"Did Neanderthal hunters drive mammoth herds over cliffs in mass kills? Excavations at La Cotte de St Brelade in the 1960s and 1970s uncovered heaps of mammoth bones, interpreted as evidence of intentional hunting drives... continues...
The island of Jersey is well endowed with megalithic sites. Here, you're never far from something of interest. However, if you want to see all of the major sites you'll need some form of transport.
I flew in to St Helier airport and collected a hire car from there. The hire car company gave me a map; it was crap. Be sure to get the free map from the airport with "Jersey recommended" on the front. You may need good eyesight or a magnifying glass to see it, but it has got all of the main sites marked and named on it.
I drove directly to La Hougue Bie. There's a small museum there, so, even though I had done some research, I thought they may have a guide to the other sites on the island. There were two useful and complementary free leaflets. "Where to find the dolmens of Jersey" and "The spiritual landscape". On Jersey, they call all of their prehistoric burial chambers "dolmens".
Entrance to La Hougue Bie (the only megalithic site at which you have to pay) is £6.50 in 2008.
Most of the roads are narrow and parking is difficult everywhere unless you can find a car park. Luckily, there was always a nearby car park or a handy, flat field boundary whenever I needed to stop.
The study of the history, the archaeology, the natural history, the language and many other subjects of interest in the Island of Jersey
(Searching 'archaeology' in the photo archive throws up some interesting stuff).
ISLANDERS are being warned to keep away from the site of an ancient tomb in St Martin that has been damaged by a large fallen tree.
Robert Waterhouse (46), the field archaeologist for the Société Jersiaise, which is dedicated to preserving Jersey’s history and culture, said the 5,000-year-old Le Couperon dolmen, near Saie Harbour, had been hit by a 40-ft Monterey pine during a storm earlier this month.
The fallen tree, which broke the western capstone – a flat stone on top of the tomb – is due to be cut up and removed this week.
Any damage to the dolmen can then be properly assessed.
Jersey is probably best known for its sun-kissed beaches, new potatoes, the doe-eyed, fawn-coated cattle which produce those creamy dairy products, and the hit 1980s TV series Bergerac.
Most of Jersey's holiday attractions are therefore firmly out-of-doors, and it claims in its advertising to be the UK's warmest spot. But I discovered a much darker, hidden side to the famous holiday island just 14 miles off the Normandy coast on a recent visit.
Underground Jersey offers a far more enigmatic glimpse into the island's turbulent ancient and not-so-ancient history, but one which repays exploration.
And the one site which encapsulates Jersey's amazing continuity of history extending over an astonishing 6,000 years is the enigmatic Neolithic passage grave of La Hougue Bie, near Grouville in the south east of the island.
Jersey certainly didn't rank among the nation's hotspots on the day I visited La Hougue Bie (pronounced La Hoog Bee).
Stinging showers of icy rain were lashing down as I crept, bent double, into the claustrophobic space of the four feet high and three feet wide stone-lined passageway. The cramped corridor led 30 feet into the echoing darkness of the huge, grass-covered mound.
As my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I could make out the smoothly carved granite of the columns which lined the tunnel and, looking back, light streamed in, illuminating the pebbled floor.
It was only in 1996 that reconstruction archaeologists saw for the first time in five millennia that at the spring equinox, the sun's rays extended the length of the passage and onto the back wall of the inner sanctum in the heart of the mound.
Reaching the 6½-foot-high oval central chamber, I could at last stand upright and look around what had been the holy of holies – the centre of the unknowable ritual activities which took place here.
It was a moving, slightly spooky, experience and I'm sure that the chill which ran down my spine was not caused solely by the weather.
Outside again, I climbed the winding, spiral pathway to the top of the mound, where the simple apsed chapel of Notre Dame de Clarte was built in the 12th century – probably in an attempt to reclaim the ancient pagan site for Christianity.
A small sepulchre was built into the mound by the mystic Dean Richard Mabon in the 16th century, designed to replicate the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and he apparently regularly performed 'miracles' there.
Then in 1792, Phillipe d'Auvergne built a mock medieval castle known as The Prince's Tower over the chapel, and it became a major tourist attraction and pleasure ground for visitors in the 19th century, complete with hotel, summer house and screaming peacocks. But the Tower fell into disrepair and was finally demolished in 1924.
However, the long story of La Hougue Bie doesn't end there. Following the German occupation of the island in 1940, soldiers of the 319 Infantry Division built their eastern command bunker into the western side of the mound. Over the next two years around 70 trenches were dug in Phillipe d'Auvergne's pleasure grounds, no doubt causing even more archaeological damage........
The 6,000 year-old burial site at La Hougue Bie is one of the best preserved remnants of the Neolithic period in Western Europe.
Every spring and autumn crowds of people gather to watch the equinox from inside the chamber.
Archaeologists can make educated guesses about what went on there, but much is shrouded in mystery.
The name is Norse in origin, coming from hougue meaning man made and bie meaning Homestead.
Archaeologist Olga Finch is the curator at La Hougue Bie, and explained this in more detail.
"Hougue and Bie are Norse words. Hougue was a term the Vikings used for man—made mounds, and Bie means homestead. So it could mean the homestead near the mound," said Olga.
Despite being best known as a burial ground Olga says that this was just one, albeit important, aspect of what went on.
"It was almost like a cross between a modern-day church and a community hall.
"We know there were rituals associated with seasonal activities because the Neolithic people were the first farmers," she explained.
Therefore the cycles of nature were crucial to the survival of the indigenous population. The discovery of the equinox alignment brought home how important this time of year was to the farming community.
It is one of Western Europe's best preserved mounds
The Equinox alignment happens twice a year. La Hougue Bie's entrance points directly east, which enables a beam of sunlight to travel up the passageway to illuminate the chamber deep in the mound.
Today, this natural phenomenon inspires awe, not just among the community at large, but with archaeologists like Olga.
"We are talking about 6,000 years ago. The window into the tomb was set up perfectly, so that the rising sun penetrates not just the front, but all the way back into the terminal cell," she said.
Olga believes the terminal cell at the foremost part of the mound would have been the focal point for any rituals which took place.
Entering the mound is a mildly uncomfortable experience, requiring visitors to crouch, chimp-like, to negotiate the nine metre passageway leading to the chamber.
Olga says this was probably to conceal the main area for ritual from uninvited eyes.
The passage opens up into the main chamber, which takes a cruciform shape. Two side chambers to the north and south were the burial plots for the dead.
Every spring and autumn crowd gather to watch the equinox
The large flat rock at the back of the passage is raised up from the floor denoting a more sacred area.
"It is almost like a modern day church. The further back you go the more sacred and spiritual it gets and less people have access to it."
"There is a little terminal cell at the back, which may have housed an important object or person.
"The equinox sunrise concentrates initially in that area. This shaft of light perhaps symbolises bringing in new energy. It is all about rebirth and contact with the dead."
"Anyone who experiences it knows they have witnessed something really special. To think 6000 years ago there would have been people in here experiencing the same thing," Olga explained.
Again Olga can only hazard an educated guess as to the meaning of the rituals that went on all those thousands of years ago.
"We know there were little seeds placed on the cairn stones, so it may have been a plea to the gods for a good harvest," she said.
The mound may have been used in a similar way to a modern day church
The human remains of about eight people - male and female adults - were found at the site. The items they were buried with are strong evidence in a belief in the afterlife.
"There were bones of cattle, which may have been left as food for the afterlife. There were also flint tools that show people believed they would need these things in the next world," Olga said.
Despite significant digs in the '90s, much of the site remains unexcavated. La Hougue Bie may reveal more of its secrets for future generations to wonder about.
"It is one of the best preserved and one of the largest Neolithic sites in western Europe, so Jersey is very lucky in that respect.
"It has almost cathedral status compared to other sites in the island. A lot of sites have been robbed or destroyed. We are very lucky to have it here in Jersey," Olga concluded.