The Ice Age Island project doesn’t just take place in the field. We are currently undertaking exciting archive work in the Jersey Heritage stores, re-organising historical collections excavated from La Cotte de St. Brelade in the late twentieth century. The collection comprises some 94,000 stone tools collected from the site by Professor Charles McBurney of Cambridge University between 1961 and 1978. Jersey Heritage curates the archive, and provided the team with the resources needed to re-organise the collection.
Before our current work, Professor McBurney had organised these artefacts according to what type of artefact they represent: for example, all the cores, or all the scrapers, are grouped together. Our goal has been to move these artefacts into boxes reflecting where they came from spatially within the site – down to 5 cm spits within a metre square. So you can now “re-excavate” the collection through new analysis – looking at everything from one level, or one specific area.
This re-organisation will allow us to interpret how the stone tools relate to each other spatially. It is now possible to lay out all the artefacts from each metre square, allowing us to distinguish distinct activity areas. Through refitting waste flakes, we can also look at exactly how artefacts were made – what state they were in when they entered the site, and how Neanderthals reworked and adapted them. This was something that the original excavators thought one day might be possible, but could never actually complete themselves, because computers were not powerful enough at the time.
Every artefact that we re-bag and order into it’s original location is a step closer to making the collection accessible by researchers, and revealing important aspects of the Palaeolithic occupation of Jersey. Currently we have started looking specifically at the material from Layer 5 of the site, an occupation deposit that underlies the uppermost bone heap (Layer 6). This layer contains an abundance of lithic material and we are interested to see how these bone heaps are related to the artefacts, allowing us to reconstruct how Neanderthals moved through, and lived within, this spectacular site.