The oldest artwork ever found in Britain was discovered on the Channel Island of Jersey (specifically at Les Varines in southeast Jersey) between 2014 and 2018. The artwork that dates back at least 15,000 years appear to show a scene from the Ice Age with mammoths in now-drowned lands that could have been Doggerland which was once a land bridge that connected Britain to Europe before rising waters from the North Sea submerged it around 8,000 years ago.
The images were drawn on ten fragments of plaquettes (flat stone) and seem to depict mammoths in addition to some abstract patterns that were etched on top on each other. The abstract patterns were made with straight and curved lines while the other drawings seemed to show the body of what could be an ox or bison with mammoth tusks on top of it. An additional overlaid portrait seemed to depict a human face as it had several circular lines. The drawings, which were engraved by using ancient stone tools, were more than likely created by the same person in a very short amount of time. (Pictures can be seen here.)
It was actually because of a local farmer that the drawings were even found. Ed Blinkhorn, who is a geoarchaeologist from University College London and was the director of the excavations, stated that when a farmer was ploughing the fields, he found fragments of flint and since it isn’t local to the area, it must have been brought in from another location.
“We traced this flow of material to its source — a largely intact saddle of land between an ancient sea stack [a coastal rock formation] and a buried granite cliff,” he explained to Live Science. At that point, excavations began and they found several pits, big granite slabs, numerous hearths that were used for fires, and ochre.
As for the artwork, three of them were discovered underneath a granite slab while the rest of them were located close to one of the hearths. In a statement, Chantal Conneller, who is an archaeologist at Newcastle University in England and a co-author of the study, said, “These engraved stone fragments provide exciting and rare evidence of artistic expression at what was the farthest edge of the Magdalenian world.”
Previously found engraved plaquettes that were unearthed in Portugal, Spain, France, southern part of Germany, and Belgium, were connected to the Magdalenians who were hunter-gatherers that thrived between 23,000 and 14,000 years ago.
Since the island of Jersey is only 9 miles in width, the large animals that may have been depicted in the artwork would have lived in the areas that are now submerged in water. In fact, numerous artifacts from the Stone Age as well as human remains have been uncovered beneath the waters of Dogger Bank. It is possible, however, that the Magdalenian people did stay at the site at Les Varines on a temporary basis even though the intentional artwork suggests they may have stayed longer.
Connoller explained this by stating, “The engraved stones are firmly domestic art.” “The people at Les Varines are likely to have been pioneer colonizers of the region, and creating engraved objects at new settlements may have been a way of creating symbolic relationships with new places.” Whether they stayed there for a short amount of time or on a more permanent basis, the artwork is very important and symbolic nevertheless.