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The most complete of the ten ice age artworks discovered on Jersey in the English Channel Islands, dating back some 15,000 years. Source: Natural History Museum

Ten Amazing Ice Age Artworks By The Magdalenians Discovered In England

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Ten carved stones discovered in England a few years ago have been dated back to the last ice age . Researchers discovered the ten ice age artworks between 2014 and 2018 at an ancient hearth at Les Varines in southeastern Jersey, one of the English Channel islands. A team of archaeologists from Newcastle University and the Natural History Museum have examined the “artistic designs” carved on these limestone ice age artworks. Their research concludes that these purely artistic artifacts were made by the Magdalenian hunter-gatherer people about 15,000-years-ago, during the last ice age.

Jersey is the largest of the Channel islands, located between England and France. This self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom is well-known for its fusion of British and French cultures. The ten ice age artworks were recovered from a cluster of ice age fire hearths , pits, paving, and thousands of flints and tools. Together, all these artifacts show how art was an important part of what the team of researchers call “the ancient Magdalenian pioneer toolkit,” said Dr. Ed Blinkhorn, Senior Geoarchaeologist at University College London, and director of excavations at the site.

The dig site in Jersey where the Magdalenian stone slabs were found. (Natural History Museum)

The dig site in Jersey where the Magdalenian stone slabs were found. ( Natural History Museum )

Ice Age Art: Creating Symbolic Relationships With New Places

Dr Blikhorn and his team of researchers have published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE . Their paper describes the original discovery of the ten ancient, stone plaquettes in an area thought to have been used as a hearth by a local community. These stones are viewed as the “earliest known evidence of artistic expression ” in the British Isles.” They are believed to have been carved by the Magdalenian people, an early hunter-gatherer culture that existed from 23,000 to 14,000 years ago. Similar carved stones have been found at Magdalenian sites in Spain, Portugal and France. This is the first time such artifacts have ever been found in the UK.

A “drawing” of a wild-cow animal found at the Jersey site. The right side of the image isolates the depiction of the animal, so that one can see it as an individual creature. (S Bello/ Natural History Museum)

A “drawing” of a wild-cow animal found at the Jersey site. The right side of the image isolates the depiction of the animal, so that one can see it as an individual creature. (S Bello/ Natural History Museum )

In an article in the Independent, Dr Chantal Conneller from Newcastle University said the fragments provide “rare evidence of ancient artistic expression” and that the people at Les Varines are likely to have been “pioneer colonizers of the region and creating engraved objects at new settlements may have been a way of creating symbolic relationships with new places.”   

The Ice Age Artworks Were Purely Artistic

The geometric designs in these ice age artworks are largely composed of curved markings that were made with repeated incisions using sharpened stone tools. In the new paper, the researchers state it is unlikely that the lines resulted from a function, or process. And while some of the designs are much too abstract to identify, it is believed that some represent animals, landscapes, and people. And because two distinctly different types of marks are present on the faces of the stones, they offer archaeologists new insights into the different artistic processes that were required to create the designs.

Another stone slab showing the characteristic geometric lines of the Magdalenians. (Natural History Museum)

Another stone slab showing the characteristic geometric lines of the Magdalenians. ( Natural History Museum )

Dr Conneller explains, however, that the designs were only “briefly viewed by their makers” as engraving soft stone creates a powder within the incisions making them visible but only for a short time. Interpreting the stones in this context, the act of engraving itself was perhaps more meaningful than the object itself. Furthermore, microscopic analysis indicated that many of the curved lines and concentric designs appear to have been made through “layered or repeated incisions,” which Dr Silvia Bello, Researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, said proves they were “a form of pure artistic expression.”

The Implications Of The Oldest Ice Age Artworks In Britain

The Pleistocene Epoch is typically defined as beginning about 2.6 million years ago and lasting until about 11,700 years ago. The last ice age, which occurred during this time, created glaciers that covered huge parts of our planet. Dr Conneller stated that the discovery of, and the accurate interpretation of, the ten carved ice age art slabs is very important to the archaeological community. This is because they were created at a time when people were beginning to migrate northwards at the end of the last ice age, which was followed by the beginning of the Holocene, the current geological epoch.

Today, Jersey is known for its beaches, cliffside trails, inland valleys, and historic castles. However, these new ice age artifacts, according to an interview in the Daily Mail with Louise Downie, the Director of Curation and Experience for Jersey Heritage , add thousands of years to Jersey’s rich history of art, currently made up of mostly Celtic carvings and 14th century church wall paintings.

Top image: The most complete of the ten ice age artworks discovered on Jersey in the English Channel Islands, dating back some 15,000 years. Source: Natural History Museum

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

Supprised they got noticed really, makes you wonder if stone carvings round these temporary settlements were common and served some sort of function.
That looks like the bathstone limestone, which when you look at the houses there which are only a few hundred years old, all have and do need repairs from frost and rain damage. Even hard limestones like at stone henge have largely changed shape from rain erosion, not to mention the frost damage that softer stones are susceptible to, most ancient carved stones are probably just small pebbles by now in the soil and I am amazed even these fragments even survived being round a hearth.

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