Earliest art in British Isles discovered in Jersey

Earliest art in British Isles discovered in Jersey

Prehistoric societies in the British Isles were creating artistic designs on rock as long ago as the late Ice Age, archaeologists have confirmed.

Rare evidence

The plaquettes provide the earliest evidence of artistic expression discovered in the British IslesFor the first time, archaeologists have analysed the ancient markings made on a group of flat stones, known as plaquettes, uncovered at Les Varines, Jersey, and believe they date from the late ice age – some 15,000 years ago.

Ten fragments of stone plaquettes extensively engraved with abstract designs were uncovered at Les Varines, Jersey, between 2014 and 2018. Since then, a team of archaeologists led by Newcastle University, working with the Natural History Museum, have been analysing the prehistoric markings and believe they represent the earliest evidence of artistic expression discovered in the British Isles.

The plaquettes are believed to have been made by the Magdalenians, an early hunter gatherer culture dating from between 23,000 and 14,000 years ago. The Magdalenian era saw a flourishing of early art, from cave art and the decoration of tools and weapons to the engraving of stones and bones.

Examples of etched Magdalenian plaquettes have previously been discovered at sites in France, Spain and Portugal. Although Magdalenian settlements are known to have existed as far north-west as Britain, no similar examples of artistic expression have previously been discovered in the British Isles of such an early date. The engraved fragments represent the first evidence of engraved stone plaquettes found in the British Isles and Ireland, seemingly predating cave art and engraved bone found previously at Creswell Crags, Derbyshire.

The research and excavation team, which also included experts from the UCL Institute of Archaeology, the universities of St. Andrews, Strathclyde, Liverpool, Wales Trinity St David, and York, as well as the British Museum, analysed the stones for traces of how the markings were made.

The analysis revealed that the plaquettes are engraved with groups of fine lines, thought to have been purposefully made using stone tools. The geometric designs are made up of a combination of straight lines more or less parallel to each other and longer, curved incisions. The research team say that the two types of marks are likely to have been produced using the same tools, possibly by the same engraver and in short succession, giving new insight into the processes used to create the ancient designs.

Dr Chantal Conneller, Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University, said: “These engraved stone fragments provide exciting and rare evidence of artistic expression at what was the farthest edge of the Magdalenian world.”

The designs were only briefly viewed by their makers. Engraving soft stone creates a powder within the incisions that makes them visible. This swiftly disperses, meaning that the engravings are only clear at the moment of their making. “In this context, the act or moment of engraving, was more meaningful than the object itself,” explained Dr Conneller.

art British Isles prehistoric

Purposeful artistic direction

Dr Silvia Bello, Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London, added: “Microscopic analysis indicates that many of the lines, including the curved, concentric designs, appear to have been made through layered or repeated incisions, suggesting that it is unlikely that they resulted from the stones being used for a functional purpose. The majority of the designs are purely abstract, but others could depict basic forms such as animals, landscapes or people. This strongly suggests that the plaquettes at Les Varines were engraved for purposeful artistic decoration.”

The stones discovered at Les Varines, in the south east of Jersey, were found in an area thought to have been used as a hearth. Three of the fragments had been recovered from an area of granite slabs which may have served as paving, highlighting that the plaquettes were engraved in a domestic context.

Dr Ed Blinkhorn, Senior Geoarchaeologist at University College London and director of excavations at the site, said: "The plaquettes were tricky to pick apart from the natural geology at the site - every stone needed turning. Their discovery amongst hearths, pits, paving, specialist tools, and thousands of flints shows that creating art was an important part of the Magdalenian pioneer toolkit, as much at camp as within caves."

 “The engraved stones are firmly domestic art - this may have been important as people moved back into northern Europe towards the end of the last Ice Age,” added Dr Conneller. “The people at Les Varines are likely to have been pioneer colonisers of the region and creating engraved objects at new settlements may have been a way of creating symbolic relationships with new places.”

The research took place as part of the Ice Age Island project, funded by Jersey Heritage, the British Academy, the Society of Antiquaries and the British Museum and the ‘Human behaviour in 3D’ project funded by the Calleva Fundation and is published in PLOS ONE.

 

Reference: “Artists on the edge of the world: An integrated approach to the study of Magdalenian engraved stone plaquettes from Jersey (Channel Islands)” by Silvia M. Bello, Edward Blinkhorn, Andrew Needham, Martin Bates, Sarah Duffy, Aimée Little, Matt Pope, Beccy Scott, Andrew Shaw, Mark D. Welch, Tim Kinnaird, Lisa Millar, Ruth Robinson, Chantal Conneller. PLOS ONE https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0236875

 

 

 

Press release from the Newcastle University on the prehistoric markings that represent the earliest evidence of art discovered in the British Isles


Thomas Becket 2020

Thomas Becket 2020: a year-long programme of events for the 850th anniversary of his murder

2020 programme commemorating the murder of Thomas Becket unveiled

  • 2020 is the 850th anniversary of the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Year-long programme of Becket2020 events unveiled
  • British Museum to host first ever major UK exhibition on Thomas Becket’s life, death and legacy
Thomas Becket 2020
Reliquary, Limoges, c. 1200. The image on the front panel shows the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. © The Trustees of the British Museum

A year-long programme of events marking the 850th anniversary of one of the most shocking crimes in European history, the murder of Thomas Becket, are unveiled today. ‘Becket2020’ will see venues in London, Canterbury and beyond host a range of events across the year to commemorate his murder - a moment which changed the course of history. The programme includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services, and culminates in the first ever major UK exhibition to explore Becket’s life, death and legacy which will open at the British Museum in October.

Thomas Becket 2020
A second Reliquary, Limoges, c. 1200. The image on the front panel shows the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered on 29 December 1170 – 849 years ago tomorrow. He was killed in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights with close ties to his former friend King Henry II, as eye-witnesses looked on. Becket was quickly canonised a saint by the Pope and his shrine at Canterbury became a major centre of European pilgrimage before being destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in the early years of the English Reformation. In both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church he is recognised as a saint and a martyr.

Canterbury Cathedral at night – © Canterbury Cathedral

In 2020, Canterbury will be the centre of activity celebrating Becket. A major new production of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral will be performed for the first time in Canterbury Cathedral in October and is a joint initiative with The Marlowe Theatre. The Cathedral will also host a special choral evensong service to commemorate Becket’s martyrdom on the 29 December 2020. Elsewhere in the city, other highlights include Saint Thomas Becket – World Celebrity Healer at The Beaneya community creative project focusing on mental and physical health and wellbeing in the context of Becket’s fame. In July, Canterbury’s fifth annual Medieval Pageant and Trail will take place, and this year commemorates Henry ll’s pilgrimage to Canterbury to perform penance for his association with the murder of Becket.

Thomas Becket 2020
Pilgrim badge from the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. This badge depicts the scene of Becket’s martyrdom. © Museum of London.

London, the city of Becket’s birth, will also host a range of important events. Thomas Becket (title tbc) at the British Museum will be the first time Becket’s life, death and legacy has been explored in a major exhibition in the UK. Opening in October, it will showcase an incredible array of over 100 objects associated with Becket, including manuscripts, jewellery, sculpture, stained glass and paintings, and will feature artefacts from the Museum’s collection as well as important loans from the UK and around the world. It will present Becket’s tumultuous journey: from London-merchant’s son to Archbishop; and from a revered saint in death, to a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of Henry VIII, over 350 years later. Highlights include a number of beautiful sacred reliquaries which once contained precious relics of Thomas Becket. These were taken across Continental Europe and speak to the profound international spread of his cult.

Thomas Becket 2020
Pilgrim badge, pewter, a standing figure of St Thomas Becket, wearing archbishop's vestments and holding a cross-staff.  Becket's shrine at Canterbury was the most popular in England.  14th century. © Museum of London.

Also in the capital, The Museum of London will display a selection of their extraordinary collection of pilgrim badges. For over 300 years, Londoners flocked to Becket's shrine in Canterbury often returning with a badge as a keepsake. The Museum of London will use examples to illustrate Becket’s extraordinary life and his connections to the capital. Visitors will be encouraged to undertake their own mini-pilgrimage through the museum’s Medieval London Gallery from 14 February to October 2020. In June, the Becket Pageant for London will be a landmark community project centred around a new 70-minute stage-work and set against the iconic backdrop of medieval Guildhall Yard. The event will seek to re-imagine the only known Becket pageant, performed in London in 1519, and will be a playful musical entertainment for a modern audience. His Grace The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury, will preach at Southwark Cathedral in December 2020, in commemoration of Thomas Becket's final sermon which took place at the same site shortly before his death. The Cathedral will also host an art installation by artist Michelle Rumney during Lent.

Naomi Speakman, co-curator of Thomas Becket at the British Museum, said: “the story of Thomas Becket’s life, death and legacy has all the hallmarks of a Game of Thrones plot. There’s drama, fame, royalty, power, envy, retribution, and ultimately a brutal murder that shocked Europe. These events had repercussions that have echoed out through time, and we’re delighted to be telling this important story for the first time in a major exhibition.”

Thomas Becket (title tbc) is at the British Museum from 15 October 2020 until 14 February 2021.

Canterbury Cathedral – © Canterbury Cathedral

Becket2020 programme of events.

This is a draft programme of events, to which others are in the process of being added, based on information derived from partners.

Canterbury Cathedral will take the lead on the leaflet and website for Becket 2020.

Events:

23 January - 'Lecture: 'Thomas Becket and the Young Henry III' by Professor David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History (King’s College London)

7.00pm Claggett Auditorium, Canterbury Cathedral Lodge.

Free to Historical Association members and students; £3 for others

14 February (to October) – Becket 2020 pilgrim badge display at the Museum of London (free)

St Thomas Becket is an internationally renowned figure but his connections to London are rather less well-known. For over 300 years, Londoners flocked to Becket's shrine in Canterbury often returning with a pewter badge as a keepsake. Hundreds of these pilgrim souvenirs have been recovered from London excavations and mudlarking activity along the Thames and the museum holds the largest collection in the country.

The Museum of London will use some of its pilgrim badges to illustrate St Thomas Becket’s extraordinary life and his connections to the capital. Visitors will be encouraged to undertake their own mini-pilgrimage through the museum’s Medieval London Gallery from 14 February to October 2020. The display will deal with Thomas Becket the man and his early life in London, his exile and murder, the impact of his death and rise in miracle cures and finally, Becket’s shrine and the Jubilee of the Martyrdom in 1220.

25 February - Lecture on Becket & London by Prof Caroline Barron, Mercers' Hall, London

26 March - "The two Thomases" talk by Dean of Hereford, Hereford Cathedral

27 March - Annual Thomas Becket Lecture, a talk by Lord Rowan Williams on ‘Bede and Canterbury’ to anticipate the opening of the Medieval Canterbury Weekend (Venue: Canterbury Christ Church University).

3-5 April - Medieval Canterbury Weekend. 3-5 April 2020. Includes 'Becket was a Londoner' lecture on 5/4/20). Venue: Canterbury Christ Church University https://www.canterbury.ac.uk/arts-and-humanities/school-of-humanities/medieval-canterbury-weekend/medieval-canterbury-weekend.aspx

April to October 2020 - Canterbury Cathedral Eastern Crypt set aside as Pilgrimage Chapel for Becket2020

16 May – 27 September - ‘Becket - World Celebrity Healer’ exhibition at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Canterbury https://canterburymuseums.co.uk/events/saint-thomas-becket-world-celebrity-healer/

18 May - ‘Church, Saints and Seals, 1150-1300’ (a one-day conference at Canterbury Cathedral and Canterbury Christ Church University).

24 May - Friends of Southwark Cathedral pilgrimage set off from London to Canterbury Cathedral. Arrive 1st June

30 May - Day of Prayer and Pilgrimage, plus Beacon Event (Canterbury Cathedral)

25 June–2 July – King’s Week (The King’s School, Canterbury) will include Becket-themed events.

27 June – Becket on Film screenings (Dr Tim Jones, Canterbury Christ Church University)

Late June (one of the final two weekends) - London pageant, Guildhall Yard (Emmeline Winterbotham)

4 July - Canterbury Medieval Pageant and Family Trail (An annual Becket-themed community event, led by the Canterbury Business Improvement District, involving community groups, re-enactors, and heritage organisations across the city).

4 July - Blessing of Becket Copes at Evensong (Canterbury Cathedral)

4 July – An evening screening of the 1960s film ‘Becket’ at the Gulbenkian (Venue: University of Kent, Canterbury).

5 July – Canterbury Cathedral major service for the Translation of Becket. 10.00 Eucharist, 15.00 ecumenical service

6th July - 31st Dec 2020 - "The Two Thomases" Exhibition at Hereford Cathedral

7 July - St Thomas Day

19 July – Canterbury Cathedral’s ‘Night of the Cathedral’ event 17.30 - 21.00

July (date TBC) - Film Screening by Dr Tim Jones of the 1970 anniversary of Becket’s martyrdom (Venue: Canterbury Christ Church University).

26 August - Pilgrimage Visit to Canterbury Cathedral from the Friends of Hereford Cathedral

Late August / September – A 3-week exhibition and series of talks on Kentish saints (Venue: Centre for Kent History and Heritage, in partnership with Canterbury Archaeological Trust, the Kent Archaeological Society and other local partners):

  • Monday 31 August: St Martin's: An introduction to the cult of saints: Dr Sarah James (University of Kent)
  • Tuesday 1 September: St Paul's: Early Episcopal Saints: Dr Diane Heath (CCCU)
  • Wednesday 2 September: St Mildred's: Anglo-Saxon female saints: Dr Hilary Powell (CCCU)
  • Thursday 3 September: St Dunstan's: ‘Conflicting convictions:  martyrs of the 16th century’: Dr Doreen Rosman (retired, University of Kent)
  • Friday 4 September: St Peter's: Late medieval minor and failed cults: Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh (CCCU)
  • Saturday 5 September: St Thomas RC church: St Thomas of Canterbury: Professor Rachel Koopmans (York University, Toronto)

September - A Sandwich to Canterbury relay walk (incorporating local parishes between Sandwich and Canterbury - tbc).

September – The Annual Education Day hosted by the Canterbury Tales Attraction with local partners.

September – Heritage Open Days will have a Becket theme.

19 September - Canterbury Cathedral Friends ‘Friends Day’, for members only, with a Becket theme (Venue: Canterbury Cathedral).

27 September - Lees Court Singing Compline for Becket at Canterbury Cathedral

3 October - Joint Evensong Portsmouth & Dio Pilgrimage (Canterbury Cathedral)

15 Oct 2020 onwards - British Museum Thomas Becket exhibition, London (end date and title TBC)

22-24 Oct 2020 - Murder in the Cathedral in Canterbury Cathedral. Major joint production with Marlowe Theatre.

27-29 Oct 2020 - Canterbury Cathedral: Big Draw and Childrens Pilgrimage activities

11-13/14 November – ‘Thomas Becket: Life, Death and Legacy’ Conference (Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury Christ Church University and University of Kent – dates and keynotes confirmed including Prof. Anne Duggan, Prof. Rachel Koopmans, Prof. Alec Ryrie, Prof. Nick Vincent, Dr Paul Webster; Venue: Canterbury Cathedral; funded by the British Academy).

29 December – Special choral evensong service to commemorate Becket’s martyrdom (Venue: Canterbury Cathedral).

Other Canterbury events in planning include:

  • Annual Anselm Lecture (University of Kent at Canterbury – date tbc).
  • St Dunstan’s Church, Canterbury, will produce a leaflet on Henry II and Becket.
  • St Thomas’s Church, Canterbury, will have a musical event, a possible exhibition and has a strong interest in pilgrimage.
  • The Canterbury Society will also host a Becket-related talk.
  • The St Dunstan’s underpass in Canterbury will have a new mural depicting medieval pilgrims through to modern students.
  • Canterbury Archaeological Trust Activities: (1) a workshop on Canterbury in the age of Becket, with object handling; (2) holding one or more walking tours of Canterbury in the age of Becket; (3) running an East Kent tour of individual sites (monuments, churches, etc.); (4) developing Apps for 20 centuries of Canterbury; and (5) producing a new book on Canterbury and a new map of Canterbury.

Other events to be aware of:

  • Lambeth 2020. 27 July - 1 Aug 2020 (University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral)
  • The Open Golf, 12-19 July 2020 Sandwich, Kent
  • Canterbury Festival (17-31 October 2020)

 

Press release for the 2020 programme commemorating the murder of Thomas Becket from the British Museum