Ice Age Earthquake!

It’s hard to grab time to write down what we’re actually doing in the white heat of a summer field season: my day began at 4.30 this morning when my husband finally rejoined me in my tent (post-sophisticated cocktail party) and I started to worry whether I had booked a tool store and portaloo to be delivered to a Mesolithic site on the North coast of Jersey today. We’re part of the Ice Age Island project, a three year project looking at the Pleistocene archaeology of Jersey.  We’re investigating Pleistocene and early Holocene archaeology held in capture points around Jersey – coastal fissures, caves and inland valleys – in order to better understand changing hunter-gatherer archaeology throughout the now submerged Gulf of St.Malo. Our main field base is our excavation of a Magdalenian site of Les Varines, but my heart remains solidly Neanderthal, and I predominantly spent the day talking through raw materials from la Cotte de St.Brelade with Anne-Lyse Ravon from the University of Rennes. It’s never as simple as that, of course: I had to spend 45 minutes after our morning briefing waiting for my 2 year old daughter to wake up before I could get her dressed for the day, say good bye properly, and head off.

We lose half our student team tomorrow (witness the cocktail party last night) and it’s sad to think that, just as we’ve all pulled together as unit, we’re about to be broken asunder. The tents will go down, we’ll lose half our crack team, and new crop of wide eyed archaeological debutantes will join us. We took a lucky couple into the Jersey Heritage stores with us today, helping to sort through the 94,000 artefacts that Professor Charles McBurney excavated from La Cotte de St.Brelade. Alongside the field season, we are in many ways still dealing with his post-ex: doing all the things that, given the time and  resources, he and his team would have done – refitting, detailed technological analysis, and attempting to source the material dropped by Neanderthals at La Cotte. Doing this allows us not only to reconstruct their behaviour within the site itself, but the complicated itineraries they followed as they moved around the landscapes of the Gulf of St.Malo. The coats of Normandy, Brittany and especially Jersey are rich in Neanderthal archaeology: there seems to be something about the contact between the modern terrestrial landscape and the drowned plain that makes this a favoured place for Neanderthals and their prey – and not simply because coasts provide capture points.

Anne-Lyse Ravon is an expert of the raw material used by Neanderthals on the Breton side of the Normano-Breton gulf:  she’s been helping us identify and group the raw materials our Neanderthals have been collecting, and also helped us out today with refitting material. The Norman-Breton landscape made itself spectacularly felt at around lunchtime today when we were hit by an earthquake – and hour late they felt the same earthquake in Brittany along the same fault that structures the landscape of the offshore region.

This excitement over, Matt Pope and I were interviewed by Daniel West for a project he’s conducting into the different ways in which we study and talk about Neanderthals: I really enjoyed the experience – it’s always useful to reflect on how and why we construct the knowledge we share. My favourite question has to be “do you think about Neanderthals when you smoke?” (and this to two reluctant ex-smokers on a little excavation smoking holiday). That done, it was off to the Jersey Heritage Museum at Hogue Bie to view some more raw samples…tonight off to flight club to experience an authentic Jersey Meal of Bean Pot, Calvados, and Jersey Wonders. Best job in the world: I love this island!!!


Beccy Scott

Post-doc, British Museum – Pathways to Britain / Crossing the Threshold / Ice Age Island