In a dimple-covered Norfolk landscape, Britain’s only open Neolithic flint mine is still revealing its secrets

Originally in use at the same time the Stonehenge boulders were raised, the mines at Grime's Graves are the oldest manmade underground space in England.

The oldest manmade underground space in England, which dates from the time the Stonehenge boulders were raised, has been reimagined for its 2024 opening.

Within Breckland grass heath, where rare wild pansies, yellow kidney vetch and wild thyme grow, the strange, lumpy landscape of Grime’s Graves in Norfolk — or Grim’s Graves as the Anglo-Saxons called it, believing it to the burial place of the god Wōden or Grim — conceals a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels across 430 mine shafts, some up to 13 metres (43ft) deep, in which men, women and even children would mine high-value, jet-black flint.

‘What I find remarkable is the deep understanding the miners had of their environment,’ says Jennifer Wexler, English Heritage‘s properties historian. ‘The mines are a feat of great engineering skill, showing sophisticated geological knowledge of the earth.’

‘The site was in use at the same time that Neolithic people were transforming their world on a massive scale and building impressive monuments across the British Isles, such as Stonehenge and Avebury.’

An artist’s impression of what the mining of Grime’s Graves would have looked like. Credit: English Heritage

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Formed many millions of years ago by the debris of sea creatures on what was then an ocean bed and known as the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of the Neolithic world, flint was harnessed for its versatility, durability and spiritual properties to make tools, weapons and ceremonial objects; it’s thought that the flint from Grime’s Graves was particularly high quality.

The 4,500-year-old site reopened at the end of April and visitors can now descend easily, from a new structure atop a mineshaft, straight down to a level 30ft below, where a film projection on visibly hacked-at walls tells the story of the people who laboured there.

‘It was not until 1868–70, when one of the pits was excavated, that this was even identified as a Neolithic flint mine. To this day, most of the more than 400 pits remain untouched and geophysical surveys suggest that the mines covered a much greater area, so we are getting a tantalising glimpse into place full of hidden mystery,’ adds Ms Wexler.

‘It’s brilliant that visitors will be able to see a few of the remarkable objects we have recently excavated in our new exhibition and then descend deep underground to have this totally otherworldly experience.’