14,000-year-old hunter-gatherer settlement found in Jersey

Remains of a 14,000-year-old hunter gatherer settlement have been discovered by archaeologists from University College London (UCL) and the University of Manchester. They say their finding offers great views over landscapes now submerged below the English Channel.

The site is called Les Varines. It is located in the Jersey parish of St. Saviour, where more than 5,000 stone artefacts have been uncovered.

However, in the summer of 2015, archaeologists discovered denser concentrations of burnt bone and tools, and for the first time, fragments of engraved stones. They are all currently being studied in an attempt to unravel the significance of these extraordinary finds.

Hunter gatherer etchingsThese super-ancient etchings are probably older than any art found in Britain. (Image: ulc.ac.uk)

Excavation leader, Dr. Ed Blinkhorn, who works at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, said:

“This has been the culmination of five years of patient work, tracing thousands of flint tools within slope deposits back to the mother lode. We knew a significant hunter-gatherer camp lay in this field and it seems we’ve finally found it.”

Hunter-gatherer settlement

The hunter-gatherer settlement sits on top of an ancient cliff line. A geological study has shown that the camp probably sits on a small saddle in the landscape between rising ground to the north and an old sea stack.

The location would have afforded some protection from the weather during that period, when temperatures were still low.

The site existed toward the end of the last Ice Age, and was inhabited by modern human hunter-gatherers of the Magdalenian culture, one of the later cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe, who reoccupied northern and western Europe between 16,000 and 13,000 years ago.

Archaeological site JerseyThe fragments were sealed within an apparent ancient landsurface. (Credit: Dr. Sarah Duffy)

Among their prey were horses and reindeer. They left a rich record of sophisticated Stone Age technology and remarkable works of art, including the cave paintings in Lascaux and Altamira.

The team are particularly interested in three fragments of an exotic stone unearthed at the site, which contain traces of fine engraved lines across their surface.

The fragments are currently being studied by Dr. Silvia Bellow, who works at the Natural History Museum.

Dr. Bello said:

“We are at an early stage in our investigations, but we can already say the stones are not natural to the site, 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 and one exciting possibility is that this is what we have here.”

Hunter gatherersAt the end of the Ice Age, the hunter-gatherers had sophisticated hunting techniques and weapons.

Stone fragments

The fragments were unearthed in one small corner of the 2015 excavation trenches, next to stone artifacts and close to a collection of burnt bone, sealed within an apparent ancient landsurface and associated with possible paving slabs.

Project Co-Director. Dr. Chantal Conneller, who works at the University of Manchester, said:

“We knew from the beginning that Les Varines was an important site. There is nothing of its size or scale elsewhere in the British Isles but there are parallels in France and Germany. 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.”

“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. However 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.”

Jersey archaeology

Director of Jersey Heritage, Jon Carter, said:

“Jersey has an exceptional record of early stone age archaeology for such a small island, and this exhibition show cases these sites and the science behind research currently being undertaken by the Ice Age Island team.”

“This research, supported by the Sates of Jersey Tourism Development Fund and Capco Trust, is bringing to light new stories from Jersey’s deep Ice Age heritage and continuing to show that the Island, with exceptional sites such as Les Varines and La Cotte de St Brelade is a scientific treasure trove”

These are the latest finds from the Ice Age Island project, a collaboration between Jersey Heritage, and a British archaeological team run through the British Museum with the University of Manchester, UCL Institute of Archaeology, St. Andrews University, the University of Southampton, and the University of Wales.

The project was financed by the Capco Trust and the Jersey Tourist Development Fund. The current analysis is supported by the Pathways to Ancient Britain.

The Ice Age Island Exhibition runs until 30th December, 2016, at Jersey Museum.

Video Exotic stone uncovered in Jersey

This video includes a brief visualisation of an exotic stone found at a 15,000-year-old hunter-gatherer settlement in Jersey.