THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONTEXT
The areas of land that became the Channel Islands were formed relatively recently with Guernsey becoming cut off from the French mainland first in the sequence some 8,000 years ago (Sebire and Renouf 2010). Jersey remained connected to mainland France until probably a thousand years later (Figure 7.1) and has the earliest archaeological
Figure 7.1. The location of the Channel Islands showing the 20-metre submarine contour. After Sebire and Renouf 2010.
remains. The great site at La Cotte de St Brelade produced Lower Palaeolithic material left behind by hunters living on the edge of what was the French mainland (Callow and Cornford 1986; Bates et al. 2013). Later after the inundation of the surrounding valleys and the formation of the islands, groups of hunters and gatherers exploited the coastline and other resources as witnessed by the community on Lihou Island, Guernsey, who were roasting hazelnuts around 7000 bc
(Conneller et al. forthcoming). During the time between the Mesolithic and the Early Neolithic a considerable area of land around Guernsey was lost beneath the waves due to rising sea levels. However, some traces on Guernsey of Early Neolithic settlement were found at the former Royal Hotel site in St Peter Port, contemporary with the Villeneuve-St-Germaine groups in the Paris basin (Cassen et al. 2000; Guyodo and Hamon 2005; Sebire 2012). It is possible that a menhir may have been associated with this site as the developers recounted moving ‘a very large boulder indeed’ from this rescue site before archaeological recording could begin. Later, in the Middle Neolithic, dated in neighbouring western France from 4400 to 3400 bc (Cassen 2000b; 2000c), megalithic burial tombs were built in the Channel Islands with clear affinities to the megalithic tradition of Normandy and Brittany. The large passage grave of Le Dehus on Guernsey, which has an arrangement of side chambers unparalleled in the northern French tombs, however, (Scarre 2011a, 99) has recently produced dates from previously excavated human remains to 4100-3900 bc (Schulting et al. 2010) suggesting the tomb building began in the late fifth millennium bc.
The most spectacular megalithic tomb in the Channel Islands is at La Hougue Bie in Jersey dated in its earliest phase to c. 4000-3500 bc (Patton et al. 1999). The tomb has an unusually long passage entered from the south-east, which leads into a bottle-shaped terminal chamber with three side chambers opening from it in a cruciform arrangement. There are twenty-four circular cup marks carved on the east slab in the northern lateral chamber and several small cists were identified with upright stones suggesting ritual activity within the tomb. As will be discussed regarding the Guernsey statue-menhirs, La Hougue Bie was a focus of local myth and legend as it was so dominant on the landscape and is clearly marked on the Duke of Richmond map of Jersey, drawn in 1787, as La Houque. In the Early Medieval period a chapel, Notre Dame de la Clarte, considered as an attempt to counteract ‘paganism’, was erected. Variations in tomb building in the islands lasted into the final Neolithic and Chalcolithic (from c. 1800 bc) characterized by different forms of megaliths such as the cists-in-circles, found at L’Islet in Guernsey.
The statue-menhirs of Guernsey are part of the island’s megalithic tradition and most likely began their life histories in the Middle Neolithic although as in other areas where they are not part of a larger complex they are notoriously difficult to date. Their survival is not least remarkable as the record of Neolithic menhirs in Guernsey is partial although, with the aid of earlier records and the evidence of place-names, it can be surmised that thirty or so survived into Medieval or recent times (Guerin 1921; Kinnes 1988). Many more are likely to have been destroyed by agricultural clearance and quarrying, as discussed by Hibbs (1986), who suggested that Guernsey and Jersey had both lost around thirty to forty megalithic sites. Less than ten menhirs, including the two statue-menhirs discussed below, survive today in Guernsey.