Dig shows Herm to have been affluent in Bronze Age

EVIDENCE of a surprisingly affluent late Bronze Age settlement is being uncovered on Herm.

About 700BC, Guernsey was a relative backwater, with finds indicating that Alderney and Jersey were the more important islands.

So the discovery of ceremonial bronze axes and imported French pottery on Herm has surprised States archaeologist Dr Phil de Jersey.

The archaeology team has been digging on Herm for the last two weeks.

The site to the north-west of the settlement on top of the island was discovered by licensed metal detectorist Shane Le Page.

‘He found four socketed bronze axes, which were made in Brittany probably in about 700BC,’ Dr de Jersey said.

‘They are known from hoards from Jersey and Alderney, but none from Guernsey or Herm, so we were quite excited.’

After doing a geophysical survey of the area, the archaeology team dug a couple of trenches

Very quickly they found pottery and flint, as well as evidence of post holes and a hearth.

‘It seems to be late Bronze Age or early Iron Age,’ Dr de Jersey said.

The dig site took on an eerie feeling when mist rolled in over Herm yesterday afternoon. (Picture supplied by Dr Phil de Jersey)

In the past there has been evidence found of medieval burials and Stone Age archaeology on Herm, but nothing from this period before.

It is hard to determine the scale of the settlement, but Dr de Jersey said the indications were that it was an affluent village.

‘Socketed bronze axes were not functional,’ he said.

‘They have a very high lead content – about 25% – so they would not have been good for hitting or chopping.’

The Herm axes seem unused. Similar axes have been found in nearby French communities, often as offerings.

Among the pottery, there is some crude – possibly local – pieces, but also some fine quality imported French pottery, again implying wealth.

The wealth was unexpected, as what evidence has been found in Guernsey from this period implies it was quite poor.

There is also no evidence of mining for expensive minerals on Herm, although Dr de Jersey said there was likely salt farming.

‘They clearly had communication with Brittany,’ he said.

‘But it’s difficult to know what Herm could have offered in exchange.’

The location is also curious. It has a good view to the north, west and east, so residents could see Sark, Alderney and Guernsey and any ships approaching. But it is also exposed to the prevailing westerly wind. The soil is very thin and poor, meaning any farming would have been done elsewhere.

The dry weather has been a problem for the archaeology team.

All the work is done by hand and Dr de Jersey said the ground was like concrete.

‘We have learnt not to excavate after two months of no rain,’ he said.

‘It was also quite hard to see the colours, which show the layers, because it is so dry, so it is hard to interpret.’

The dig in what is normally a cow field was kept deliberately small, so they could focus on the 35sq m of trenches.

It is unclear how big the settlement could have been.

Dr de Jersey was hopeful they would return next summer for further explorations.

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