Archaeology Report for 2003

This was a year which showed the best of the Bailiwick’s archaeology, yet also how difficult the task of preserving the past can be.

In April Professor Tim Champion gave the Societe an informative lecture on the whole concept of “monuments”. He described how the English idea of a monument began as a romantic ruin left to peacefully decay, to be preserved only by record. In more modern times we see the need for preservation, but should recognise that many of our “monuments” were not intended to last forever and it may not be possible, even desirable, to save them all.

This conclusion was in a way ironic, as a planned Section visit in January to see the Old Prison was aborted when the site was bulldozed somewhat earlier than we had been led to believe. The Section voiced concerns over the lack of consultation or planning which precedes many States developments – emergency rescue work was needed to recover remains disturbed by the new airport road. The result was also disappointing – wide and straight with concrete kerbs - “nice if this was Bracknell” one member commented. The marina development at St Sampsons was also undertaken in the absence of any impact assessment or archaeological assessment done before the project started. We will never know whether the ancient timbers rumoured to have been found in a skip relate to a historic ship or shoreline structure. Following from this, we learned that no provision had been made for archaeological work preceding the extensive school building programme- a situation which shows Guernsey’s approach to the problem of heritage protection is three decades behind the UK (and even further behind France). The Section made a contribution to the Rural Area Plan debate, stressing the need for a proper mechanism to permit archaeological work to take place, including a method whereby the work can be paid for. This last point was not accepted.

In the Autumn, Nial Marer from Jersey Museum delivered a splendid practical talk on the basic principles of conservation of artefacts, which he described as a “constant battle against entropy”. It showed what a difficult and expensive job even small objects can present. There was also the message of if in doubt – leave it where it is!

The Archaeology of Sark

In August we visited Sark, and with the kind hospitality of landowners there were able to visit almost all the known archaeological sites on the island.

We began by examining a questionable destroyed dolmen built into the junction at La Vauroque, which we voted a “probable”. In the picture we can make out half a dozen large stones which may have once made up the dolmen. Another large stone is built into a building corner opposite. We were unable however to find a supposed statue-menhir south of the crossroads.
A pleasant stroll took us to the top of the island and a ramble over the post-mediaeval fortifications overlooking L’Epequerie. We then took in the succession of older earthworks forming a possible fortified promontory at the northern tip of the island. The picture shows a view of one ditch and bank, looking westwards with Herm and Guernsey in the distance. A curious group of rocks part-way down a cliff was proposed as a would-be-cist, but it could equally have been quarry waste.
In the afternoon we visited Le Fort and followed the line of extensive prehistoric/mediaeval earthworks fortifying the headland there. The picture shows the scrub and small trees growing down the steep inner face of the bank. The ditch bottom is marked by the brown .bracken We also thought we could make out the building platforms inside (behind the camera shot here). Less convincing were remains of a star fort in the immediate vicinity of La Tour, a short distance to the south-west.
The Seigneur kindly showed us around the grounds of La Seigneurie, permitting a close-up look at the Priory wall and the evidence left behind by the 1980’s excavations there. We then followed the valley down to the fish ponds and into L’Ecluse, where the monk’s mill must have been situated. An entertaining game of hunt-the-leat then took place in the lawns and thickets!
On Sunday we located the impressive cist at Rouge Terrier in Little Sark. The structure is large enough to accommodate a kneeling man beneath its massive castone. It is difficult to photograph as it is perched on a steep slope facing France. We did not manage to visit the second cist supposed to exist on the opposite side of Little Sark at La Vermondaye.
The rest of the morning was spent hunting for remains of the silver mines worked in Little Sark from the late 19th century. The picture shows all that remains of the towering three-storey pump house. Hidden in the gorse and bracken are extensive remains including ventilation shafts, a roasting oven and a landing stage Port at Port Gorey. We did not spot the ephemeral remains of the iron age fort said to be located down there.

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Candie Gardens, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 1UG, Channel Islands.