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29 June 2010
Gallery grave in Guernsey yields Neolithic findings

A Neolithic burial site in the parish of St Sampson (Guernsey) has yielded structures, flint, pottery fragments and stone tools that date back at least 4500 years. They were discovered in a gallery grave that lies on the coastal fringe of north east Guernsey (in the Channel Islands). Evidence has also been found of related structures that were previously unknown to archaeologists. The finds were made during a preliminary examination of the site in June 2010. More extensive excavations are due to take place in 2011 that will include further excavation around the northern part of the site as well as inside the main gallery.
     The Delancey Park structure, comprising two lines of stone extending some 9.5m is Guernsey's only gallery grave. This monument is one of three in the Channel Islands; a further two stand in neighbouring Jersey and a further 24 are located in northern France and two in Wales. Based on the artefacts recovered from Delancey Park and other gallery graves, these structures appear to date to the Late Neolithic period and are therefore later than the passage grave tradition which more or less dominates the Neolithic monumentality of Jersey and Guernsey [e.g. La Hougue Bie (Jersey) and Le Varde and Le Dehus in the northern part of Guernsey].
     Project Director Dr George Nash said: "We've found significant archaeology that includes structures that stand away from the main gallery grave. Artefacts recovered from each of the six trenches include 40 or so pieces of worked flint and 38 sherds of Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age pottery. We also have recovered charcoal samples for radiocarbon dating and ideal pottery samples for thin section analysis." Dr Nash further explained that the Delancey Park monument survives as two rows of stones and are orientated east-west (similar to other gallery graves in neighbouring Jersey and Northern France). Each pair of stones would have supported a capstone and that the two stone rows and their supported capstones would have formed a gallery; the inner space sometimes partitioned, possibly each chamber denoting an 'engendered space' - affording separate burial of male and female members of a probable social elite.
     In addition to the fallen uprights of the monument (discovered in 1919), the current excavation revealed the stone packing for a series of stone settings that once flanked the main gallery. These clear features once delineated further additions to the gallery and would provided further mystique to the form and function of the monument. Significantly, between the parallel stone settings and the main gallery was evidence of a compacted stone surface suggesting that the site had been initially prepared with the construction of a stone pavement. It is also probable, and based on the loose stone around the site, prior that space between the main gallery and the stone setting was in-filled with stone rubble.
     The history of the site reveals evidence of stone robbing, vandalism and poor archaeological recording. The two investigations of 1919 and 1932 were controversial inasmuch no plans were made. It was not until 2009 that the first detailed plan of the site was made by the Clifton Antiquarian Club. Based on photographic evidence in 1932, excavation comprised of a dig and pock regime. The results from both excavations culminated in a small assemblage of bone, stone and pottery artefacts but it is not clear where these originated. Based on the rudimentary written records, the most significant object found on the site during earlier investigations was a possible fragment of a greenstone axe.
     Guernsey's archaeology officer Dr Philip De Jersey explained that there was a need to disturb the late Stone Age site for a third time. He stated that the monument had "suffered quite badly, particularly in the early twentieth century and it would be a shame to lose any hope of getting further information out of it."
     The discoveries made during June 2010 will steer Dr Nash and his team towards a return visit in 2011 for more extensive research. He said this would include lifting some of the enormous stones in order to search for further clues beneath as well as an open excavation directly north of the monument where clear in situ deposits remain undisturbed.
     
Sources: BBC News (24 June 2010), Dr George Nash (27 June 2010)

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