Flint Mines

Many sites in Kent and Sussex (especially deneholes) have mistakenly been called flint mines, usually when there is a hole for which no purpose is known. This is an understandable mistake because flint nodules can be seen in the chalk and it is assumed that these were the purpose of the excavation. The problem with flint nodules, however, is that they are no good for making large implements since the process of ‘knapping’ them into shape left many waste flakes. Thus an average sized flint nodule would only produce a relatively small tool such as a scraper or arrowhead. For the larger flint axes, it was necessary to use a deposit called ‘Tabular’ flint which was formed in massive seams from which big pieces could be broken off. Since such deposits are not common at the surface, this caused the axe-making industry to be concentrated in just a few locations and it became a specialist art. It seems, however, that the axes were only roughly shaped and it was left to the ‘customer’ to finish and polish them. The axe makers traded their wares for food, etc. and their axes were exported to a wide surrounding area.

Originally, the tabular flint would have been taken from surface outcrops where it was exposed naturally and such surface sites have been found in Kent at Crayford, Northfleet, Frindsbury, Cuxton and Bapchild, as well as Slindon Park in Sussex. Once surface deposits had been worked out. Neolithic Man had to resort to mining if he wished to continue using the site and the well-known flint mines at Grimes Graves in Norfolk have over 300 shafts in an area of 34 acres. Techniques varied according to the stability of the chalk and some ‘mines’ are little more than deep pits up to 20ft deep and wide. Others are proper mines where a shaft was sunk to the flint seams and horizontal galleries driven off from the bottom. Deer antlers were used as picks to prise out the flint and it is possible that the chalk underneath was undercut to cause the tabular flint to crack and fall away. Stone axes have also been found which were probably used to break up the chalk.

Despite claims to the contrary, no proof of flint mining has been discovered in Kent and it is likely that sufficient surface sites were available to supply the need. Sussex, however, has a number of flint mines and sites have been found at Harrow hill, Blackpatch Hill, Church Hill, Cissbury and Windover Hill. Sites at Stoke Down and Lavant may also be flint mines. Cissbury, Harrow Hill and Windover Hill have been dated between 2,500 and 2,000 B.C. and the other two sites seem to have taken over from them and continued into the Bronze Age. Little can be seen today apart from rough mounds.

Kent Underground Research Group