Copper on the Great Orme
- The Great Orme
The Great Orme – Pen-y-Gogarth in Welsh – is the promontory that towers over the seaside resort of Llandudno. The rock is mainly limestone, and it rises to nearly 225 metres above sea level.
But beneath the surface lie the remarkable remains of ancient mining activity. Over four miles of ancient tunnels have been surveyed, which miners excavated while seeking copper ore, between 1860BC and 600BC. This was the Bronze Age, when copper (90%) was mixed with tin (10%) to form bronze, a tough and useful metal which the craftsmen could mould into tools or weapons. A study has suggested than nearly 1800 tonnes of copper were extracted from the mines here during this period: and there could be further workings yet to be discovered.
Thirty-five veins of copper were mined in ancient times, and whereas some of the tunnels are large enough for adults to walk through, others are so narrow that only young children could have mined them. The miners used tough volcanic stones to beat the rock, and over 2,500 of these primitive hammers have been discovered. The rock was often softened by lighting fires up against its surface. It was tough work, so it’s no surprise that the miners just followed the veins of copper, ignoring the harder limestone surrounding the valuable ore. Animal bone was then used to scrape away the loose rock, and 30,000 of these have come to light, most of which came originally from cattle.
- One of the Tunnels
The mine was not worked during the Iron Age or Roman times, but the search for copper began again in the late 1600s. The mine had a boom period in the mid-1800s, when up to 400 men were employed here, using iron drills, gunpowder and steam-powered machines to extract the copper ore. Work ceased here in 1881 and the workings were covered over, and forgotten for almost a century.
It is only recently that the scope of the ancient mining operations here have been appreciated. The Great Orme mines have been acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest Bronze Age copper mines in the world.
Repeated on S4C Digidol 9:00PM Saturday
with English Subtitles