Cobble Stone Mining Tools - Evidence of Their Use in the Bronze Age Mines of Britain and in Current Archaeological Experiments Investigating Ancient Mining and the Processing of Metal Ores


  • Simon Timberlake McDonald Institute, University of Cambridge; Early Mines Research Group, 19 High Street, Fen Ditton, Cambridge CB5 8ST



Early Bronze Age, copper mines, Wales, hammerstones, firesetting, mining experiments, ore processing, gravity separation


The characteristic artefacts of Early Bronze Age metal ore mining are cobble stone mining tools. The current study suggests that within  these tool assemblages it is normal to see some sort of use specialisation and opportunistic re-use of broken tools, whilst the wear pattern and modification to these suggests the creation of ad hoc tool kits, and the use of both hand-held and hafted hammers. At  some of the sites more than 90 % of cobbles used show only minor evidence for purposeful modification (such as a pecked groove  designed for hafting), yet extensive experimentation has demonstrated that many of these tools could have been, and probably were used with handles. Some sort of discrimination in the collection of cobbles at source is suggested by the evidence for consistency in  size, shape, weight and lithology of the stones. In West Wales we find suitable cobbles brought up to 25 km inland from the storm beaches on the coast to be used at these upland sites. Experimental archaeology has been successful in predicting the types of tools to be found during the archaeological excavation of sites; this includes the use of antler picks and bone scrapers and chisels which often don’t survive within acidic mining environments. As regards stone tools, experiments have also shown how the most rudimentary  artefacts might be used in the processing and concentration of metal ores, including those of copper and gold. The current paper  presents a body of archaeological evidence and experimental research, which is likely to be universally relevant to the study of some of the most ancient mines and mining areas in Europe.