Institute of Archaeology


Hunting for Neanderthal spear tips under the sea

24 November 2022

Collaborative research involving UCL Institute of Archaeology and Archaeology South-East (ASE) colleagues have uncovered new clues about our Neanderthal past.

Four people wading through water (calf high) in a beach location

Submerged below the waves of the English Channel lies an important scientific record of undiscovered Neanderthal artifacts dating back to the last ice age.

In May 2022, when tides dropped to their lowest levels of the year, a team of archaeologists led by Matthew Pope searched the briefly exposed seabed for stone artifacts left behind by Neanderthal people tens of thousands of years ago, as part of the Violet Bank project, funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust.

A stone tower surrounded on all sides by sea and rocks

To take full advantage of the short tidal window, the team camped in an isolated, 18th century stone tower (Seymour Tower) perched more than a mile offshore from the Island of Jersey.

When the tides fell, they were able to scour the exposed rocky reef for spear tips and other stone tools dating to an age when Neanderthal people and woolly mammoths could walk from Kent to Calais.

The UCL-led collaborative team also involved specialists from the Universities of Wales, Newcastle and Liverpool. The team depended on local knowledge and brought a guide with them to keep them one step ahead of the encroaching tide. They also relied on information gleaned from local expertise to point their artifact search in the right direction.

According to Matthew:

We knew there were artifacts in that landscape because people from Jersey, who know that landscape intimately, had shown us a few, but this was the first time we’d systematically gone looking for them and recorded their position. As soon as the tide started to fall, we could emerge from the tower right into the middle of that landscape and then take different transects and different directions looking for artifacts and recording sediments."

The team plan to develop a longer-term research project in this area and to explore other reefs in the English Channel region. 

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Archaeologists Letty Ingrey, Matthew Pope, Chantal Conneller and volunteer Pippa Kergozou trek across the Violet Bank (Image credit: Melissa Rodrigues Photography); Seymour Tower (Image courtesy of Matthew Pope).