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Cover of British Archaeology 114

Issue 114

Sept / Oct 2010


All the latest archaeology news from around the country


MAIN FEATURE: Happisburgh

The project leaders give us the latest findings after six years of research on the earliest humans in Britain.

The obscure ownership of archaeological material

Haggai Mor recently worked in one of the world's largest archaeological store and wondered who all the things dug up actaully belong to?

Finding Boudica's Last Battlefield

With the help of computerised terrain analysis, Steve Kaye has narrowed down the possibilities.

The Lost Anglo-Saxon Church of Westbury-on-Trym

Jon Cannon explores a crypt beneath a Bristol church and is greeted with an amazing find.

Finding Private Mather

A victim of battle in WW1 remembered by his family, is finally laid to rest.

Archaeology: What Is It For?

Martin Carver reflects on how and why archaeologists do what we do.

The Varmints Show

In the Varmints' second exploration of music and archaeology, Breck Parkman is uncovering the 'Whitehouse of Hippiedom' at the Olompali State Historic Park, San Francisco.


The dark secrets of ancient peat, the decaying of Star Carr

on the web

Audio-visual presentations online and the 'Visual Essays' of ArchAtlas.

Mick's travels

Mick and Jon share the wonders of Jersey

CBA Correspondent

From CBA Publications Officer, Catrina Appleby


Your views and responses


THE BIG DIG: Links of Noltland

Eroding sand dunes are revealing an ancient landscape on a windswept and remote Scottish island.

MAIN FEATURE: Digging for (Invisible) People

Eroding sand dunes are revealing an ancient landscape on a windswept and remote Scottish island.

Dig for Shakespeare

Literary critics may wonder if Shakespeare wrote all those plays, but archaeologists know where to find him.

The Varmints Show

An occasional series specifically for the website, showcasing pop music inspired by archaeology or heritage. The first of the series features Air-Raid Shelter (Pillbox) by The Human Cabbages.

More online features to follow


All the latest archaeology news from around the country

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones investigates real and reconstructed worlds, and Andy Burnham highlights ancient sites viewable from the roadside, including extra content.


Your views and responses


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

Mick's travels

Jersey: a defended island

On his first visit to Jersey, Mick Aston explored neolithic tombs and centuries of forts and towers while excavating at the medieval castle of Mont Orgueil.

In May this year we made two Time Team programmes on Jersey in the Channel Islands. I had never been there before, but with my fascination with islands I was only too pleased to visit. We were joined by Warwick Rodwell, a cathedral archaeologist and professor at Reading University, and a long time friend and colleague of mine.

Warwick has worked on the vast medieval fortress of Mont Orgueil on the east coast of the island for many years, but we had been asked to help with sorting out several remaining problems in the story of the site. Jersey comes into historical prominence with the loss of Normandy by King John in 1204, when the castle was built. Since then the Channel Islands have been heavily defended as the most southern bit of the United Kingdom right up against mainland Europe. I was to find that much of the archaeology of the island is dominated by defensive structures of different dates.

Medieval wall painting

Medieval wall painting inside the Fishermen's Chapel.

I was surprised however at what there is not on the island of Jersey. While the neolithic chambered tombs are spectacular (see below), there is little to see of bronze age and iron age structures and perhaps most surprisingly, almost nothing Roman. It is really difficult to believe that the island was not densely settled in Roman times, with Brittany and Normandy being so close. There ought to be also more early medieval settlement, though the Fishermen's Chapel at St Brelade, the hermitages at L'Ile Agois and St Helier, and the strange stone in the church at St Lawrence show that there were people around.

By far the most impressive prehistoric site is the great chambered tomb of La Hougue Bie just outside St Helier, dating from around 4000–3500BC. Here a great mound covers a long gallery with burial chambers. This is one of those tombs or monuments where the sunlight floods down the passage on a specific date in the year – in this case the rising of the sun at the spring and autumn equinoxes. But this monument also seems to have been "Christianised" later, as there is a medieval chapel built on the top of the mound.

In fact the building is two chapels. The western 12th century chapel is interestingly dedicated to Our Lady of the Dawn, hinting at a connection with the burial chamber below. The eastern chapel is a modified part of the earlier building with a crypt and round "tower" end added. This was executed by Dean Mabon about 1520, became known as the Jerusalem chapel and seems to have been built to show a relic acquired from the Holy Land and housed in the crypt, which then attracted pilgrims.

Mound and Chapel

La Hougue Bie, the largest prehistoric burial mound in Jersey, is 12m high and topped by a medieval chapel.

La Hougue Bie also has the best museum on the island, with excellent displays of prehistoric tools and pottery, including those from the famous palaeolithic site of La Cotte de St Brelade in the south-west of the island (see My archaeology, Jul/Aug 2009). I visited La Hougue Bie museum with my Time Team friend Phil Harding, who got very excited about the palaeolithic tools, though he did point out that some were displayed upside-down. No matter, the helpful curator, Olga Finch, soon had the front of the case open and Phil was able to rearrange the exhibits!

There are plenty of other Neolithic chambers across the island – a dozen or so can be visited. I went to La Pouquelaye de Faldouet, a well-preserved "dolmen" in a small field, looking for all the world like one of the great Breton tombs I visited years ago. There are also about a dozen medieval churches on Jersey, prompting the thought that perhaps each tomb served a community in earlier times much as each parish church served a medieval community.

St Brelade on the south coast is one of the most picturesque churches. Alongside it is a small chapel, the Fishermen's Chapel, with very fine medieval wall paintings. This chapel looks just like the arrangements in Wales, where a chapel in the churchyard housed the bones of the "saint" who founded the site (usually called the "capel y bedd"): in this case possibly the fifth/sixth centuries St Brelade.

At St Lawrence's church a stone column of probable Roman date (so where was the villa – or other building – it might have come from?) was recarved in the eighth century as a memorial stone, and then recarved again in the 10th century with "Saxon" interlace work. What on earth was the original context of this stone, and where did it come from?

Everywhere else on the island is dominated by defences. As well as the castle of Gorey or Mont Orgueil, there was another medieval castle on the north-west corner of the island – Le Chateau de Grosnez – which is now in ruins, though on a very impressive site. Despite major medieval improvements to Mont Orgueil, the castle was eventually considered too vulnerable to cannon fire, and Sir Walter Raleigh, governor of the island from 1600 to 1603, replaced it with Elizabeth Castle on an island off St Helier, where the medieval abbey of St Helier had been situated.

Later fears of invasion by the French in the 18th century produced the 20 or so towers built by Henry Seymour Conway, Jersey's governor and commander-in-chief from 1772–1795. In many ways these towers provide the forerunners for the Martello towers around some parts of the British coast. Fort Regent also dates from Conway's time, a great stone fortress overlooking and defending the harbour at St Helier. While it was being built in 1785, a prehistoric burial chamber, "a perfect temple of the Druids", was discovered on the hilltop; it was moved to Conway's estate of Park Place in Berkshire, near Henley-on-Thames, where it still remains.

Finally the island was defended by the German occupying forces in the second world war. Several of the gun emplacements and observation towers remain around the coast, memorials to the slave labourers of the Todt organisation who built them.

There are excellent guide books to Mont Orgueil (by Warwick Rodwell), Elizabeth Castle (by Doug Ford) and La Hougue Bie (by Doug Ford and Olga Finch), and to the Dolmens of Jersey (by Peter Hunt). The 1:25000 Official Leisure Map of Jersey published by the States of Jersey is essential for getting around.

More travels

Jon Cannon tours the largest of the Channel Islands.

Map of Jersey

Jersey's Britishness is really an accident of early medieval history. Almost everything that makes the island historically interesting, from Armorican Neolithic tombs to Nazi-era fortifications, is a reflection of its location, just 14 miles (23km) from Normandy. The island is about 9 miles (15km) long and half as deep. Sandy bays are separated by rocky headlands; only the north coast is higher, and occasionally dramatic. South flowing rivers in wooded valleys drain the fertile inner island, shaping road and settlement patterns.

It is easy to reach, but not cheap. There are flights from many British (and some continental) airports, and ferries from Saint-Malo, Portsmouth, Poole and Weymouth; the latter is the fastest route from Britain, at 3.5 hours. A peak, undiscounted return would set a family and car back £550 or so; expect prices (and ambience) in hotels, shops and restaurants to reflect Jersey's tax-haven status. But travel as a foot passenger and a single adult return is £70–90; and for an intriguing reasonably-priced place to stay, try one of Jersey Heritage's historic fortifications (01534 633304/ those below apart, expect rugged settings and basic conditions). Bicycles are free on the ferries and the island is well-served by quiet cycle routes and holiday-season buses: a folding-bike and bus would be an excellent way of following our route.

We start at St Helier, a provincial small town and a capital city: Royal Square, lined by the public buildings of this self-governing British Crown dependency, originated as the medieval market place. There are archaeological displays at the Jersey Museum and Art Gallery (Apr–Dec; admission fee); the headquarters of La Société Jersiaise next door is home to the island's main archaeological library. The 16th century Elizabeth Castle is open daily, Apr–Oct, admission fee; as with many Jersey Heritage sites listed here, opening hours may change due to cutbacks: check before you travel.

From here we follow a rough circuit of the island. Start on the A4/A5/A3 (or cycle route 1) running east along the coast and nearing the passage graves of Mount Ubé and La Pouquelaye de Faldouet, to Mont Orgueil/Gorey Castle (Apr–Oct daily, Nov–Mar Fri–Mon; admission fee). This is a highlight of Jersey's defensive sites, though structures dotted throughout our journey form a veritable history of the subject. But the island's real must-see lies 2 miles (3km) inland, on the B28 (cycle route 3). The ancient mound of la Hougue Bie with its museum (daily Apr–Oct; admission fee), is home to a passage grave, a medieval chapel and a German command bunker.

Now to the island's north-eastern corner along the A6/B38, where Le Couperon is a passage grave high above the sea and, a mile (2km) on, Le Câtel de Rozel is a prehistoric promontory fort. The cliffs running east from here are spectacular; our route follows the B31/A8/A9 parallel to the coast, dipping south on the A10 (cycle routes 3 and 4) for an exploration of the inner island. Here are Hamptonne (opening very restricted: call 01534 633300), a museum of Jersey life in one of its best-preserved late medieval domestic complexes, and St Lawrence parish church. The Jersey War Tunnels and Sanctuary (Mar–Nov daily, Nov–Dec two afternoons weekly; admission fee) is the most significant of the island's Nazi-era sites. This underground fortress (and adjacent defensive landscape-turned-nature reserve) was built by slave and forced labour; as the Allied invasion of Europe loomed it was converted, unfinished, to a military hospital.

Back along the A11/B26/B40 to the north-west coast, Grève de Lecq has Napoleon-era barracks (National Trust for Jersey, May–Sep Wed–Sun; some available for rent), a promontory fort, and a defensive round tower of 1780; short walks from the B55 lead to the ruins of 14th century Grosnez castle and the evocative Le Pinacle. The amphitheatre-like setting of this sea stack has revealed evidence of ritual activity from the Neolithic onwards, including a possible Roman temple.

St Ouen's bay dominates the coast running south from here: follow the B35 down to La Corbière, the south-west headland, along a route peppered with defensive structures. Among the more distinctive attractions are the bizarre Battle of the Flowers museum (Apr–Oct; admission fee); a Neolithic tomb at Les Monts Grantez; the menhirs and tomb in the dunes around Les Blanches Banques; and two intriguing places to stay, both on hire from Jersey Heritage: Barge Aground (a 1930s folly) and La Corbière Radio Tower (built by the Nazis and now a Bauhaus-style holiday home).

The A13/A1 now leads us east back to St Helier, with some final highlights nearby: the medieval church and Fishermen's Chapel at St Brelade; the promontory of La Cotte de St Brelade, a major – if inaccessible – Palaeolithic site; St Matthew's/the Glass church, with Art Deco glass fittings; and a park at Ville ès Nouaux containing a Neolithic cist and passage grave and the defensive First Tower (1778).

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