Quarterly Journal of Science 1870 I

Quarterly Journal of Science 1870 I is in Quarterly Journal of Science 1870.

Megalithic Structures of the Channel Islands: Their History And Analogues. By Lieut. S. P. Oliver, Roy. Art., F.R.G.S.

The Cromlechs in Jersey and Guernsey and adjacent islands partake of the character of the French Dolmens and Grottes aux Fées, as well as the Gangrifter (gallery-tombs ) of the Swedes, the Jettestuer (chambered tumuli) of the Danes, and the German Hünenbetten.

Our word "cromlech," however, is so often applied to such widely different structures, that there is no wonder if it sometimes misleads foreign archæologists. The cromlech of the English antiquarian is the same as the Welsh and English "quoit," such as Arthur's quoit or coetan [Map], near Criccieth; Lanyon quoit [Map], and Chun quoit [Map] and others in Cornwall; Stanton Drew "quoit," [Map] in Somersetshire; the Kitt's Koty or Coit [Map], near Maidstone; and the Coit-y-enroc, in Guernsey. Now, we can quite understand what we mean when we use the word cromlech to be identical with all these; but the French archæologist, when he uses the word cromlech, is right only when he applies it to a circle of upright stones, like the Hurlers [Map] and the Nine Maidens [Map] in Cornwall; thus the bardic circles convey a very different meaning to the Dolmen, or Table of Stone (Dol a table, moen a stone ), when used by our Gallic neighbours.

Professor Sven Nilsson defines the English cromlech as synonymous to the French Dolmen, the Scandinavian dös, and the dyss of Denmark, consisting of one large block of stone, supported by from three to five stones arranged in a ring, and intended to contain one corpse only1, several of these dorsar being sometimes enclosed in circles of raised stones.

Note 1. Nilsson on ' The Stone Age, ' pp 159.

Following, however, the nomenclature given by the late Dr. Lukis, we cannot be far wrong in assigning the word cromlech to all elaborate megalithic structures of one or more chambers, in which category the passage-graves may be included. Nilsson has clearly pointed out how the gallery or half-cross tombs are close imitations, if not actual adaptations, of the original dwelling-houses of the ancient Pre-Celtic Scandinavians, a people not dissimilar in their mode of life to the present Arctic nations of Esquimaux; also how these galleried-huts were but make-shifts in the plains for subterranean caves and grottoes in the mountain region from whence their race originally sprang.

As regards the cromlechs in the Channel Islands, their chief characteristics may be briefly stated as follows:

1. The large western chamber, composed of large, erect, and, at least on the inner side, flat slabs of granite1, from six to eight feet high, arranged in a circular or horse-shoe form, supporting an enormous capstone (the lower side of which is also flat), the largest stone in the whole structure. At the west extremity of this chamber is the largest of the erect slabs, a flat polygonal stone, as broad as it is high, the remaining uprights being generally less broad than they are high. This chamber is sometimes divided into smaller compartments or kists. A good example of these divisions is to be found in the cromlech at Mont Ubé [Map], Jersey, from which, unhappily, the capstones have been removed many years since.

2. The covered gallery or passage leading to the great west chamber from the east. The stones forming this, both erect side blocks and granite imposts, being largest at the western end, and diminishing in height, size, and distance apart towards the eastern entrance. This avenue is sometimes so modified as to seem a mere prolongation of the west chamber, the capstones diminishing in regular order from the huge block at the west to the small one at the east, so that the whole structure is bottle-shaped. The gallery is frequently divided by stone partitions, and there are indications of thresholds where doors may have existed.2

3. The addition of kists outside the main structure, of a later period; notably conspicuous in the cromlech Dé-hus [Map].

4. The structure surrounded with a stone circle, the centre of this circle generally in the western chamber; the circles are of the same dimensions throughout the islands, viz. 60 feet. From this circle or peristalith in some cases are traces of serpentine avenues or approaches, probably indicating similar forms to those of Abury. These avenues are seen best at L'Ancresse [Map]. At the Pocquelaye Cromlech [Map] there are remains of a double stone wall encircling the structure; between these are four small uprights, which seem as though they had formed a portion of a peristalith. The peristalith of the Couperon Cromlech [Map] is oval.

5. All the cromlechs were formerly covered with a tumulus of earth; these remain in many instances, at Creux des Fées [Map] and Du Thus, but a large proportion have been denuded of their earth-mound either by accident or design, as L'Ancresse [Map], Le Trepied [Map], Mont Ubé [Map], Le Couperon [Map], the Pocquelaye [Map], & c.

Note 1. Except the Couperon Cromlech [Map], Jersey, which is built of local conglomerate.

Note 2. Compare Sir John Lubbock's 'Description of the Danish Tumulus in the Island of Moen,' p. 105 ' Pre-historic Times.'

These are the chief external characteristics of these stone structures; when we examine their interiors we find the following noteworthy points:

1. Thick layers of limpet shells, forming a hard concrete, through which a pick-axe is forced with difficulty. The solitary exception to this general find is the cromlech of Ville Nouaux, in Jersey, where no limpet shells were found when explored in May, 1869, by the author.

2. A vast quantity of human bones, with bones of animals, showing that the structure was used as a catacomb, and that interments had been made for a long period. Pavements of flat sea-worn pebbles, over successive layers of interments, point to the same conclusion. No bones, however, were found at Ville Nouaux.

3. The presence of rude pottery and stone implements, and absence of bronze or iron.

4. The position of skeletons indicates that they were buried in a sitting posture, similar to those found in the Scandinavian tumuli.

5. Absence of any attempt at ornamentation of the stones similar to the engraved rocks of Gavr'Inis [Map]. Exception, the cup-markings on the Kistvaen, in centre of L'Ancresse Common [Map].

One curious characteristic of these monuments may be noticed more in Guernsey than in Jersey, viz. that the majority of these structures are within sight of one another. Undoubtedly, in primeval times, such monuments were in existence on every headland round the coast; and it is possible that signal fires may have been used in connection with them. Most of these characteristic features are exhibited in the large cromlech on L'Ancresse Common [L'Ancresse [Map]], which stands on an eminence, called by the inhabitants of the Clos du Valle, Mont St. Michel, whilst the structure itself they call L'Autel des Vardes [Map]. Two photoxylographs are given of this interesting structure from different points of view ( see Plate I., Figs. 1 and 2 ); but although the huge capstones are well shown, and the gradual diminishing of their size towards the east, still no outside view can convey any idea of the size of the chamber and passage beneath, in consequence of the sand and soil being so heaped up around the outside of the structure, that only the tops of the side props are visible. However, at the west end one may stand upright beneath the largest capstone; and when the soil was removed from the floor during the exploration of this cromlech by Mr. Lukis and his sons, the height of the western chamber was eight feet. The westernmost upright block is almost identical in size and shape with those blocks occupying similar positions in the cromlechs of the Creux des Fées [Map], Mont Ubé [Map], and the Pocquelaye [Map].

On the north side of the L'Ancresse Cromlech [Map], under the largest capstone, an evident disturbance of the pristine condition of the structure has taken place, one of the side blocks having been pushed outwards apparently, and smaller stones added, so as to form a supplementary kist, in which human remains were found, indicating a secondary interment. It would take up too much space to detail the relics found at the excavation of this structure; it is sufficient to mention that they were all attributable to the Stone age, and have been fully described by Mr. Lukis in the Archæologia, and by Messrs. Worsaæ and Thoms.

Divergent from the partially-destroyed circle which surrounds the cromlech are two paved causeways, leading in a winding track to the N.W. and N.E. Lines of Menhirs must probably have been associated with them. We cannot help noticing the similarity of some causeways observed by Capt. Parry in the Calthorp Islands in 1822, in connection with some deserted Esquimaux stone galleried- huts, amongst which human skulls, lapis-ollaris lamps, and glass beads, were lying about "as usual."

"Leading from the huts towards the highest part of the island was a curious path made by the natives, two feet in width, and formed by removing the stones in places where they were naturally abundant, and where the ground was bare, by placing two regular and parallel rows at that distance apart. The only conjecture we could form respecting the use of this artificial road was that it might be intended for a deer path ( those animals preferring a regular or beaten track to any other ), by which means the Esquimaux might perhaps kill them from their usual ambush of stones.1

Note 1. Vide Parry's ' Second Voyage, ' p. 285.

From the hill on which the great cromlech of L'Ancresse stands, other megalithic structures can be seen; for instance, in an eastern direction, and near the foot of the hill, are various blocks of stone, the relics of a cromlech, known from its position by a marshy pond as La Mare aux mauves [Map], not far from which again is a portion of a stone circle, and some stone graves of the Bronze period. In the centre of the common is an interesting Kistvaen, consisting of a large oddly-shaped capstone ( probably only a portion of the original stone ), supported on several props. On one of these blocks are some barely-distinguishable cup-markings1; whether natural or artificial is mere conjecture. A Logan or rocking-stone once existed on a natural cropping out of rock to the eastward of L'Ancresse; the site still bears the name of La Rocque Balan.

Note 1. Since writing the above, the author has again examined those cup-markings, which, now that the lichens have been cleared out of them, present evident signs of artificial handiwork. They are nine in number, at the side and top edges of the N.E. prop.-S. P. O., February 4, 1870.

The cromlech next in importance to that at L'Ancresse, which it rivals in size, is that known by the name of Dé-hus [Map] or Du-Thus ( Deuce ), by some L'Autel du Grand Sarazin ( see Plate II., Fig. 1 ). On examining this structure we see at a glance the large western chamber, with its huge capstone over 16 feet long, and weighing at least 20 tons. The second capstone, that next to the largest, is broken, and the fracture apparently took place during the period of cromlech-builders or their immediate successors, as the larger half of the stone still remaining in situ has been propped up by an additional stone pillar. In all there are eight capstones, which, with the side blocks supporting them, diminish gradually in bulk towards the eastern entrance, which is blocked up by a large stone, analogous to the L'Ancresse and other cromlechs. The narrow orientated gallery is conspicuous likewise, whilst the main body of the structure is divided into three chambers. The most noticeable features however, after all, in this cromlech, are the four side chambers, two to the north and two to the south; these are square and polygonal kists, some of which are entered from the eastern gallery, and others distinct, but all adjoining. In the chamber to the north and east were found two skeletons in a kneeling (crouching?) posture, the flat stone which covers the kist nearly touching their skulls. In the chambers to the south were found several layers of interments, the human bones being disposed in groups crosswise, with the skull on the top, indicating the corpses to have been placed in a sitting posture. There were pavements of flat stones between the layers of interments, which resemble exactly similar instances in the West Gothland tombs1.

Note 1. Nilsson on ' The Stone Age, ' p. 149.

As at L'Ancresse and in the other cromlechs of the Channel Islands, innumerable quantities of limpet shells were deposited for a depth of two feet throughout the structure, and various vases of ancient pottery-ware were disinterred; they are constructed of extremely coarse clay, worked with the hand, imperfectly baked, and some rudely ornamented, together with stone and bone instruments, clay beads ( locally called Roulettes des Fées ), amulets, & c.

Not far to the north-west of Dé-hus [Map] are vestiges of a kist, the capstones of which were destroyed against the wish, and in the absence, of the proprietor; this monument curiously enough bears the name of Le Tombeau du Grand Sarazin, a name in conjunction with a similar appellation given to Dé-hus, significant of the Iberic element, distinctly traceable in the ethnology of the Channel Islanders. A Dolmen, or Trilithon, consisting of a large capstone 13 feet in length, resting on two props, and partly covered by the débris of a neighbouring quarry, still marks the spot where a large cromlech formerly stood in the same parish as the above- mentioned remains; the huge western capstone, now destroyed, bore the name of La Roche qui sonne. An analogous name to this Guernsey Memnon, La Roque où le Coq chante, another site in Guernsey, is mentioned by Victor Hugo in his celebrated work, Les Travailleurs de la Mer, in which he mentions the popular superstition concerning these remains: "Cette pierre est fort à surveiller. On ne sait ce qu'elle fait là. On y entend chanter un coq qu'on ne voit pas, chose extremement désagréable. Ensuite il est avéré qu'elle a été mise dans ce courtil par les sarregousets, qui sont la même chose que les sins. "

This cromlech is said to have been the largest in the island, and as the greatest part of the structure extended to the westward of the present remains, the largest capstone to the west must have been an enormous block; great superstition, indeed, attached to the broken portions of this structure. The farm-house of Belval close by was partly built of fragments from this cromlech, and shortly after the completion of its building it took fire and was destroyed. A vessel also sailing from St. Sampson's with macadam, from the same source, is said to have sunk. When the remaining portions were investigated, the proprietor is said to have looked on the sacrilegious proceedings with a terrified countenance, as if expecting that "Satan himself was about to be disinterred."

The fourth capstone at L'Ancresse much resembles the remaining capstone of La Roche qui sonne both in size and shape (a triangular prism), but is slightly smaller. The sole remaining impost of one of the Alderney cromlechs, viz. that at Tourgis [Map], is in every respect similar also. This leads one to suspect that this stone was the fourth stone of the cromlech, and if so, the "Roche qui sonne" Cromlech would have been proportionately larger than the cromlech at L'Ancresse.

The last illustration accurately represents the present condition of a cromlech in the parish of St. Saviour, Guernsey, known by the name of the Creux des Fées [Map], and which well exhibits the peculiar features of the French Grottes des Fées and Allées couverts. The western chamber is still covered in by a great portion of the original superimposed tumulus, and in fact forms a subterranean chamber or grotto, with the narrow passage entrance, now uncovered, but formerly covered with transverse slabs of stone resembling the gang-graben of Scandinavia. Only the two largest capstones remain, covering a chamber 21 feet long by 12 feet broad. This chamber has long been used as a cattle stable, and in consequence is not quite so sweet as might be. Here may be observed with advantage the usual method of filling the interstices between the larger blocks with smaller stones, to keep out the soil of the surrounding tumulus. The narrow entrance shown well in the accompanying photoxylograph ( Fig. 2 ) is only 2 feet 6 inches broad. The two stones where the threshold formerly was are 4 feet 6 inches in height. The western upright slab is 6 feet in height, and of the same breadth. The plans of all these cromlechs should be compared with one another and those in Jersey; they may be found by those who care to inquire further into their original construction in the Journal of the Ethnological Society ' for April, 1870, to which the reader is also recommended to refer for details concerning the other cromlechs in Guernsey; for in an article of this description it is impossible to enter into details of the numerous pre-historic remains yet extant in the bailiwick of Guernsey and its dependencies. The chief and most noted may be briefly enumerated as follows-viz. Le Trépied Cromlech [Map], the Menhirs of La Pierre Longue [Map] and Le Crocq [Map] (La Pierre pointue, La Chaise au Prêtre, and La Rocque Magié have disappeared before the blast of the quarrymen), and the tumuli or Hougues of Hatnée and Fouqué. Putting aside the pre-historic remains in Alderney, Herm, and Sark, which fully deserve a paper to themselves, and which all carry out the generic resemblance to the galleried tombs of Scania, in Gothland, it is best to proceed to describe one or two of the principal Jersey cromlechs, in which the characteristics mentioned are fully exemplified. Three views of these remains, viz. two cromlechs, those of Mont Ubé and the Pocquelaye, with Le Quesnel Menhir, will be found in a recent number of the 'Illustrated London News,' January 15th, 1870.

The most important of the Jersey cromlechs is undoubtedly that one named the "Pocquelaye [Map]," near Gorey Harbour , Jersey; the only visible portion twenty years ago was the largest capstone , the sustaining props and other stones being entirely hidden beneath the remains of the tumulus . About the year 1848 excavations were made by Mr. Fauvel , and it was then discovered that this large stone formed the covering of a chamber of nine side blocks arranged in a horse-shoe form , whilst this chamber was again divided by partition-stones forming a smaller kist , a separate grave as it were , within a tomb . Further excavations were made , and five or six more chambers were discovered to the eastward of the first-mentioned . One chamber alone on the north side had a capstone in situ ; this capstone was thrown down by the treasure- seeking proprietor , but is now restored as nearly as possible to its original position . Other blocks of stone were also thrown down at the same time , but have been replaced ; great doubt unfortunately must always attach to any attempted restorations of such structures . Remains were found , but unfortunately no proper records of their position in the catacomb exist , whilst the pottery , relics , and stone implements associated with the human skeletons were sold to the British Museum , where they now are .

The narrow eastern gallery is well exhibited in this example , as also the remains of a double circular stone wall not dissimilar to that at L'Ancresse , but if anything of a larger diameter . Four upright stones now standing between these stone walls may have formed a portion of a peristalith , but unhappily there is a want of trustworthy evidence as to their really being in situ , as the walls and remains generally have been meddled with to such an extent that it is well-nigh impossible to separate the modern restoration from the original design .

The Couperon Cromlech [Map] in the same parish as above (St. Martin's ) was formerly a gem in its way , being a small stone ( Jersey conglomerate ) structure of two parallel walls covered with cap-stones , with an oval peristalith surrounding it . Sad to relate , only two capstones were actually in situ , and the other stones scattered ; still worse , however , these stones have been rearranged , and the remains cooked up to form a modern restoration of a pre- historic sepulchre . One of the present capstones ( the fifth ) is manifestly part of an upright which formed half of a partition , as exactly similar hand-worked stones are found forming partitions ( to allow of entrance ) in the covered allées of Brittany , and have been specially noticed by Mr. Lukis .

The cromlech of Mont Ubé [Map] , although devoid of its capstones , is still most instructive , being remarkable for the regularity of its form , which exhibits the original plan of the (Celtic?) architects , perhaps more perfectly than any other cromlech in the Channel Islands . This cromlech is more fully imbedded in the soil than the denuded remains of the Pocquelaye and Le Couperon , which may tend to its ultimate preservation . It consists of a large western chamber elongated towards the orientated narrowed passage , and is divided into several chambers . Two of the upright stone pillars which separate the cists have been worked into somewhat obelisk-like forms , perhaps to adapt them for the reception of an imposed capstone . It is much to be regretted that several important stones have been removed from this cromlech .

The fourth cromlech in Jersey , only explored last year , appears to have the form of a covered avenue , but no large western chamber has yet been excavated . Several cinerary urns were discovered more or less perfect , besides a small stone amulet drilled with two holes , a few flint flakes , & c . , with traces of charred ash and indications of osseous interments . This is the only case on record in the Channel Islands where no layer of limpet shells ( although within a hundred yards of the sea ) has been found . From this fact Mr. Lukis infers that the interments were not of the primary dolmen-builders . Some years before , some bronze celts were found in this neighbourhood .

The best Menhir in Jersey is a fine monolith called Le Quesnel; another, named La Pierre Blanche , is to be found not far from the Mont Ubé Cromlech . Under a flat Dolmen near Corbière Point , named Table des Marthes , some bronze weapons were found by M. Ahier many years since ; but there is great doubt as to this stone being connected with the other megalithic monu- ments . Lines of Menhirs have been found in Greenland , where they appear to have been mainly erected to serve as landmarks during snowstorms , and some at least lead from the remains of huts to the nearest water . Capt . Parry notices , after remarking upon the remains of some stone - built Esquimaux huts , " We also passed a singular assemblage of flat stones set up edgeways , each about three yards apart , and extending at least five hundred yards down to a small lake situated in a grassy valley1.

Note 1. Parry's ' Second Voyage , ' p . 62 .