The largest and most-complete late Bronze Age spearhead to be found in the Channel Islands has been discovered in Jersey, sparking questions about the ritual practices of the prehistoric islanders.
Metal-detectorist Jay Cornick discovered the spearhead last August on Gorey Beach, and brought it to Jersey Heritage to be cleaned and recorded.
Having spent c.3,000 years 30cm underground, the spear-head was in remarkably good condition, as it had been buried close to a layer of anaerobic black sand that had significantly limited processes of corrosion.
Neil Mahrer, Conservator for Jersey Heritage, was responsible for its preservation. He first used hand-tools under a stereomicroscope to lift away a corroded layer of copper-alloy, and found that the spearhead was so well-preserved that remnants of its wooden shaft survived within the socket. To get the thinnest possible blade to extract the shaft remains cleanly, Neil cut a section of a biscuit-tin lid and shaped it into a cone to follow the contours of the socket. The wood was then sent to York Archaeological Trust, who radiocarbon dated it to 1207-1004 BC, while further analysis identified the wood as field maple – a species commonly used in the late Bronze Age for hafting tools and weapons.
Most of the other Bronze Age spearheads in the Jersey Heritage collection appear to have been used, deliberately broken, and then deposited as part of hoards of weaponry and metal tools. These spearheads generally measure around 10cm when reconstructed, whereas the more recently discovered example is about 30cm long. According to Neil, ‘the most interesting thing about the spearhead is how its making was a combination of incredibly fine skill but also visible hand craft’. Being such a delicate construction, it may never have been a functional weapon.
Olga Finch, Curator of Archaeology at Jersey Heritage, said that the spearhead, ‘doesn’t fit with what we already know about this period, so we’re wondering if it was deposited as part of a ritual or an offering’.
The spearhead is now on display at Jersey Museum and Art Gallery.
TEXT: Florence Chilver.