Gold rush, AD75-style

Floodlit tunnel through rock

Just back from the fantastic Dolaucothi Gold Mines in mid-Wales – the only Roman gold mines known in Britannia. This tunnel looks fine in the floodlights, but the original miners would never have seen it like that – they’d have had to manage with little oil lamps. Things hadn’t improved much by Victorian times, when the miners in newer tunnels were issued with candles – as long as they were over 16. Since a boy could start work in the mines at 10, it doesn’t say much for Victorian Values.

Not all the Roman miners would have had the luxury of working in wide tunnels. Some of them were hauling out ore from inside tiny little holes like this one. The diggings behind it seem to have collapsed since: hence the dip.

Dip in wooded hillside with small hole just visible at the bottom.

The hills around Dolaucothi are riddled with this sort of thing. At first sight they look like little mossy fairy dells, and the modern site sits in a peaceful valley surrounded by trees full of catkins and birdsong.

Green work sheds in valley.

That’s not a natural valley, though. It’s a massive hole left in the hillside by hundreds of Roman miners – slaves, condemned prisoners, perhaps some paid workers – hacking out tons of rock in search of gold from which they themselves would never benefit.

And here’s a woodland pond….

…which was once a water tank. Dolaucothi’s beautiful setting in the Cambrian mountains masks a history of work and struggle, and it’s well worth a visit.

As if that weren’t enough, the Dolaucothi Arms (just down the road, on the site of of the Roman fort) is Countryfile’s Country Pub of the Year, 2019. And deservedly so: I’ve checked.

Tall rectangular stone set upright in the ground with deep indentations in the flat face.
The Pumsaint Stone. Those indentations are either the marks of Roman trip-hammers used to crush gold ore, or the imprints of the heads and shoulders of five local saints sheltering from a hailstorm conjured up by an angry wizard.

10 thoughts on “Gold rush, AD75-style

  1. Fascinating, Ruth! I knew there were tin mines in Britain, but this gold mine is new news!

    Maybe it helps explain why Rome held onto the province for so long, despite the difficulties of remote supply and a populace that was less than enamored of the Pax Romana.

    Best — Sherry (still working on AMBER ROAD!)

    1. Yes, apparently they (or their contractors) were working the site for 200 years so there must have been something worth having. Or as the locals may have seen it, stealing…

  2. Amazing insight, thanks Ruth. Many of my ancestors were cold and slate miners !

    Taff James

  3. Looks like a really interesting place to visit. I wonder, were ancient Irish gold items like the Broighter hoard (including the wonderful miniature golden boat) made from Welsh gold, or did the Irish have their own supply? I seem to remember reading that scientists can tell where in the world particular samples of gold were originally mined, from the trace elements I think. And yes, you must definitely send Ruso to Wales!

  4. Now that’s an interesting question, Jane… according to Google there’s a lot of gold in Ireland if you know where to look, so possibly the Welsh didn’t need to share. However – something I’ve been wondering for a while is where the gold came from the hoards in East Anglia. They seemed to be awash with it but as far as Google knows they didn’t/don’t have any gold mines.

    I have a feeling there’s a lot about ancient British economics and politics that we simply don’t have enough information to understand.

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