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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Staff

Publication details for Professor Chris Scarre

Scarre, Chris & French, Charles (2013). The palaeogeography and Neolithic archaeology of Herm in the Channel Islands. Journal of Field Archaeology 38(1): 4-20.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The small Channel Island of Herm combines several distinct habitats ranging from steep rocky coasts and a rolling upland plateau in the south to a dune-fringed sandy lowland in the north. Where upland and lowland meet, a line of megalithic tombs constitutes the island’s most striking archaeological feature. Four seasons of fieldwork (2008–2011) have sought to determine the environmental history of northern Herm since the last glacial period and to place the tombs within the broader context of Neolithic activity. A series of trenches and boreholes has revealed the changing morphology of the prehistoric land surface that lies buried beneath the extensive deposits of aeolian sand that cover this part of the island. Results indicate that much of the lowland plain was initially occupied by a shallow marine inlet that was cut off from the sea and progressively infilled starting in the 4th millennium b.c. Pollen and soil sequences reveal how the wooded early Holocene landscape around the edges of this inlet was steadily degraded by human impact and climate. Traces of settlement and cultivation (plowmarks) suggest the megalithic tombs were situated within an agricultural landscape. This finding has relevance for theories that have proposed that islands were favored places for burial by communities visiting from the neighboring mainland. Herm was a locus for settlement and farming as well as for burial during the Neolithic period.