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13 November 2014

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You are in: Jersey > My Island > History > Pre-historic Jersey

Pre-historic Jersey

Jersey archaeologists delve into life in Ice Age Jersey.

Ouaisne cliff

Mammoths were chased off Ouaisne cliff

A quarter of a million years ago you could walk from Jersey to France and gargantuan beasts such as Woolly mammoth stalked the land.

Since the 1900s discoveries made at a site in Jersey have shed light on how our ancestors lived.

In a cave at La Cotte in Ouaisne Bay in Jersey archaeologists have, over the years, found tools and the fossilised bones and teeth of woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros, cave bear and reindeer.

These remains date from a time when the view from Ouaisne was not sea, but a huge treeless land stretching all the way to what is now St Malo. Groups of nomadic people would move northwards in the spring, following the animals to their summer pastures in the place where England is today.

Doug Ford at Ouaisne

Doug Ford at Ouaisne

Ouaisne cliffs

On the cliffs at Ouaisne, they would hunt for their supper Doug Ford is the head of community learning at Jersey Heritage.

Doug Ford said: "The idea was you would have waited or tried to sneak up on the animals which would have been grazing on the top and you would have stampeded them.

"If you are faced with a six-foot hairy mammoth are you are armed with a sharp stick, you have to have a bit of an edge." 

As a graduate in the 1970s Mr Ford was part of a dig here in the cave at La Cotte. He remembers it was painstaking work.

He said: "On this site it was down to 10 to 15 centimetres where the site was basically divided into a grid and you excavated 15 centimetres square and you had to take everything you suspected was stone and scrutinise it really closely."

Ancient tools

At the Jersey Museum, modern technology is helping us to understand what life was like for the people and animals that walked the earth two hundred and fifty thousand years ago.

Scientist can tell learn a lot by analysing the flint and stone tools found at the site, says Jersey archaeology curator Olga Finch.

Olga Finch said: "We can learn a lot more about the use-wear analyses and that helps to identify the function of the tool by analysing polishes that had built up over the years of using the tool.

"And perhaps identify whether these cutting tools were used for cutting meat, scraping skins, or for woodworking handles and figurines."

The meaning of these Ice Age events resonates through time.

Archaeologists and a mammoth

Olga with a mammoth

"It is very hard to imagine 250 thousand years ago. There were an awful lot of changes happening in the environment in terms of extinction. Children growing up today are facing the same changes. It is nothing new in a way," Olga continued.

And for Doug Ford, the significance of what was found at La Cotte stretches across the years.

He said: "I think what it does show is human activity in the island goes back a long way and just as quarter of a million years ago people had to adapt to their environment, whether it was the physical or the economic that we have today. People do adapt."

Neanderthal rodeo-rider

A highlight of the exhibition at Jersey Museum is a model of the head of a person, which has been made to look as a Neanderthal man might have, all those years ago.

Olga explained: "There are a number of features, high brow-ridge, smaller set back jaw the cheek bones as well are more prominent. They had very sort of active lives.

"Their whole sort of body has been compared to a modern day rodeo rider, when you need that sort of bulk and strength and robustness."

It's a face which would have looked out on a very different landscape, but one which coped in a changing environment in the same way people still do today.

last updated: 01/05/2009 at 10:36
created: 01/05/2009

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How do we know it was treeless between here and St.Malo? Was it tidal in some way back then?

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