The site of La Cotte de St. Brelade preserves an exceptional archaeological sequence, recording unparalleled evidence for changing Neanderthal behaviour between 250-60 KBP. As well as Neanderthal fossils, the site has produced in excess of 250,000 finds. Two notable layers have drawn the interpretative focus of archaeologists; both are “bone heaps”, comprising axial elements of mammoth and woolly rhino. These were interpreted as the result of Neanderthals driving these animals over the headland and butchering them in the ravines below (Callow and Cornforth 1986). However, although the bones from these heaps were examined in great detail, the lithic material has never been examined, beyond a basic typological count.
New work by QAEJ (Pope et al under review) has started to look at the bone heaps afresh. Previous excavators under Charles McBurney’s direction carefully recorded the position of all bones and artefacts in 3D, but lacked the computing power necessary to fully interrogate the data they generated. We have re-analysed the flint artefacts from these layers and shown that they have been discarded at the site after being carefully transported around landscapes now submerged beneath the English Channel. Through constructing a 3D model of the interior of the fissure system at La Cotte de St Brelade, we hope to replace all the artefacts and bones within the heaps, and re-examine the relationship between them – effectively, re-excavating the site in virtual terms. This will allow us to assess whether the bone accumulations are really the result of cliff fall hunting, or perhaps of some other process – perhaps the use of bone as building material, or fuel – or even whether the bone heaps only look “special” because the site was abandoned by Neanderthals immediately after the bones were discarded.
The following video file shows the reconstructed 3D model of the interior of the La Cotte de St Brelade fissure system highlighting the concrete sections (with rectangular drainage holes) left in place at the back of the cave to preserve sediments for future exploration by the Société Jersiaise. The 3D model also shows the old railway line used by excavators of the site in the early 20th Century to dump spoil from the site into the intertidal zone located at the mouth of the fissure system.
The members of QAEJ who contributed to this Digital Humanities project would also like to thank Gareth Beale for his help in processing the 3D model of La Cotte de St Brelade
- James Cole
- Beccy Scott