The Palaeolithic site of La Cotte de St. Brelade stands as the principle cornerstone in our understanding of the Middle Palaeolithic of northern Europe. The locality represents a true mega-site, both in terms of its size and its archaeological richness, having produced in excess of a quarter of a million recorded finds. The site also holds an unparalleled, unbroken record of human activity and palaeoenvironmental presence/absence in northern Europe spanning in excess of 250,000 years. These factors combine to make the record at la Cotte the most comprehensive database of Neanderthal behavioural development through Achuelean, Early Middle Palaeolithic and Mousterian phases. Understandably the site provided a focus and impetus for the survey as a whole and investigations within the site were seen as being the most significant component of the fieldwork.
La Cotte de St. Brelade has an exceptionally long history of research spanning 130 years of investigation and research. Stone tools were originally discovered in 1881 and McBurney’s work finally led to a full appreciation of the scope, scale and significance of the site, resulting in a monograph (Callow & Cornford 1986).
Since then fieldwork at the site has ceased. There has been a general false impression that the site of La Cotte de St Brelade is exhausted in terms of necessary excavation and that it has been fully understood through the 1980s phase of analysis.
The QAEJ project in 2010 challenged this assumption. Keyhole excavations within the ravine system identified large areas of unexcavated sediments, that contained in-situ archaeology and were directly subject to rapid erosion. Parallel work on the La Cotte archive was also initiated in the spring of 2010 in order to begin reassessment of Early Middle Palaeolithic assemblages directly associated with the bone heap levels.
This initial phase of fieldwork was focussed in and around the site of La Cotte de St Brélade and included:
1. The detailed plotting and mapping of the site and sediments using a total station to allow correlation between previous excavations and current fieldwork. Such mapping allowed for re-establishing an accurate site grid based on earlier phases of excavation.
2. Cleaning sections within the site to distinguish specific horizons and allow for their correlation with horizons identified during the original excavations.
3. Sub-sampling of horizons for geoarchaeological analysis to provide detailed information about formation processes and local site environment, which will inform the broader environmental survey conducted across Jersey.
4. Sampling of horizons for Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating. There have been significant advances in this technique since the site was first dated in the 1970s and re-dating will provide a tighter chronology that will enable the site to be placed within regional chronological frameworks in north-west Europe.
5. Recording and sampling of raised beach outcrops on the coast line immediately adjacent to the La Cotte site.
QAEJ fieldwork continued in July 2011 and funding from the NERC Urgency fund has enabled a small team to return in October 2011 to take fresh samples from the site.