Monday, 1 August 2016

The Great Orme Copper Mine, Llandudno

The Great Orme is a massive lump of limestone rock overlooking the seaside resort of Llandudno in north Wales. Copper ore, greenish in colour, seems to have been excavated from the site as long as 4,000 years ago, presumably in the first instance where the veins of ore outcropped on the surface. Later a vast quantity of waste rock covered the site, and it was only when this was removed after 1987 that a network of Bronze Age tunnels and caverns was discovered. These extend over five miles and reach a depth of  250 feet, but it is guessed that what has been excavated so far is only a small part of what is down there.
    The Bronze Age miners has no excavating tools other than picks of deer antler and shovels of the shoulder-blades of oxen. Some of the tunnels are so narrow that they must have been worked by small children. Working conditions, with no more light than that from little lamps of animal fat, can hardly be imagined. As veins became exhausted, the tunnels leading to them were filled with waste rock, which is now being painstakingly removed, so that some of the tunnels are now open to visitors.
     This is the entrance, on the right, with the exit just to the left of it:-

A tour of the tunnels is a most interesting experience, but cannot be recommended to the very tall, the obese or the claustrophobic!

How these early peoples first discovered how to smelt copper from the ore, and to alloy it with tin (which is quite a rare metal) to make bronze; and whether these developments spread out from a central source or were discovered independently in different parts of the world, remains a mystery to archaeologists.

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