Chausey Prehistory

Chausey currently appears at high tide like a place of small islands of which the largest - the Main Island - has only a surface of 45 hectares. The low tide increases considerably this surface, and at the the low spring tides, the archipelago becomes almost two large islands, separated by the channel of Beauchamp, edged with shelves.

Trying to imagine Chausey during the prehistory, requires to consider some progressive and important change of sea level. Indeed, the quaternary era which saw the human's appearance, is characterized by the alternation of hot and cold periods. For the cold periods, the sea level drops, probably because of the retention of water in the glaciers; thus, to the maximum of the last ice age, the level of the sea was 100 meter lower than now. This last ice age, which started 80000 years ago, and finished 10000 years ago, with short mild periods, which allowed the man to live in our part of the world, and with very cold periods which made life impossible in the area.

With the end of this ice age, the sea goes up gradually, and Chausey was isolated from the continent 7000 to 6000 years before present. But Chausey, still a long time afterwards, is, even with high tide, like one large island. The prehistoric Chausey which remains accessible is a negligible part of what it was, the remainder being under water, or covered in sand or mud; these last centuries the islands have to undergo the activity of quarrymens, extracting the granite, and who have obviously spoiled many remains.

photo eclat silex

Flint splinter found on the islet of Roche Ango (4,5 cm)

The presence of the early human in France is certain a million years ago. In Brittany, sites of the paleolithic inferior are approximately 400000 years old. The flint tools they deliver are the work of the Neanderthal man's ancestors. Chausey delivers some traces of these early human's presence, in the form of fragments scattered on the shores of certain islands. It's mainly flint, but also some local rock, proper to hewing . They cannot be dated with precision, but could be between 80000 and 60000 years. Within a little distance from Chausey exists large layers of this period : the Mount Dol where, at the last century, many flints associated with bones of wild animals, mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, wolves, were found, and the Cote Sainte Brelade in Jersey; The paleolithic superior who sees the arrival of the modern man in Europe is unknown, at the moment, in the archipelago. Remains of this period are very rare in this part of Normandy (some flints could have been discovered in Granville). Some layers exist in Brittany, for example in the Island of Bréhat.

At the end of the last glaciation, the climate is warmer, the forests are growing, and the large animals which lived in the steppes disappear. The men adapt themselves to these modifications, transform their way of life, and their stone tools, even if they still remain hunters. This intermediate period between Paleolithic and Neolithic is called Mesolithic. The sites of this period are rather numerous in Cotentin (NW of Normandy). They are located on rock hills, cliff edges (even if the sea was further than now). The reason of these locations, in fact poorly sheltered is not well-known: possibility of monitoring, naturally cleared zone? Men manufacture some small stone tools called microlithes, intended to be mounted on some piece of wood and to be used as spear or arrow. Some were found around the lighthouse, on the highest part of the Main Island forming a headland which dominated a vast plain. The lighthouse construction has spoiled the deposit.

photo pointe de fleche

Arrow head found on Grande ile

(flint 2,5 cm)

The Neolithic age is defined especially by the appearance of agriculture, and cattle breeding. The man becomes sedentary, invents pottery, whose style variations make easier to follow the evolutions than the stone tools. Many testimonies of this frequentation remain. Several small dolmens on the Main Island and on the Genetaie (an island west of Main Island), a broken menhir on the Genetaie, and a Cromlech, recently discovered by Mr Herve Hillard near the Grand Colombier Island. Studied by the team of Mr Antoine Chancerel (Service Regional of Archaeology of Normandy), this remain is composed of a circle of stone, still partly put up, of a dozen meter in diameter. It is not yet dated with certainty.

photo pointe silex
photo lame silex
Flint point Grande Ile (5 cm)
Flint blade found on Grande Ile (5 cm)

The other evidences are many flint flakes and tools which can be found on the shores, almost everywhere where the actions of the sea and the quarrymen authorized their conservation. The men cut the flint pebbles collected on the beaches. The majority are simple small flakes, but some have been modified in tools, which be generally some small end scraper. Some rare polished axes were found. We currently have not highlighted structure of habitat.

Many things remain to discover, to explain, and to understand about the human settlement in the islands in these ancient times.