Me­dieval por­poise grave in Guernsey puz­zles ar­chae­ol­o­gists

Timeless Travels Magazine - - ARCHAEOLOG­ICAL NEWS -

Ex­ca­va­tors on the islet of Chapelle Dom Hue, off the west coast of Guernsey, were look­ing for the re­mains of a Bene­dic­tine monastery, but have in­stead found some­thing both un­ex­pected and puz­zling. A grave­shaped fea­ture, ori­ented north-east/south-west, was found about five me­tres away from struc­tural re­mains. It con­tained the re­mains of a har­bour por­poise.

Philip de Jer­sey, a States of Guernsey ar­chae­ol­o­gist, said: “The an­i­mal seems to have been butchered be­fore be­ing placed in a neat rec­tan­gu­lar pit, cut down into the gneiss which forms the bedrock of the islet. The sec­tion shows very clearly that the ‘grave’ was cut down from the top of the me­dieval oc­cu­pa­tion layer, which from the pot­tery found on the site dates prob­a­bly to the four­teenth cen­tury.”

Por­poise was a del­i­cacy in the Mid­dle Ages, and there are plenty of ref­er­ences to its con­sump­tion, in­clud­ing a cou­ple in 13th-14th cen­tury doc­u­ments re­lat­ing specif­i­cally to Guernsey.

De Jer­sey con­tin­ues: “The puz­zle, how­ever, is why go to the trou­ble of dig­ging a ‘grave’ for this an­i­mal af­ter it had been butchered? The most sen­si­ble way to dis­pose of the re­mains would seem to be to throw them back into the sea, a few me­tres away, where scav­engers and the next tide would quickly take care of them.

Per­haps a monk hid the body of the por­poise be­cause he was not sup­posed to have it, or that the body was placed in the hole in salt to pre­serve it. It may have been packed in salt and then for some rea­son they didn’t come back to it.”

Re­mains of the por­poise

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