Archaeologists return to La Cotte de St Brelade at Ouaisné next week to restart excavations and begin an exciting new phase of discovery at the iconic Ice Age site.
Their work at the ancient site will include a section at the top of what is known as “the bluff”, which has not been accessible to archaeologists for nearly 40 years and was last excavated in 1981.
Since then, safety issues have largely kept archaeologists away from La Cotte, which was first discovered in 1881. Over the next century, local and international archaeologists – including HRH Prince Charles in 1968, when he was student at Cambridge – studied the site and it is now known to be the biggest Neanderthal site in Europe.
After almost 30 years without any excavation, archaeologists were back on-site at La Cotte between 2010-2014 to carry out exploratory work in the West Ravine at the foot of “the bluff” and in the North Ravine. The results of this work, funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), established that coastal erosion was a serious threat to the site.
Jersey Heritage stepped in last year to address the situation and heavily invested in work to stabilise the cliffs above La Cotte and to build a sea wall to protect the site from the unrelenting pounding of waves. This work is now complete.
Jon Carter, Jersey Heritage’s Chief Executive, said: “The rocks in front of La Cotte had protected the site for thousands of years, but the proximity of the sea had begun to take its toll, threatening to wash away history and causing serious safety concerns. The work that has taken place was vital for the future conservation of the site. We are delighted that archaeologists can now safely return to La Cotte and uncover more of the fascinating stories that it holds.”
Over the next two weeks, a team of six archaeologists, led by Dr Matt Pope, from UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, and Dr Beccy Scott, from the British Museum, will begin the new programme of excavation – including at the top of “the bluff”.
Dr Pope said: “Jersey Heritage’s programme of transformative engineering work has preserved this internationally-important Neanderthal site for the future. This means that not only are we able to restart excavations at La Cotte, but we can begin a new, long-term programme of scientific discovery at the site.”
Dr Pope explained that his team would be working alongside Geomarine, which carried out the cliff stabilisation and sea wall work on behalf of Jersey Heritage, to develop new excavation methods. “We believe these methods will push the boundaries of what is possible at a dramatic site like La Cotte de St Brelade and challenge people’s conceptions of how we do archaeology in the 21st century,” he said.
A joint fundraising campaign was recently launched by the Société Jersiaise and Jersey Heritage to ensure that the vital work to conserve La Cotte de St Brelade can continue for years to come. For more information about the campaign, go to www.lacotte.org.je