What’s the link between tourist attractions in Norfolk and Japan?

A Flint hand axe. Part of the Flint Rocks! exhibition at the Ancient House Museum.

A Flint hand axe. Part of the Flint Rocks! exhibition at the Ancient House Museum. - Credit: Archant

They may be separated by nearly 6,000 miles and two continents, but you don't have to dig deep to find similarities between the towns of Thetford and Nagawa, Japan.


Because as an international conference is set to reveal, the towns have forged an unlikely bond built on a foundation of tough, black rock.

Hosted in the Breckland town, the East Meets West conference will see guest speakers and delegates from around the world meet to discuss archaeology and the use of obsidian and flint.

The conference has been arranged following a series of cultural exchanges between representatives from the Ancient House Museum in Thetford to Nagawa, and return trips from Japanese delegates to Norfolk.

Each of the trips saw the respective visitors see their host's major mining sites – Grimes Graves, near Thetford, and the Hoshikuso Obsidian Mines near Nagawa.

And the conference will see the formal twinning of the two archaeological sites, the first such arrangement of its kind.

Taking place on July 15 at the Carnegie Room, speakers from the UEA, Historic England, University of Tokyo and the British Museum will address the conference.

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Three days of events around the conference will see activities including live flint knapping demonstrations, a family fun day and workshops for children.

Oliver Bone, curator at Thetford's Ancient House Museum, whose Flint Rocks! exhibition has been revealing Thetford and Brandon's links to the flint mining industry, said the event was a historic moment.

'We are excited to invite such prestigious guest speakers from around the world to join us here in Thetford for what promises to be a fascinating event,' he said.

The conference is organised by a range of groups including the Ancient House Museum, the Brecks-Nagawa Exchange Committee, and the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures.

To book your students onto the Schools Day on July 14 contact melisa.hawker@norfolk.gov.uk

To book onto the conference on July 15 visit Leaping Hare in King Street, Thetford.

Rock's role

The Ancient House Museum in Thetford and the Center for Obsidian and Lithic Studies in Nagawa have done much work to reveal the influence of flint and obsidian in human history.

The Ancient House Flint Rocks! exhibition shows how Grimes Graves was mined between 3,000BC and 1,900BC. The flint extracted was used to make items including polished stone axes.

Much later, around the 18th and 19th centuries, the flint was in demand by builders and as strikers for muskets. All the flintlocks for the Battle of Waterloo were ordered from nearby Brandon.

Excavation of the Hoshikuso obsidian site has taken place since 1984 and is now a registered national archaeological site.

Obsidian is a volcanic glass with hard and brittle edges, hence its use for cutting tools.