What could be the Britain's oldest "art' has been discovered at an Ice Age hunter gatherer settlement in Jersey. The Les Varines site dates back 15,000 years and was home to the Magdalenian culture – one of the later cultures of the Upper Paleolithic period in western Europe.
The site has been subject to excavation for the past five years and during this time, over 5,000 stone artefacts have been uncovered. But in the summer of 2015, archaeologists came across something unusual, finding fragments of engraved stone.
The three fragments show traces of fine engraved lines and are believed to be 14,000 years old. Incised stones have been found in Magdalenian sites in Germany and France in the past where they were thought to have had a magical or religious purpose.
These fragments were found in a small corner of some trenches near to a concentration of burnt bone. Silvia Bello, from the Natural History Museum in Lonodn, is now studying the fragments. She said: "We are at an early stage in our investigations, but we can already say the stones are not natural to the site, they show clear incised lines consistent with being made by stone stools, and they do not have any obvious functional role. Engraved works of abstract or figurative art on flat stones are part of the Magdalenian cultural package and one exciting possibility is that this is what we have here."
Chantal Conneller, co-director of the project, added: "We knew from the beginning that Les Varines was an important site. There is nothing of its size or scale elsewhere in the British Isles but there are parallels in France and Germany. Previously we had recovered stone artefacts disturbed by later mud flows, but now it seems we have found the well-preserved edges of the settlement itself.
"Incised stones can be common on Magdalenian camps, many are known from sites in the Germany and the south of France, where they are often seen to have a magical or religious use. However they are rare in northern France and the British Isles, making this a significant find. Although we are not yet sure of the exact age of the campsite, it might well represent some of the first hunter-gather communities to recolonise the north of Europe after coldest period of the last Ice Age."
Researchers believe the site was home to a "significant hunter gatherer camp". It was situated on top of an ancient cliff line between an old sea stack and elevated land to the north. This would have provided protection from the elements.
Excavation leader Ed Blinkhorn said: "This has been the culmination of five years of patient work, tracing thousands of flint tools within slope deposits back to the mother lode. We knew a significant hunter-gatherer camp lay in this field and it seems we've finally found it."