Popular History of Jersey Chapter 1

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Prehistoric times

Cotte à la Chêvre

Without doubt. the key to the solution of the mystery, long hidden in the dark past of bygone prehistoric age; as to who first inhabited the Island of Jersey, or, at any rate made it, for any lengthened period, their sojourning place was found in 1861, when the well-known local naturalist Mr J Sinel, in company with his friend, Mr Dancaster, discovered the Cotte à la Chêvre, about a mile and a half eastward of Grosnez Castle, which cave-dwelling subsequently gave abundant evidence of having been once the habitation of prehistoric man.

Sea levels

How long ago this may have been is foreign to the present subject, though the time that has elapsed since then can with truth be reckoned by thousands of years, and be put down at a period when, subsequent to the severance of Jersey from the mainland of the Continent of Europe, only those portions of the Island which now stand over 100 feet in height were visible at "high-water", and when, for instance, the sand-bank upon which St Helier, its chief town, now stands, and all the "ground" upon that same level round about the Island, was some eight fathoms deep under water at low tide. That such was the case is conclusively proved from the fact that when inhabited by "cavemen" the Cotte à la Chêvre was undoubtedly, though now some 45 feet above it, at that time situated at or about high-water level.

Hunting and fishing

Of the habits and occupations of these earliest inhabitants, of course, but little can be known for certain; though upon the good old principle that a "workman is known by his chips", and judging from such evidences as they have left behind, there is every reason to believe that they, in common with other human beings of like periods, occupied themselves chiefly in hunting, fishing, and defending themselves against the attacks of animals, many of the varieties of which are now extinct; their weapons and implements formed of stone or flint of the roughest design; their staple food the flesh of animals and fish, which at times, if not usually, was cooked — roasted by means of wood or charcoal fires — before being eaten. At the same time, be it added, recreation, of its kind, was by no means unknown to many of these dwellers in prehistoric caves, for they were adepts at etching with sharp-pointed flints on ivory and horn, and in the making of bone fish-hooks, combs for the hair, and various ornaments, though of matters agricultural they were evidently entirely ignorant.

Stone Age

And before coming to the period when the Island had a name, there is certainly to be taken into account another race belonging to the "stone age" (ie the age when bronze and other metals or alloys were unknown), though of a less remote period, which race, from evidence extant a hundred years or so since, and some of which is still remaining, must have been somewhat thickly scattered round about the Island, viz: those inhabitants who constructed the so-called Cromlechs, which erections, it is now agreed pretty generally upon all hands, were not the work of Druids, though they most likely used them for sepulchral purposes, but are thought to have marked off or been erected upon the burial-places of a comparatively late race of prehistoric men.

The best remaining specimen of such on the Island is one situated behind Anne Port, close to Mont Orgueil Castle, on the eastern coast of Jersey. Others exist at St Brelade, La Moye, Mont Cochon, etc, though most, if not all, of the remains — consisting of cinerary urns (urns in which the burned ashes of the dead were deposited), fragments of unburnt pottery, stone implements, etc — have been excavated and removed; whilst the stones appertaining to the finest specimens of them all, at one time situated on the Town Hill, St Helier, where Fort Regent now stands, were transported to England and re-erected in the year 1788, in the park of Marshal Conway, Berkshire, he being Governor of the Island about that period.

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