New Light on Atlantic Seaboard Passage-Grave Chronology: Radiocarbon Dates from la Hougue Bie (Jersey)

By Patton, Mark | Antiquity, September 1995 | Go to article overview

New Light on Atlantic Seaboard Passage-Grave Chronology: Radiocarbon Dates from la Hougue Bie (Jersey)


Patton, Mark, Antiquity


A series of date for La Hougue Bie, the Jersey passage-grave, shows its complex history of abandonment as well as construction. People were a long time leaving, as well as making, this sacred place.

The megalithic passage-grave of La Hougue Bie is one of the largest and best preserved monuments of its type in Western Europe. The cruciform passage grave, discovered in 1924 (Baal et al. 1925) is covered by a mound, 9 m in height and 55 m in diameter. Although the passage-grave itself was completely excavated in 1924, the mound had not been examined archaeologically prior to 1991, when a programme of excavations was initiated, under the direction of the author (Patton & Finch 1992; 1993). These excavations, which were completed in the summer of 1994, focussed on the facade of the cairn, on either side of the entrance to the passage-grave. The excavations revealed a sequence of well-stratified deposits, and a series of radiocarbon dates were obtained from charcoal samples, permitting the establishment of a detailed chronology for the site. These findings have significant implications for the understanding of European passage-graves.

Phase 1a

The earliest phase is marked by the construction of the passage-grave itself, covered by a primary rubble cairn with a well-built drystone facade. On the north side of the entrance, the excavation of a 19th-century pit produced a section through the later earth terrace, revealing the existence of an earlier terrace [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED], revetted with rubble. This terrace directly abuts the cairn itself, and may be broadly contemporary with it. Charcoal from the matrix of the primary terrace gave a single radiocarbon determination, providing a terminus post quem for its construction:

5410[+ or -]70 b.p. = 4365-4055 BC (Beta-77360/ETH-13185)(1)

Phase 1b

At some stage after the construction of the cairn and primary terrace, a larger earth terrace was added around the base of the cairn, revetted by a drystone facade, curving inwards to meet the entrance to the passage grave [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. The primary terrace was completely sealed by the construction of this secondary terrace. Charcoal from the matrix of the secondary terrace gave a single radiocarbon determination, providing a terminus post quem for its construction:

5360[+ or -]60 b.p. = 4334-4047 BC (Beta-57925/ETH-9972)

The land surface on which the facade of the secondary terrace was built gave a series of radiocarbon determinations:

5400[+ or -]70 b.p. = 4360-4045 BC (Beta-77359/ETH-13184)

5210[+ or -]70 b.p. = 4225-3930 BC (Beta-77361/ETH-13186)

5245[+ or -]60 b.p. = 4222-3994 BC (Beta-57926/ETH-9973)

Charcoal from the fill of a ditch which cut this land surface gave a single determination:

4590[+ or -]70 b.p. = 3515-3085 BC (Beta-77358/ETH-13183)

Phase 1c

At the end of the period of use of the passage grave itself, the entrance and forecourt were blocked by a massive deposit of rubble [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED], covering the ditch. and other features. The external cairn structures, however, seem to have remained exposed for a considerable period of time, during which soil built up on top of the blockage rubble. A pit cut into this soil was found to contain pottery fragments representing most of a small fineware bowl, suggesting that formal depositions continued to be made after the abandonment of the passage grave itself. A fragment of charcoal from the blockage rubble gave a radiocarbon determination which provides a terminus post quem for the blockage of the entrance:

4760[+ or -]70 b.p. = 3675-3360 BC (Beta-77357/ETH-13182)

Phase 1d

Some considerable time after the blocking of the entrance, the external stone structures of the cairn were deliberately covered by a virtually sterile deposit of clay [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED], overlying the soil which built up on top of the blockage rubble. …

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