Although the main focus of our excavation is the Magdalenian site at Les Varines, some of the team remain immersed in a Neanderthal world. As we work through the 94,000 artefacts excavated from La Cotte de St.Brelade, the different stone materials used by Neanderthals occupying the site are strikingly different, and often treated in different ways. Flint is present, and can only have come from an offshore source now inaccessible beneath the English Channel. They probably brought it in as part of their individual tool kits, and recycled and re-used tools many, many times.
But what is interesting us at the moment is the other stones that Neanderthals picked up and used when the flint they carried with them was exhausted. By working out where these different materials came from, and how and why they were used, we can start to reconstruct where Neanderthals were moving. Some of the artefacts in the Jersey Heritage collection from La Cotte are glossy sandstones from the Contentin Peninsula, and which also occur in Brittany. Looking at these pieces, and plotting where they come from, allows us to replace the Jersey Neanderthals in their broader regional landscape, travelling around the modern coast and across the submerged plains of the Gulf of St.Malo.
But there are some odd sandstones in the collection: we’re not exactly where they come from. We’ve consulted experts from the Societe Jersiaise, who are similarly puzzled. We know they can’t have come far, as we’ve got some pretty complete refitting sequences, showing that this material was largely worked at La Cotte, and not carried in. It must be fairly local, but perhaps from a submarine source that was exposed at times of low sea level.
So, like the Neanderthals, we have started to explore what stone resources were available, by collecting samples from exposures through the Jersey Shales, comparing them with what we see in the record, and also bring the occasional block for James Dilley to have a go at knapping. Experiments like this give us a better idea of the potential of local raw materials – and allow us to start considering why Neanderthals favoured particular stones, and not others.