This Middle Paleolithic site near Cherbourg was first discovered in 1968 through the presence of submerged peat deposits; later dives in the area of Fermanville during the 1970s and 80s revealed thousands of worked flint objects in the seabed at the base of a submerged granite cliff.
Lithic analysis confirmed the tools to be Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition (MTA), typologically placing the occupation at a time prior to the emergence of Homo sapiens in northern Europe. The site has been dated, using geological evidence from wave cut platforms and their associated deposits, to a post-Eemian (last interglacial period); most probably around 40-90,000 years ago during the Weichselian glaciation (aka. Devensian).
Research into this period is extremely important as it deals with a time when population dynamics from the continent into Britain are little understood. A series of factors such as the timing of the breaching of the Dover straits, rapid sea level rise and hominin mobility patterns all play a part in this complicated scenario. Sites in close proximity to the southern side of the Channel/Manche can potentially have a high impact upon our knowledge of how hominins were living within their landscapes at this time and how they were interacting with the rapidly changing environments. Re-colonisation of Britain after a period of approximately 100,000 years of abandonment is now considered to have occurred 40,000 years earlier than previously thought; new evidence points to Neanderthals crossing the Channel/Manche during a glacial low-stand 100,000 years ago (as opposed to c.65,000 years ago as previously thought). Understanding Neanderthal capabilities and population dynamics during this period is integral to our understanding of their migration, social organisation and ultimately their demise.
Another question this site provides answers for is that of the potential for survival of pre-Last Glacial Maximum submerged sites. In situ sediments at Fermanville demonstrate preservation potential despite not only peri-glacial and fully-glacial conditions but also the subsequent transgression. An in-depth study of Fermanville could therefore provide insights into where else these sediments may be preserved, the types of conditions necessary for their survival and best practice for their excavation and interpretation.
Furthermore, this site is potentially indispensible to current research and theory into hominin dispersals which increasingly sees coastal zones as an important factor in migration routes. Coastal submerged sites form an integral part of this argument and provide information and resources unavailable otherwise.
The comprehensive recording of the kind aimed at by this project will look to reveal the limits of the site’s exposure and in turn facilitate the implementation of detailed research proposals. These limits are currently unknown and are yet to be explored using high resolution technology. Erosion that would have been ongoing over the past 20 years has been unmonitored but will have inevitably resulted in continuing scour which may in turn have revealed more of the archaeological horizon. An extended survey will take in new areas that have yet to be explored as well as recording the established research sites in high resolution.
For more information please see the article: Scuve, F., and Verague, J.1978. Le gisement sous-marine du Palolithique Moyen de l’anse a la Mondree a Fermanville (Manche). Ministre des Affaires Culturelles, Autorisation No.001740, 1971, CEHP- Littus, BP.306, Cherbourg 50104.
Fieldwork took place on the Fermanville site in July 2010 in association with the Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas project.