La Hougue Bie stands in Grouville on the Channel Island of Jersey. The site consists of a passage grave, two old churches, an underground bunker from the Second World War and a museum. The name hougue is an old Jersey word for a mound and comes from the Old Norse word haugr. The meaning of the word bie is unclear. The burial monument is regarded not only as one of the ten oldest buildings in the world, but also as one of the finest examples of a passage grave in Europe. It dates from the New Stone Age, about 6,000 years ago. The monument appears on the Jersey 1 pound note printed in 2010.
Next to the monument is a museum which tells the archaeological and geological story of the site. The finds on display include swords, axes, spears and many coins, part of the largest hoard of Celtic coins ever found. Also on the site is a reconstruction of a house from the New Stone Age, built in 2018 by volunteers led by Luke Winter of Historic Concepts Ltd. using authentic tools and techniques.
The passage grave
The burial mound containing the grave is about 12 metres high and also dates from the New Stone Age, about 3,500 BC. The tomb itself is 18.6 metres long and at one end is a large space measuring 9 by 3.6 metres. Behind a large stone is a smaller space – a sort of sanctuary. The monument consists of around 70 stones brought from various places on the island, some of which were re-used in the newer monument. Excavations revealed bone material in the passage grave, the cremated remains of eight people. Animal bones, shells, beads and flint implements were also found, as well as the remains of burned pottery (at least 20 pots). These were places where rituals and ceremonies were held when people were buried. The graves are related to those of the Armorican Passage Grave group. The grave fell into disuse after the Late Neolithicum.
Discovery and excavation
After the monument had been closed with stones it was no longer visible and the entrance was only discovered by chance in 1925. It was only at the end of the 20th century that researchers realises that, during the solstice, the sun reached down the passage as far as the rear-most room.
Other monuments: a church complex and a bunker
On top of the mound is a church dating from the 12th century and, next to it, a chapel from the 16th century: the Notre Dame de la Clarté and the Jerusalem Chapel. It is possible that they were built here because the mound was still regarded as a holy site. The complex was later converted into a neo-gothic house with a tower on top. The tower was demolished in 1924. The whole site is managed by the Societé Jersiaise.
On 10th March 1942 the German occupying force began work on building the underground bunker beneath the mound. This was a command bunker with a passageway and rooms and is a unique example of a monument built using slave labour. 70 trenches were dug around the bunker and this resulted in damage to the archaeological remains.
La Route de la Hougue Bie, Grouville, JE2 7UA
Text Nadine Lemmers
Translation Alun Harvey