offerings of this kind to the "knockers" the little people of the mines. We shall probably never know; the human element will always prevent prehistoric archaeology from becoming an exact science.

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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