Faldouet Dolmen has been in the news recently because of damage caused by large numbers of tourists visiting the site, and damaging some of the surrounding earth banks. It is to be hoped that signage as well as barriers will alert tourists as to the important nature of the whole site, and not just the stones themselves, as the earth surrounding it has been shaped and contoured and would have formed part of the whole structure.
So what is a dolmen?
Wikipedia notes that :”A dolmen is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more vertical megaliths supporting a large flat horizontal capstone or "table". Most date from the early Neolithic (4000–3000 BC) and were sometimes covered with earth or smaller stones to form a tumulus.”
However, the identification of dolmens as burial sites has come to be questionable with recently scholarly research, which comes to quite a different interpretation.
With the dolmens, as Mark Patton has pointed out, the human remains found are few in number, and sometimes non-existent. This is also the case in Brittany, where animal bones can be found, and not human bones, suggesting that these "passage graves" were never intended for burials, and certainly not for burials of chieftains. On the most prominent Jersey site, he comments: “the bones are scattered in the passage and chamber with no apparent organisation, as at La Hougue Bie, Jersey”
So if these sites were not tombs, what were they for? Mark Patton suggest that a useful analogy is that of churches and cathedrals. He argues: "If one were to excavate Westminster Abbey, one would find human bones, as in most cathedrals and churches, yet Westminster Abbey, although it contains burials, would not in itself be described as a tomb or mausoleum", and suggests that we look at the dolmens in this light.
And taking a Jersey case in example, there are burials within the Town Church of St Helier, most notably the bones of Major Pierson have been found there, but no one would be correct in assuming the church was merely a burial site.
The alignment of Faldouet, in particular, with the spring equinox suggests it was part calendar, part focus for seasonal rituals, and of course the Neolithic peoples were settled farmers, for whom seasons would play a major part.
One thing the early guide books call it, and it is not, is a Druid’s Temple. The druids belong to the Iron age, thousands of years after the time of the Neolithic farmers, and there is no evidence they existed in Jersey.
One of the earliest mentions I have found of Faldouet Dolmen comes from 1869, in which it is confusingly referred to as a “Cromlech”. Now in Wales, a Cromlech is a megalithic tomb consisting of a large flat stone laid on upright ones – what we would call a dolmen, so this fits. In Brittany, however, it is a circle of standing stones such as we see at Ville es Nouaux.
The Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, Volume 1, May 1869
Some excavations have lately been made by the Rev. Frederick Porter, in a cromlech in the Island of Jersey, known by the name of the Druids' Temple or Polgulaye, at Faldouet. It is situated on a plateau immediately over Gorey and Ann Port, and is described by Falle, in his History of Jersey.
The following account of the excavations is given by Mr. Porter in the Jersey Times of the 8th February, 1869 :—
When I first saw the cromlech I found it had been partly opened, but there was still much to explore. On inquiry, I ascertained that some thirty years previously the then proprietor of the soil cleared away the western part of the mound and opened the primary and some other cists; he appeared to have but little idea of what he was to find, and probably looked for other things than prehistoric relics.
The cromlech is placed east and west longitudinally. The west contains the primary cist, the east end is the entrance and in ordinary cases is left open. An area or nave joins the primary cist, having on each side a succession of cists, and this area comes into contact on each side with the avenue or parallelith forming the entrance.
The cromlech becomes narrower and depressed as it proceeds east; but it does not appear to have had ever more than one transverse block to cover it in. The primary cist is a fine specimen of Celtic architecture. It consists of five upright stones in contact placed in a circular form, four of which support the transverse block of immense weight; the fifth and central stone does not reach the capstone by a few inches, but the whole form a complete barrier to ingress from the west.
I commenced operations by cutting a trench on the east part of the mound, which I thought would strike the entrance to the cromlech. Soon I came upon a wall which seemed to me to close in the entrance. Breaking through this, I came to a second and third, running in a south-westerly direction, and one in a northwesterly.
The three walls sprung from the outer upright stones at the entrance (north and south respectively), admitted full ingress to the cromlech, and are circular and concentric. The outer wall blocked up the entrance from the east; the stones of the walls are well laid, having no mortar or cement to bind them; the outer wall is upright, but the inner incline inward from their base, and all have a support of rubble.
The walls vary in height from two feet to three, and are separated from each other some three or four feet. Betwixt the inner and second wall on the south side, and not far from the entrance to the cromlech, are four upright stones, looking very much like the remains of a peristalith of a date anterior to the walls.
I have been informed that in clearing away the mound on the west front, portions of walls were discovered, and this confirms me in my ideas that the walls I discovered were continuous. The labour of opening this cromlech has been considerable, for it was covered in with rubble and rough stones.
Through this the surface water readily percolated, and no doubt thoroughly decomposed many of the deposits. Some skulls found were so decayed as to render it impossible to determine their type. I found human remains interred in all the forms I have described, also small deposits of charcoal, layers of limpet shells and shingle; a great quantity of fragments of pottery, some fine, some coarse, heaped together as if by design; a small quantity of split flints of no definite form, but no urns or implements, domestic or warlike.