Rousse Headland Excavation

Three Archaeological Investigations on Rousse Headland, Guernsey, Channel Islands

In June 2014 and 2015, a team from Clifton Antiquarian Club travelled to Guernsey and conducted three excavations on Rousse Headland in conjunction with the States Archaeologists and local support. The first investigation was at a double cist monument (RH14A) originally discovered in 1916; the stone lined burial cists were excavated and subsequently reported in the 1916 Société Guernesiaise Transactions. The second site (RH14B), situated 50m north-west of the first, has been recently discovered and consists of an unusual arrangement of stones. The object of these two investigations was twofold; determine the location and present condition of the cist site and to establish the authenticity of the RH14B stone setting.

A third site was excavated in June 2015, on the eastern side of the 18th century Rousse Tower, one of many that were built to defend the island against the threat of French invasion.  A brief excavation (RT93) had found prehistoric material in 1993 but there was insufficient time to assess the site properly.  Our remit was to locate the former trench, extend the area and examine it methodically.

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Guernsey (inset) with Rousse Headland location. Detail: Rousse Headland with the three site locations.

 RH14 A & B Excavations

A sea level rise of around 5 metres since Neolithic times, together with coastal erosion have significantly altered the headland, in a way that is complicated to reconstruct with any degree of certainty.  The most obvious affect is that the stone setting is now completely inundated at high tide and even the cists site is periodically covered at the highest tides.

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The two Rousse Cists. Left: 1916 plan (After De Guérin) Right: Kendrick (1928).

 RH14A Cists

The RH14A excavation established the exact location of the double cists but revealed only fragments of diorite stone that were used to build the southern cist and unfortunately none were in their original construction context.  Reasons for the destruction of the cists are that the stones may  not have been replaced post 1916 excavation.  A second possibility is that flood defence work to the headland had lowered the sand level by 0.5 m and the heavy equipment used in the vicinity had disturbed the site.  Nothing remained of the northern cist and a flint scraper was the solitary find from the monument.  By analogy with nearby sites we attribute the construction of this site to the early to mid 3rd millennium BC.

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Overhead photo of RH14A site during excavation , showing the extent of destruction

RH14B Stone Setting

The RH14B stone setting in the inter tidal range had been spotted by a local in 2006 but it was unclear what it represented.  Our remit was therefore to evaluate the site’s potential as an archaeological feature through limited excavation.  Continuously washed by tidal action for a few thousand years, what could we expect from such a site?  The answer lay in the skeletal remains of the stones that hinted to a symmetry, especially when viewed from above, which seemed improbable to have naturally occurred.

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Overhead view of the stone setting prior to excavation

Our investigations revealed a line of packing stones that mirrored an ESE orientated line of orthostats, indicating a possible passage or a chamber; these could only have been so positioned by human agency.  The linear grouping of likely chamber and/or passage orthostats, together with a partial ring of peristaliths that form a broken circle with a diameter of 13 metres, led us to conclude that this was a funerary monument, its size falling within the range of smaller passage graves of a probable late 5th or early 4th millennium BC origin.

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RH14B plan following our excavation

 RT15 Rousse Tower Ditch and Rampart

The hemispherical bank and ditch that borders the pre-Martello loophole tower on its eastern flank had been excavated in 1993 as part of the Fortress Guernsey project, established to clean up and display the historical inventory of various defence structures across the island, and boosting tourism.  However, records of the trench’s location had been lost and only a few photographs remained, along with finds that indicated possible Neolithic and Bronze Age activity.  The photos also showed what could be part of a stone circle. 

 Rousse 62015 excavation with the old 1993 trench on the left hand side.  Around 20 tons of sand and soil had to be removed (by hand!) to reach the prehistoric occupation level.

It is hoped that a full report will appear in the forthcoming Transactions of the La Société Guernesiaise.