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 Location: Jersey. (683,504).  Grid Reference: 49° 12' N,  2° 3.8' W.

 

      La Hougue Bie: (Passage Mound).

La Hougue Bie is Jersey's most famous ancient site, and pilgrims from pre-Christian times onward have journeyed here to worship.

It is the second longest cruciform passage-mound in Europe (Only Newgrange has a longer passage).

The presence of such a large passage mound on such a small Island is possibly explained by the fact that Jersey became an island at c. 4,000 BC, at the extremes of estimates for the building of the mound.

 

 

   La Hougue Bie:

('Hougue' is a Jèrriais/Norman word meaning a "mound" and comes from the Old Norse word haugr).

The Neolithic inhabitants of the Island, probably few in number, manhandled over 70 massive stones from miles away and manoeuvred them carefully into position. They also gathered sufficient spoil and debris to create a mound standing around 14 metres, then covered it with soil to make it look like a natural hill.

 

This remarkable site consists of a 20 metre long passage chamber covered by a (currently) 12 metre high earth mound. The main chamber is cruciform, and was originally paved with maroon pebbles. The site was first excavated in 1925 by the Société Jersiaise. Fragments of twenty vase supports were found along with the scattered remains of at least eight individuals.

The ancient passage-grave divides into three sections. The distance from the angled entrance to the long passage, giving into the oval Great Chamber, marks out the first section. The second is the oval-shaped Great Chamber itself where five immense slabs, the largest weighing 25 tons, form the roof of the chamber. The third section comprises three side cells, composing a cruciform chamber, the western asp of which is unique, with no counterpart in any other megalithic structure.

(More about Cruciform chambers)

 

The excavators of 1924 noted that the floor of the entire monument was covered with a layer of "sea gravel" some 2 to 4 inches thick. The floor of the western section of the chamber had  received special treatment, being further raised creating a stepped 'altar' section. Two of the stones in this section were determined to be granite, moved from 7 miles distant. They are presumed to have been specially selected, perhaps in relation to the astronomical orientation of the passage which would have given the end chamber a special significance.

La Hougue Bie, Jersey

The concave design of the entrance is still in its original shape, something which some other prominent passage mounds (such as Newgrange), suffered from under the hands of the 1960's restoration teams.

 

Chronology:

Originally constructed sometime between 4,000 and 3,500 BC (2), (3). The mound is now 12 m high but may have been considerably larger in Neolithic times.

The mound has been shown to have been built over several phases of construction, ending sometime around 2,900 - 2,500 BC being symbolically covered over and sealed with a huge layer of topsoil.

Two medieval chapels were built in the sixteenth century, thereby Christianising a pagan site.

A well was added in the 1920's and even a lavatory (removed in excavation). (The concrete pillar inside dates from then).

The Germans added a bunker during World War 2.
 

 

Legend and Tradition:

A manuscript dating from 1734 provides a possible explanation for the name 'Hougue Bie'. Legend has it that Lord Hambye sailed from Normandy to slay a dragon that was threatening Jersey, in the process of which he was murdered by his servant, the latter seeking glory for himself as slayer of the dragon; his crime revealed, the servant was duly punished. Lady Hambye ordered that a large mound be built upon high ground as a memorial to her murdered husband, and the body interred therein. The mound was named La Hougue Hambye of which Hougue derives from the Old Norse Haugr meaning eminence or mound, and the Bie may well have become a shortened form of Hambye over the years.

 

Astronomy:

Since the excavations and restoration of the original entrance of the passage observations from inside the tomb at sunrise on the spring and autumn equinox have revealed that the orientation of the passage allows the sun's rays to shine through to the chamber entering the back recess of the terminal cell. (1)

The Neolithic builders on Jersey built La Hougue Bie to tie-in with the equinoxes which fall twice a year on days with exactly 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, as the sun rises a beam of light shines right through to the very back wall of the raised section of the passage-mound.

 

 

(Other Passage Mounds)

 

(Prehistoric English Sites)

(Prehistoric French Sites)

 

 

References:

1). http://www.bbc.co.uk/jersey/about_jersey/historic_sites/history_houguebie.shtml
2). Patton M., Antiquity, 69, p582-586, 1995.
3). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/jersey/3990831.stm

 

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