17th September 2017

Archaeologists found a porpoise grave

The island of Chapelle Dom Hue, off the west coast of Guernsey, was once a religious retreat, so when archaeologists digging there in 2017 found what looked like a grave cut, they weren’t entirely surprised.

However, if they’d expected to find the bones of a monk buried beneath the soil, they were only half right. They did indeed find bones – but they turned out to be porpoise, not human.

The grave, which was aligned east to west like most human graves, appeared to have been dug with some specific purpose in mind. If that was the case, though, archaeologists didn’t know what it was.

A porpoise with a purpose?

The grave was cut in medieval times where there was no such thing as dolphin-friendly tuna. Porpoise meat was sometimes part of the local diet, but States of Guernsey archaeologist Phil de Jersey asked the Guernsey Press, “if they had eaten or killed it for the blubber, why take the trouble to bury it?”

It’s a good question: with the sea just a few feet away it would have been easier to dispose of it by throwing the off-cuts into the water.

As The Guardian reported, the hole may have been cut and packed with salt, then the porpoise laid in it to preserve the meat. Alternatively, there could have been a religious reason for the burial. De Jersey told the paper that the dolphin has a strong significance in Christianity. However, it remained the most unusual find in his 35 years as an archaeologist, and not something he’d come across before. It was also unusual that it originated from medieval times, rather than the iron age.

Chapelle Dom Hue

Chapelle Dom Hue is little more than a rock, which is cut off from Guernsey at high tide. A line drawn between Lihou and Richmond Castle would pass directly through it.


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