Life and death of a Late Neolithic gallery grave in Guernsey: a new phase of work on the Delancey Park monument
The team at work… and at rest!
Friday, 24th June – End of dig parlez
Have we achieved our aims and objectives?
We set out to reveal the Neolithic archaeology of the site, and to a large extent we have. Although, frustratingly, we encountered a lot of evidence of the 1919 excavation, more extensive than we previously anticipated. When we thought we were in the Neolithic, we came across irrefutable traces of our 1919 predecessors having a good time. However, despite this small setback, team members did expose the eastern and western ends of the monument and significant features including a series of stone lined sockets that would have supported the enormous uprights. Additionally, at the western end we discovered a rubble layer overlying a pit which had been cut into the natural soils; off to one side of this was an enigmatic feature, possibly a stone lined pad which may have supported a timber post or stone upright. Based on several photographs taken during the 1932 excavation, this sensitive area of the site appears to have been ignored, thus revealing an in-situ section of the site’s western end for first time in c.4500 years. More significantly, is the uncovering of a soil deposit that contained a secure charcoal sample large enough for radio carbon dating.
How do we feel about the work we have done?
Well, for a start, we have been working with a team of superb archaeologists, and there has been a genuine interest from the local community, particularly from local school children. Concerning the archaeology, the discovery of previous unrecorded excavations especially at the north side of the site has been disappointing. Nevertheless, outside these areas, a number of significant in-situ later prehistoric features and structures have been duly recorded.
George being interviewed by Channel TV
We have been delighted with the finds, a number of them are of museum display quality, including prehistoric decorated pottery, flint tools and associated debitage, and a finely worked piece of stone commonly described as a mace-head. Even more spectacular, and latched onto by the local media, was the discovery of three aqua-marine perforated beads which were found on the north-east section of the site. These curious items, possibly made of faience (a type of glass) do not originate locally, and therefore can be considered an exotic adornment. What the finds suggest is that this is a complex multi-period site which had a variety of uses and meanings. The Clifton Antiquarian Club have a made a positive contribution to the prehistoric archaeology on Guernsey. Our sincere thanks go to Philip de Jersey and staff of the Guernsey Museum Service, and the Admiral de Saumarez Trust for their valuable assistance.
We believe in the importance of outreach and involving the local youngsters
Wednesday, 22nd June
Wednesday saw a mixture of tidying up trenches and recording and planning. Then the back-filling of the site commenced in the late afternoon. In between times we had various visits from curious school children eager to learn more about what we were digging and discovering. It is always a pleasure to meet and greet people coming to visit the site.
Overhead photo of the site taken with the mighty CAC pole!
Tuesday, 21st June
We are now coming to the final phase of our intripid expedition into Guernsey’s ancient past. We are still convinced that the socket holes at the eastern end of the monument are contemporary with the Gallerery Grave phase. Today we have attempted to consider a number of possible scenarios concerning their alignment with other features to the east. Also, with a little valuable time on our hands, we have managed to open up another trench which is located in the western section of the monument and revealed a curious rubble spread with a enigmatic sub-circular stone feature.
Today also marks our outreach stategey to involve the young community in this project, with the presence of Olivia who is our youngest volunteer to date. We hope that her and others experiences will lead to an enhanced appreciation of the ancient heritage of the island. We have been overwhelmed by interested school children and student visitors, one of whom has chosen to undertake a photographic project that involves archaeologists and their archaeology.
Work hard, play hard!
Sunday, 19th June
Have we achieved our goals? Well, on the north-western side of the trench where we thought we had in-situ cairn; we found brick underneath! However, substantial finds including dateable flint and pottery have been found, suggesting that there may have been domestic occupation before the monument was established. At the eastern end of the monument team members vigorously excavated a 4th trench, and guess what? Very little was found. Nevertheless, it did inform us that, the probable entrance to the monument lay a few metres to the west. Within the the same area two very important features could be discerned; a palaeosol which we consider to be the original Neolithic land surface, and most striking of all, clear evidence of three or more socket holes which mirror the shape of the lower sections of several nearby fallen uprights. This tantalising evidence gives us some idea of the morphology of the monument. It is clear that previous historical excavation activity – which was never recorded – had severely damaged the monument. We have a few more days of intensive investigation; who knows what we will uncover next – watch this space!
Trowels at the ready!
Friday, 17th June
Well, we have arrived to take-on our most challenging part of the project yet – that of excavation. The current archaeological programme at Delancey is our final piece of fieldwork following two very rewarding seasons in 2009 and 2010. The survey work in 2009, the first of its kind at Delancey Park, plus a detailed desk-based assessment, allowed members of the excavation team to work out an evaluation strategy for 2010.
The evaluation programme, conducted during an extremely warm spell in June last year and comprising seven small trenches revealed a tantalising glimpse into the monuments distant past with the recovery of locally knapped flint and pottery within the spoil heap that originated from the V.C.C. Collum excavation of 1932. Quite rightly, this evaluation programme assessed the potential of any future large-scale excavation by stopping at the first significant archaeological horizon. However, the team was a little frustrated that the prehistoric stratigraphy was never quite encountered; even though the earliest artefacts dated to the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age, and were in abundance. Despite this, however, the evaluation programme did reveal a few secrets concerning its architecture. There had always been speculation concerning the type of monument Delancey Park actually was – it was initially considered to be a passage grave. However, the most recent view is that it is a gallery grave. This idea is based on a number of indicators, namely the linearity and length of the stone setting, the slightly undulating local topography, and the artefacts recovered, although the latter point has thrown into question the longevity of the site.
Overhead shot at the start of the dig
With these points in mind, plus an enthusiastic and dedicated team, excavation work commenced in mid-June 2011. The main focus of the excavation was to try and understand the development of the monument on its northern flank. Could we find, for example evidence of the packing stones that would have supported a series of fallen uprights? Also, could we find evidence of a row of stone settings that would have flanked the monument, as found on a number of other gallery graves within the region? We are hoping that these architectural details are within areas of the northern trench which is currently under excavation. In addition to the structural elements we have found a considerable number of artefacts, some potentially quite exciting! Club member Chris Hopkins, who was working within a small trench at the eastern end of the monument uncovered a palaeosol (buried soil) approximately 0.70m below the current ground level and within this horizon up popped a small turquoise perforated bead. Elsewhere, a large Neolithic blade was discovered by international team member Rachel Varghese. These and other artefacts are beginning to tell us that we are dealing with a complex site, and may be not just a gallery grave!
Right from the start we were unearthing excellent quality finds
The main northern trench, measuring 12m by 3m is revealing a compacted cairn deposit which may imply that the builders of Delancey Park wanted to make their special mark on this monument and maybe build a structure that was slightly different to other galley graves; anyway all will be revealed later in the week.
In addition to the main trench the club has also taken the bold decision (given time and the sporadic inclement weather) to excavate three other trenches. Currently, two small trenches are being excavated around the eastern entrance and western terminal end of the monument; again the finds have revealed a rich and long history. A fourth trench located on the southern side of Delancey has revealed probable compacted cairn; alas no significant prehistoric finds yet, just evidence from the occasional party-goer!
What can we say so far?
Well, despite the monument’s poor condition, we probably have a late Neolithic burial-ritual monument in an area that was most likely in use during the Early Neolithic to Early Bronze Age (based on some of its finds); suggesting a possible occupation period of up to 1500 years. Assuming that Delancey Park is a gallery grave, the presence of a cairn (rubble spread) around the monument is curious but not implausible. The finds show that the site is significant, but more work is required before anything meaningful and conclusive can be said.
As with many sites of this age, there are usually more questions than answers. When the evaluation was completed in 2010 the majority of the team were convinced that what Delancey Park was simply a single-phased monument; merely a gallery grave. It is clear from this year’s excavation programme that a little bit of rethinking is required. Yes, it probably still is a gallery grave but there are a number of idiosyncratic features such as the cairn and the presence of finds that fall outside the Late Neolithic period that suggest a multi-phased site.
As part of the post-excavation programme of work we intend to look in greater detail at the various finds – bone, flint, pottery, stone artefacts and of course that bead. In addition we will have by the end of the week taken soil samples for micromorphological and pollen analysis. These specialist approaches plus the pulling together the reams of site paperwork will hopefully establish a clearer picture of what was going on at Delancey Park some 4000 – 5500 years ago.
Dr George Nash (Director)
18th June 2011
Delancey News Item!
The Admiral de Saumarez Trust
We are extremely grateful for the help and support of the Admiral de Saumarez Trust, a charitable organization which raises money for community and island wide regeneration projects, such as the rejuvenation of sports amenities and historical features at Delancey Park.
For further details of the Admiral de Saumarez Trust visit their website