Rediscovered Neanderthal Site on Island of Jersey

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On the British island of Jersey’s southeastern coastline, in La Cotte de St. Brelade cave, a team of archaeologists have rediscovered an ancient site where Neanderthals once lived. It has produced more Neanderthal stone tools than all of the other sites where such artifacts have been found in the British Isles combined. At a news conference, on Thursday the rediscovery of the site was announced.

The site was thought to have been destroyed more than 100 years ago due to excavations on the island. The archaeologists, who were attempting to stabilize and explore the cave, were surprised but happy to rediscover the virtual treasure trove of artifacts which still remained.

More than 250,000 years of sediments, evidence of climate change, and of Neanderthals, are preserved in the La Cotte de St. Brelade cave. The only late Neanderthal remains that have been found in northwestern Europe are in the cave, making the rediscovery of it extremely significant to our knowledge of Neanderthals and their behavior.

As the Institute of Archeology’s Dr. Matt Pope puts it, “finding that so much still remains is as exciting as discovering a new site.”

How were the sediments at the site dated?

Utilizing a method called Optically Stimulated Luminesce, the team of archaeologists were able to tell how old the sediments. were.  The technique can determine how long ago sand grains in sediments were on the surface, where exposure to the sunlight before they got buried under other layers could be used to detect their age. At Oxford University, the dating of the sediments occurred at the Luminescence Dating Research Laboratory.

The findings the researchers arrived at showed that the layers of sediments they tested dated from 100,000-47,000 years ago. This told them also that teeth of a Neanderthal discovered back in 1910 likely belonged to one of the last of the Neanderthals to have ever lived on the island.

Pope mentioned that the period that the teeth are dated to “covers the period in which Neanderthal populations apparently went ‘extinct.'”

Also significant is that this period is when Homo sapiens began to supplant the Neanderthals in the British Isles.

The Société Jerisaise has preserved and managed the site for approximately three decades. The Société has worked to preserve the site. They want to have it attract the interest of the wider academic world.

The Journal of Quaternary Science published the tale of the rediscovery of the Neaderthal site in a recent  article The research project will next continue investigating the site and the artifacts which have been taken from it.

According to Pope, in collaboration with their partners, he and the team of researchers will also analyze “these rediscovered sediments .”  By doing so will, Pope hopes that the world will become more aware of these Neandertahl groups who once inhabitated Europe.  “Pope would like to know, among many other things related to the Neanderthals, who once lived on the island, “whether they ever shared the landscape with the species which ultimately replaced them, us.”

The British Isles are rich in history. One of the most ancient and richest sites of Neanderthal artifacts, long thought to have been destroyed, was rediscovered on the Isle of Jersey. Studying the artifacts there may possibly change many of our conceptions about them and how they lived, and if they ever co-existed with Homo sapiens.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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