One of the most spectacular bronze age weapons discovered in northern Europe has been found by a metal detectorist on a Jersey beach.
The perfectly preserved 35cm long spear head made from copper alloy was found buried point down at the low water mark on one of the lowest tides of the year.
It is in such good condition that the finder Jay Cornick thought it must be a modern fishing spear. He put it in his bag and didn’t think much more about it until he showed it to archaeologists from Jersey Heritage.
The spearhead was found last August but the find has only now been made public after radio carbon dating confirmed it is at least 3,000 years old. Remains of the wooden haft which were still in the socket of the spear head also confirmed it had been made from field maple, which was commonly used for hafting tools and weapons in the late Bronze Age.
No similar spear head has been found in the Channel Islands although a handful of similar examples have been found in France which is just 14 miles from Jersey. Most bronze age spear heads discovered in the islands have been much smaller and part of hoards that were deliberately broken and buried as part of some long forgotten ritual.
Mr Cornick, 34, an electrical engineer, had detected on the beach near Gorey Harbour in the east of the island many times before making the find. He said: “It was very close to the harbour wall. Down on that part of the beach we usually find a lot of musket balls and old bullets and that’s what it sounded like. It was just about the first signal I got, I was in two minds whether to dig it but I did anyway.
“It was a good 15in to 18in deep. It was at a 45-degree angle and when I dug it I saw the end of it and just pulled it out. It came out with a sucking sound. It was deep enough into the black, clay-ey sand that doesn’t move with the tide that it may have been there since it went in.”
He said: “When I found the spear I didn’t think it was that important or that old. My initial thought when I dug it out was that it was a modern fishing spear and probably less than 100 years old so it was just thrown in my bag until I got back to the car. Then I looked again and thought it might have a little bit of age to it.”
After sharing a photograph with Neil Mahrer, the conservation specialist with Jersey Heritage, Mr Cornick wrapped the still damp spearhead in a bin bag and took to the museum in St Helier where it went on display this week. Mr Mahrer described the find as “incredible”.
Mr Cornick says he has only had it in his possession for three days and does not know whether he will get a “finder’s fee”.
The carbon dating carried out by York Archaeological Trust confirmed the wooden haft dates from between 1207 BC and 1004 BC.
Olga Finch, Jersey Heritage’s Curator of Archaeology, said: “The spearhead is a really exciting find for Jersey – it is unique and very rare in terms of its large size and the fact that it is intact.
“This spearhead is completely different from everything else we have.”
The style of spear head is known as Tréboul after a site in Brittany but this example is so large and delicate that Mr Mahrer says it is possible it was made for ceremonial use. It is thought it survived in such good condition because it was protected from the air by the black sand.
Somehow it had survived not only the construction of Gorey Harbour and the medieval castle which dominates the headland but three millennia of tides and winter storms.