The Early Middle Palaeolithic of Britain and Jersey: reconnecting the Saalian occupations of the Channel Region
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The Early Middle Palaeolithic of southern Britain is best represented by the record recovered from within the terraces of the Thames, within which some attempt has been made to correlate particular sites to substage level within MIS 7. It has been suggested that there are particular features of the British record which suggest both shared features – and differences – to the record in Northern France: firstly, an under-representation of sites in Britain dated to late MIS7/early MIS 6 (unlike Northern France), and secondly, an apparent geographical split in the manufacture of handaxes versus Levallois debitage between the east and west. We here present the key features of the British record, but suggest that taking a “compare and contrast” approach to Britain could artificially create an impression of difference. We need to understand how our records are formed before assuming human behaviour to be the primary driver. It is necessary to work towards a seamless characterisation of northwest European landscapes, taking account the regional filters created by, for instance, local conditions of preservation and release, and research tradition, before addressing such apparent differences. British research has tended to focus on La Manche as a barrier, and the timing and impact of the creation of the channel upon human access to Britain. We here suggest ways in which we can start looking at this area, not as a barrier, but an inhabited landscape, concentrating on what we can learn from sites located around the margins of this now inaccessible, submerged place. The site of La Cotte de St. Brelade, Jersey provides us with an important window into the landscapes of La Manche. This site preserves the longest Middle Palaeolithic archaeological sequence in north-west Europe, spanning from at least 240,000 BP through to MIS3. The Saalian sequence is some 5m thick, and divided into 10 major units, all rich in artefacts. New work enables changing Neanderthal behaviour throughout the sequence to be explored in relation to changes in regional climate and environment, as well as starting to repopulate the space between Britain and the continent. Building on these observations, we can begin to reflect of how space was used by Neanderthals between Great Britain and the rest of the European continent.