L’Ancresse Common

L’Ancresse Common

Excavations on L’Ancresse Common, Guernsey 2018-9

There are a number of earthworks in the form of low mounds on L’Ancresse Common, Guernsey that are likely to be the result of human agency. They were already recognised some 70 years ago when one mound (MGU866) was examined by Reverend Percival and Elizabeth College student Nicholas Thomas in 1947. Even though they found the site disturbed, probably by a previous unrecorded investigation, the excavators were able to recover some partly burnt bone identified as possibly being human, pottery fragments of different ages, pieces of metal and some worked stone objects. Because of the disparity in finds, the dating of the mounds remained uncertain although the excavators considered them to be prehistoric on account of their general morphology.

In June 2018, an earthwork, MGU861 located on the triangular section of land at the junction of La Route du Passeur and Les Mielles Road, known as the Terminus was excavated by Clifton Antiquarian Club. It was found to be a shell midden probably established between the 11th and 15th centuries based on evidence of sand blow events, although a lack of artefacts did not allow more precise dating. In view of the evidence revealed in this report there does not appear to be any chronological or functional relationship between this, and the mounds detailed below.

In the same season a further mound, MGU5485 was excavated with a narrow slot trench. We concluded that although the morphology of the earthwork was similar to Bronze Age burial mounds, a proliferation of coal and burnt bone coupled with the absence of any associated datable finds made it difficult to reach a firm conclusion for a construction date or purpose.

To further clarify the nature of these mounds, Clifton Antiquarian Club carried out a full excavation in May 2019 on earthworks MGU6954 and MGU6956. This excavation revealed that the earthworks, long been believed to be Bronze Age burial mounds were in fact constructed in the first decade of the 19th century. The construction of the features was found to be very similar to camp kitchen designs described by military manuals from the late 1700s. A typical example would consist of a mound of earth with 11 or 12 hearths in niches around the outside, surrounded by a circular ditch.

Radiocarbon dating of burnt material associated with the construction of MGU6956 suggests that it was established within a period range centring on AD 1806. This is supported by the discovery of a decorated button cover dating to the early 19th century. In MGU6954, a piece of clay pipe on which the initials ‘TF’ were visible was traced back to a manufacturer in Southampton where this type of pipe was made between 1803 and 1815.

Records indicate that around 3000 troops of multiple nationalities were camping on the island during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in preparation for an invasion from Napoleon’s forces. The combination of these factors makes it likely that the camp was established in the first decade of the 1800s. British military field kitchens from this period are very rare making these two mounds an important discovery.