Archaeologists find Ice Age engravings, tools and burnt bone at Jersey hunter-gatherer site

By Ben Miller | 02 November 2015

Ice Age engravings and art could have been found within "very rare" British settlement

A photo of archaeologists in Jersey excavating a brownfield Ice Age trench
UK archaeologists working in Jersey have found the remains of a 15,000-year-old hunter-gatherer settlement © Dr Sarah Duffy
Archaeologists say hunter-gatherers from the Magdalenian culture of between 16,000 and 13,000 years ago lived at a clifftop site in Jersey where dense concentrations of tools, burnt bone and engraved stone have been found.

More than 5,000 scattered stone pieces have been discovered at Les Varines, a St Saviour site overlooking landscapes drowned by the English Channel. Set between a sea stack and rising ground, the settlement offered protection from the weather to its late Ice Age inhabitants.

“We knew from the beginning that Les Varines was an important site,” says Dr Chantal Conneller, of the University of Manchester.

“There is nothing of its size or scale elsewhere in the British Isles but there are parallels in France and Germany.

A photo of archaeologists excavating an Ice Age brownfield trench in Jersey
The fragments were sealed within an apparent ancient landsurface and associated with possible paving slabs© Dr Sarah Duffy
“Previously we had recovered stone artefacts disturbed by later mud flows, but now it seems we have found the well preserved edges of the settlement itself."

Experts are closely examining three exotic stones found in a trench corner during the latest excavations in the five-year project, believed to represent “sophisticated” stone age technology or works of art.

“Incised stones can be common on Magdalenian camps. Many are known from sites in the Germany and the south of France, where they are often seen to have a magical or religious use," says Dr Conneller.

“They are rare in Northern France and the British Isles, making this a significant find. Although we are not yet sure of the exact age of the campsite, it might well represent some of the first hunter-gather communities to recolonise the north of Europe after coldest period of the last Ice Age.”

Dr Ed Blinkhorn, of University College London, led the excavations. “This has been the culmination of five years of patient work, tracing thousands of flint tools within slope deposits back to the mother lode,” he says.

“We knew a significant hunter-gatherer camp lay in this field and it seems we’ve finally found it.”

The dig has been a productive one on an island known for producing impressive early stone age finds.

“We are at an early stage in our investigation but we can already say the stones are not natural to the site,” says Dr Silvia Bello, of the Natural History Museum, who is now studying the fragments.

A photo of a large grey stone tool found at an Ice Age archaeological site in Jersey
The settlers used stone age tools to hunting animals including reindeer and horse© Dr Sarah Duffy
“They show clear incised lines consistent with being made by stone stools, and they do not have any obvious functional role.

“Engraved works of abstract or figurative art on flat stones are part of the Magdalenian cultural package. One exciting possibility is that this is what we have here.”

Ice Age Jersey

  • Jersey hasn’t always been an island. For thousands of years, during cold periods, sea levels were much lower than today and Jersey was a prominent plateau towering above grasslands which supported the mammoth and rhinoceros hunted by Neanderthals.

  • The Channel River, or Fleuve Manche, carved out the Channel as large ice sheets in northern Europe melted at the end of the last Ice Age. As sea levels rose, Jersey was left as an island in between France and England

  • The English Channel, which now surrounds Jersey and separates France and England, is an ancient river valley.

  • Jersey’s Ice Age archaeology tells us about how our Neanderthal cousins survived in north-west Europe during several Ice Ages - the archaeology at La Cotte, a Paleolithic site in St Brelade, covers 200,000 years.

  • Most of us have a proportion of Neanderthal genes. Neanderthals died out around 30,000 years ago – probably as a result of climate change.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places to see Ice Age finds

Creswell Crags, Worksop
Creswell Crags is a picturesque limestone gorge honeycombed with caves and smaller fissures. Stone tools and remains of animals excavated from the caves by archaeologists provide evidence for a fascinating story of life during the Ice Age between 60,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Dean Heritage Centre, Gloucestershire
Set across a stunning and fully interactive five acre site, this centre protects and preserves the unique history and heritage of the beautiful Forest of Dean. Five galleries explore the history of the Forest from the Ice Age to the present day.

Goatfell, Arran
The Arran skyline is dominated by the jagged summits and ridges of Goatfell and the surrounding hills, providing a dramatic backdrop to Brodick Castle, Garden and Country Park. It is a spectacular example of an open, rugged, upland landscape formed during the last ice age.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
Probably just a stone knife sharpener. People 50,000 years from now will be puzzeled by many of our current artifacts. "What the Hay did they use that for" I wonder just what they might think what some of them were for.
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