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Shovelling Copper: Synchrotron Radiation and the Bronze Age Miners. John Prag, The Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL Manolis Pantos, Archaeometry Unit, STFC, Photon Science Dept., Daresbury Laboratory
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John Prag, The Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL
Manolis Pantos, Archaeometry Unit, STFC, Photon Science Dept., Daresbury Laboratory
The Art of Hard Science, AHRC/STFC Workshop, Daresbury Laboratory, 12 February 2008
This is the story of an old oak shovel, lost 4,000 years ago, found, lost again and then found again.
Why did it survive?
Was it really ‘lost’?
Can Hard Science tell us?
or do only the pagan gods know the real answer?
How did it get to DL?
SR is good for ARCH, but
DEI DH CRHMATWN KAI ANEU TOUTWN OUDEN ESTI GENESQAI
Prof. John Prag
we need funding and without it not much can be achieved
This poem was written for the AELPHER website (Alderley Edge Landscape Project : Heritage and Educational Resources) = http://www.alderleyedge.manchester.museum/ and click on the image of the shovel.
Rachel Bailey holding the pot containing 564 Roman coins dating from c. 330-340 AD, after its discovery by her father and other members of the Derbyshire Caving Club in March 1995, while making safe an old shaft which had begun to cave in (later called ‘Pot Shaft’). The shaft was radiocarbon-dated to the 1st century AD, and is the first Roman mineshaft so far discovered in Britain.
Along with the re-discovery of the shovel, this find led to the creation of the multi-disciplinary Alderley Edge Landscape Project of The Manchester Museum and the National Trust.
Alderley Edge Station in the late nineteenth century; carriages awaiting commuters from Manchester.
When the line was opened in 1842 the Manchester & Birmingham Railway offered free first-class travel to Manchester for 21 years to anyone who built a house of a rateable value of £50 or more within a mile of the new station. Alderley became the country’s first commuter dormitory.
Alderley Edge from the east, showing the scar of Engine Vein, one of the sites where copper and later lead were mined from the Bronze Age to the early 20th century.
The Hills are the Sandhills, created from sand left after the acid-leaching process developed in the nineteenth century for extracting the copper. Steeped in hydrochloric acid, the Sandhills support little plant life and are only now regenerating.
The sand was used for sandbags (which rotted) during World War 2, for the first part of the M6 (the Preston by-pass) and for the first runway at Manchester Airport, both of which had to be rebuilt.
(Wort = plant).
The Stanleys owned much of the Edge until 1938.
Watercolour by Edward Stanley in the style of Edward Lear, who was a close friend of the Stanleys, a frequent visitor to the Alderley Rectory, and did much to instruct and encourage their artistic talents.
This image is the copyright property of the Parochial Church Council of Alderley - permission applied for.
There was once a farmer from Mobberley who had a milk-white mare. He decided to sell it; so one day, at the end of October, he set off to Macclesfield Fair. By dawn he had reached Thieves’ Hole on Alderley Edge. The horse stopped and refused to move, no matter what the farmer did. Then he saw an old man standing by the side of the road, holding a staff in his hand.
The old man offered to buy the horse, but the farmer refused, thinking that he would get a better price at the market. The old man didn’t argue, but said that the farmer would not sell the mare and that he would wait for him again at Thieves’ Hole when he came back.
The farmer went on to Macclesfield; and although everyone praised the mare nobody would buy. So, at the end of the day, the farmer set off back to Mobberley. He arrived at Thieves’ Hole at dusk, and the old man was waiting for him. This time he did agree to sell; and the old man told the farmer to follow him.
He led the farmer from Thieves’ Hole, by Seven Firs and Golden Stone, to Stormy Point and Saddlebole. Close to Saddlebole they came to a big rock at the side of the path. He touched the rock with his staff, and the rock split open to show a pair of iron gates. The farmer was terrified, and said that the old man could keep the horse, if only he would let him go.
The old man told the farmer not to be afraid, but to come with him, and he touched the iron gates, which opened, and beyond them a passage went down into the hill.
The farmer followed the old man into the hill, leading the horse, and they came to a cavern. Inside the cavern were knights in silver armour, some say a hundred and fifty of them, some say forty, fast asleep, together with one who looked a king; and beside all but one was a white horse.
The old man said that the knights were waiting to fight the last battle of the world, and that he was to wake them when that moment came. But there was one horse missing, and that was why the farmer’s mare was needed.
He took the mare and laid it down in enchanted sleep; then he showed the farmer into another cavern, which was filled with gold and silver and precious stones. He told the farmer that he was to take as much of the treasure as he could carry, in payment.
Then he led him back up the passage to the iron gates. The farmer stepped out onto Saddlebole, and when he turned round, the old man and the gates were gone. There was only the rock beside the path.
The farmer went home to Mobberley, and although he tried for the rest of his life, he could never find the iron gates again.
Alderley Edge in Cheshire has a history of mining for copper and lead that stretches back to the Bronze Age.In the 19th century cobalt was also mined there.
The Alderley Shovel
In 1875 some miners clearing around an old shaft discovered an oak shovel, ‘roughly used’ but marvellously preserved.
Alderley Edge has a history of mining for copper and lead stretching back to the Bronze Age. In the 19th century cobalt was also mined there. In 1875 miners clearing around an old shaft at Brynlow discovered an oak shovel, ‘roughly used’ but marvellously preserved, associated with crudely fashioned hammer-stones.
The shovel was found with stone hammers reckoned to be Bronze Age mining tools, and so Professor William Boyd Dawkins of Manchester University declared it to be from the Bronze Age. It was published as such by Dr J.D. Sainter in The Jottings of some Geological, Archaeological, Botanical, Ornithological and Zoological Rambles round Macclesfield (Macclesfield, 1878).
Sainter’s drawing of the shovel
..… and then it disappeared from sight .....
In 1953 an eighteen-year-old schoolboy called Alan Garner, bored with his Greek texts, pulled Sainter’s book off the shelves of Manchester Central Reference Library, recognised the picture, and a few days later remembered why he knew the shovel:
it had hung behind the door of Miss Bratt’s room in Alderley Edge Council School, where he had sat as a six-year-old.
He rushed back to the school, but the shovel was no longer on its nail. After a frantic search with the caretaker’s torch, he re-discovered it underneath old matting under the school stage.Rediscovered - by a schoolboy!
Despite its provenance no museum believed the shovel was prehistoric: it was identified as ‘Victorian child’s spade’ or ‘Tudor winnowing-fan’. In 1991 Garner presented the shovel to the Manchester Museum, and it was submitted to the Oxford lab for C14 dating. At 1888-1677 cal. BC it was firmly Early-Middle Bronze Age.
But was the shovel made in the C19 of prehistoric bog oak?
Study of the toolmarks shows they were made by axes up to 7 cm wide and thus Late Bronze Age, not Victorian (or Early Bronze Age).
(British Bronze Age dating is currently being revised – LBA now thought to extend back to the earlier 2nd millennium BC.)
Tree-ring dating would give a precise date – planned for early summer 2008.
Graph of the radiocarbon date
Where is Alderley Edge, and why does it matter?
Alderley Edge is a sandstone ridge rising 180 metres above the Cheshire plain, lying some 20 km south of Manchester.
Roeder’s excavation through the Bronze Age mining pits at Engine Vein, 1900
Finds ofLate Bronze Age metalwork in north-west England
Alderley Edge is an area rich in geological and biological interest, and the setting for striking archaeological and historical evidence for some very varied human activity – and for the legend of a king sleeping beneath the Edge with his knights, guarded by a wizard.
There is plentiful evidence for Bronze Age activity on the plain to the west and south, while excavations and surveys by Boyd Dawkins (1874-5), Roeder and Graves (1899-1905), The Manchester Museum (1978) and Gale (1986, 1991) revealed areas of Bronze Age mining and working on the Edge itself. Parts of the Edge have been designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Scheduled Ancient Monuments; since 1996 it has been the focus of a multi-disciplinary research project of The Manchester Museum and of the National Trust, who own much of the Edge.
The shovel should never have survived.
The soil conditions do not appear particularly favourable.
The miners should have thrown it away, or at least re-used it or burnt it as firewood.
The school should have thrown it out with the rest of Miss Bratt’s stuff.
That schoolboy should not have been so persistent: but he was Alan Garner, scion of an old Alderley family, who grew into an antiquary and an author with an international reputation for meticulously-researched novels with a local, historical theme.
And yet –in the waters of Elton Flash, in the salt-mining area of mid-Cheshire not far away, stand dead trees which have not changed in living memory. Perhaps it is all something to do with the water.
AELP’s survey of the groundwaters of the Edge showed high concentrations of arsenic as well as copper and lead.
Conserved by nature and by circumstances, the shovel has inspired the conservation of a landscape and of a village’s history, through the creation of the Alderley Edge Landscape Project (AELP) of The Manchester Museum and the National Trust.
Perhaps the Wizard of Alderley had a role in the shovel’s preservation.
But if he will not tell us the secret, then we hope that Science may yet provide us with the answer.
Cue the Wizards of Daresbury.
XRF spectrum on SRS station 16.5. Collected Dr Bob Bilsborrow.
Brief spectroscopy scan of the Arsenic edge indicates
that the As is coordinated in some form of Cu-As compound, the full structure of which will be revealed by work to be done in the near future.
Small area showing white/green deposits
Serendipity in Science
If you don’t dig
You don’t find
…and Bob’s your uncle
With best wishes from John …
Experimental archaeology, Alderley Edge 1997:
JP using a replica Bronze Age hammer against a fire-shattered rock face.
auth de cqamalh panupertath ein ali keitai
proV zofon, ai de t aneuqen proV hw t helion te
The Odyssey 9:25-26
… and best wishes from me …
[Ithaca] lies low, furthest out to sea
towards the dark west; the other [islands] towards the dawn and the mid-day sun