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ArchaeologyPart of Humanities

Jersey's ice age heritage the focus of scientific and media attention

Published: 30 September 2011

A UK archaeological research team are returning to Jersey this October to undertake scientific analysis at the Neanderthal site of La Cotte de St Brelade. The team, funded through a National Environment Research Council (NERC) Urgency Award, are currently mobilising to undertake sampling and stabilisation work ahead of winter. The site and the team’s research features in Digging For Britain on Friday 30 September at 9pm on BBC2.

Dr Matt Pope, a Senior Research fellow at the institute of Archaeology, University College London (UCL), is coordinating the team.

Dr Pope said: “The NERC award has provided a chance to study and stabilise an area of the site which had remained hidden under scree for at least 60 years. During last summer our team established this section of the site was at threat from erosion. It’s unlikely that anyone alive has seen these deposits and we had pretty much thought they were lost to modern scientific study. Through this NERC-funded work, we now have an opportunity to show what targeted science-based archaeology can do to enhance our understanding of the deep past.”

Understanding human activity and climate change

This work forms the latest stage in a project aimed at understanding long term human activity and climate change through the exceptional archaeological record of Jersey. It is run through a consortia of British Institutions including the University of Southampton, The British Museum, The University of Wales and University of Manchester in addition to UCL. The project is bringing cutting edge scientific archaeological techniques and surgical fieldwork approaches to understand how different species of human responded to sea level change and cycle of global warming and cooling during the ice age. Over the past two years it has reinvestigated known ice age sites and discovered new locations for study. It has also began to map the sea floor in the hunt for caves and deposits on the sea bed.

La Cotte de St Brelade forms a major part of this project, providing an exceptional record of Neanderthal occupation over a time span in excess of 200,000 years. During his time Neanderthal hunters were responding to massive changes in their local environment and left a rich record of their hunting and tool use activities as well as evidence for the controlled use of fire. This internationally important site is managed by the Société Jersiaise.

Dr John Clarke, president of the Société said: “I am delighted that the Société Jersiaise, as owner of La Cotte de St Brelade, is engaging with the research consortium led by Dr Matt Pope to raise awareness of the importance of the site’s archaeology. Initially stabilisation measures must be put in place, facilitated in part by a NERC Urgency Award. In future, we look forward to developing the project to maximise the contribution that Le Cotte archaeology can make to our knowledge of human development. The showing of Digging for Britain is an excellent opportunity to communicate what this site has to offer and to bring the fascination of archaeology and the Neanderthal period to a wider audience.”

Reanalysis of existing artefacts

This phase of scientific recovery and stabilisation form the first part of the long term stabilisation of the site and will also complement ongoing reanalysis of existing material from the site currently stored by Jersey Heritage. Olga Finch, Archaeology for Jersey Heritage Trust, is currently working with the team to better understand the thousands of stone artefact and bones which exist in the archive.

Olga Finch said: “This is a tremendously exciting time for Jersey's archaeology. Some of the stone tools and bones in the La Cotte collection were found over 120 years ago when archaeological techniques and interpretations were very different from today. But Matt and his team are a new generation of archaeologists who bring with them a vast range of scientific techniques and skills that the early excavators at La Cotte could never have imaged. Their results are already starting to throw a whole new light on the lives and the environment of Jersey's first people.

We are really looking forward to watching Digging for Britain. The whole programme which was filmed in July, will focus on ice age Jersey, showcasing La Cotte de St Brelade and the more recently discovered Upper Palaeolithic site in St Saviour. It will be a fantastic opportunity to show the nation just how important Jersey's archaeology is.”

Digging for Britain, presented by Dr Alice Roberts was broadcast on BBC2 on 30 September.

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