Alderley Edge Myths and mining
ABOVE Colourful mineral deposits such as this blue-green copper staining on sandstone probably attracted prehistoric ore prospectors to the Edge. Even more vivid is this copper silicate deposit (BE LOW), which resulted from overlying copper ores that had been dissolved by rainwater and were then redeposited on the walls of 18th- and 19th-century mines.
/ Dav imberlake
current archaeology | www.archaeology.co.uk
1750 BC, the middle Bronze Age, and subsequent study has confirmed that tool marks on the shovel were made by Bronze Age implements.
That shovel had been found in 1875 by miners working the 19th-century copper mines that burrow deep into the Edge; tests showed that its remarkable survival was due to the preservative effects of copper and lead impregnation. It came out of a pit, ‘some three to four yards in depth’, that also contained numerous grooved hammer stones, or mauls. These hammers, Alan Garner recalls, were quite distinctive and so numerous on the Edge that they were used as doorstops in the cottages and farms of the area.
Derbyshire Caving Club
The dating of the shovel, the evidence of prehistoric mining on a large scale, and the discovery in 1995 of a hoard of over 500 4thcentury Roman coins by the Derbyshire Caving Club all led to the setting up of the Alderley Edge Landscape Project, co-ordinated by John Prag (editor of the newly published volume), with funding from the Leverhulme Trust. Very many people and organisations have worked on the project over the decades, including the National Trust, owner of the land at the core of the project; the Early Mines Research Group; the Derbyshire Caving Club; and the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit.
Together they have established that Bronze Age metal prospectors probably became aware of the copper deposits of the Edge by observing colourful surface deposits on sandstone cliff faces. The most easily winnable minerals were exploited first by mining the softer sandstones and natural overhangs. Pits were dug to expose the richest lenses; fires were lit against the surface of the rock, which was then shattered using water. The pits so created were used as rubbish dumps for discarded and broken hammer stones, many of which were grooved; withies could then be wrapped round these stones and lashed together to make handles for swinging the stone against the rock face.
This activity seems to have been intermittent, spanning some 400 years. Pollen cores show that Bronze Age mining activity corresponded to a phase of deforestation of the oak, birch, alder, and hazel woodland growing round the Edge, and to a peak in the amount of charcoal in the core – evidence perhaps of the scale of the fire-setting on the Edge and of associated
June 2016 |