On Thursday 23rd June around 40 people heard Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe explain his latest archaeological dig. It is the seventh summer that the team from Oxford University has excavated in Sark, piecing together a map of Sark’s prehistory from mesolithic up to Roman times from evidence dating from c.5000 BC to c.200 AD. Two themes run through the archaeology: Sark’s dolerite and serpentine were used to make high-quality artefacts for exchange or trade; and Sark’s geographical position made it a ‘special place’ to visit - pre-historic pilgrimages, perhaps?
Trenches were opened on two sites this year. Work north of the Mill continued to explore the Bronze Age settlement where the Sark Hoard was found in 1719. The second trench was opened last year in a field bank north of the old cemetery. It revealed a levelled ‘terrace’ and unusual kinds of rock that had been specially placed; around 2000 BC this area was buried under stone rubble and sealed under boulders that must have been carried up from the beach with colossal human effort. Professor Cunliffe considers this one of the most unusual and puzzling sites he has encountered in a long career; its function is not understood and he calls it simply a ‘performance place’. Nearby to the south are some huge stones of a demolished megalith now marking a field gate. It is likely that activity in the ‘place’ was concerned with the dead and possible that the larger pits excavated contained human burials; unfortunately Sark’s acid soil quickly destroys bone.
This year rain came just in time to aid excavation and to show up the distinct structure of different layers of soil. Because the diggers work with such surgical precision Barry was able to demonstrate the signs of 4000 years of history. From a rectangular cairn of stone rubble the team recovered this year’s prize find - a beautifully-made stone axe. A blade this big must have been struck out of a large boulder of high quality, which could not possibly have been found in Sark.