Sark’s ancient stones
A short history of archaeology on Sark by Richard Axton
The archaeological excavations during July 2010 on the ‘Gaudinerie fields’ (north of the Methodist Chapel) were the sixth by Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, pictured here on the right. His team are now familiar in Sark and included Eugene Baker and Andrew Prevel. Till last year, Barry was head of Oxford’s Institute of Archaeology: Sark is extremely fortunate to have such an eminent scholar working on its pre-history.
Very little archaeology had been done on the island before 2004, when Barry made a survey of possible projects. His list rapidly arranged itself the next year, after a group of amateur metal detectorists found bronze axes and Roman and Celtic coins in Edric Baker’s fields north of the Mill. These metal finds confirmed my identification of the site of the celebrated Sark Hoard, found in 1719, of horse silver and coins from the 1st century BC. For the next four summers Barry’s team explored the context of the metal finds, opening many trenches in Edric’s Tanquerel fields (pictured left). These proved that the site was occupied in the middle Bronze Age (c.13th-12th century BC) and then a thousand years later in the Iron Age. More Roman and Gaulish coins were found, some ornaments, stone tools, and quantities of pottery. The best of the finds are on display at La Société Sercquaise museum.
In 2009 the team turned its attention to Sark’s megaliths. The dolmen above Vermandaye Bay was cleared and surveyed, and magnetometry was used to locate the ‘footprint’ of lost standing stones behind the Sablonnerie. At the western edge of the Gaudinerie fields, previously surveyed, excavation revealed a terraced area that dates from the late Stone Age (c.2400 BC). The excavations in July 2010 continued this exploration (pictured right). As those who visited the site and heard Barry’s talk will know, this ‘constructed place’ dotted with standing stones, is a puzzle. People did not live there; they might have been buried there, but Sark’s acidic soil has dissolved any remains. Use of the place came to an end suddenly, around 2000 BC, when rubble was mounded over the area, to the top of the standing stones, and hundreds of large, head-sized boulders worn by the sea were carried up from the beach and used to seal the site. Excavation through the field bank showed, on top of all that, the soil formed subsequently, and the bank constructed in the 1560s ...up to the modern vegetation.
Some earthenware found in the excavation is apparently of a Jersey type associated with the spread of copper technology. There are also some beads of soft green Sark serpentine, carefully drilled through. Best of all is this perfect specimen of a stone axe, made of the dark dolerite found only on the Eperquerie, where Barry thinks there was an ‘axe factory’.
We must all hope that Barry’s excavations will continue to reveal Sark’s fascinating pre-history for many summers to come.