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Rachael Deans

Archaeology Doctoral Candidate- University of Birmingham


Thesis Title: Mining for Meaning: A Biographical Investigation into the Flint Mines of north-west Europe 4500-2000 BC


Thesis Description:

The intentional extraction of raw materials through the construction and use of flint mines across north-west Europe from the mid-fifth millennium BC, has been investigated archaeologically since the nineteenth century. Whilst the social importance of these sites is acknowledged, it has been typically recognized as a secondary consideration. Why these sites were ‘born’, how they influenced their communities as they lived, and how they were perceived by later generations once mining had ceased, have been conspicuously neglected within archaeological research.

My research aims to reconstruct the biographies of the prehistoric flint mine complexes of north-west Europe. Approaching these sites from a biographical perspective, it posits that rather than being passive locales acted upon by human activity, they instead, acquired their own life-histories which were inalienable from and entangled with, the individuals and communities who constructed and utilised them through time. Through comprehensive analysis of the nineteenth and twentieth excavation reports, secondary research, and GIS, this research seeks to reconstruct the life-histories of these sites by exploring each aspect of their life-cycle from birth to death. It will consider the life-histories of the mines belonging to the South Downs group, West Sussex; Easton Down, Wiltshire; and Martin’s Clump, Hampshire, in south-central England, and compare their biographies with the major European sites of Spiennes, Belguim; Jablines; France; Aalborg and Hov, Denmark, and Rijckholt, Netherlands, amongst other sites. In looking at the biographies of these sites, imperative questions about the significance of the flint mines over time can be answered.

My work will utilise various methods to investigate these questions. As well as the theoretical approach mentioned, GIS mapping and practical fieldwork play a large role in this work. The use of visual modelling is productive in considering the importance of these sites to the communities that utilised them. This method has not previously been used to consider these sites, and it will significantly aid how they are understood and interpreted archaeologically. The uniformity of the mines in current interpretation, can be overcome through using GIS to visualise and discuss each unique locale within their social landscape settings.

My undergraduate and MRes work also focused on the transition to the Neolithic in Britain. At undergraduate level, I considered the extent to which middens were ‘ritual’ sites in the Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic. At postgraduate level, my MRes thesis looked at changes and continuities in the ways in which identity was constructed between these periods. In this work, I used funerary contexts to discuss personhood, gender, age and health in both periods.


Supervisors and Institution(s): Paul Garwood and Henry Chapman- University of Birmingham


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Twitter: Archaeo_Rach


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