Passage Grave: Le Dehus
3500–2000 BC, Neolithic, Guernsey, Channel Islands.
'If the midwinter sunrise did shine into this tomb, it did so onto a giant phallus.'
'Passage graves were communal tombs,' said Miranda. 'Each one was an ossuary for a local community, a place where the bones of recent ancestors were stored, perhaps for ceremonial use.'
'Le Dehus passage grave on Guernsey was used for fifteen hundred years during the Neolithic period,' replied Quintin. 'A carving on the ceiling looks very crude under artificial light, but when I went over to the Channel Islands to photograph it, I took one of the shots with a long exposure – eight seconds I think – and with the artificial light inside the tomb turned off. The result quite shocked me. A crudely-carved face is transformed by the natural light from the open doorway into something Leonardo da Vinci might have been proud of! The artist must have created it using the light it was meant to be viewed in, and utilised all the natural contours of the rock slab. But a face carved into the ceiling of a communal tomb? Makes you think, doesn't it? I wonder whether boys were shut in there as part of an ordeal into manhood, and when their eyes got accustomed to the gloom this face appeared, staring down at them? Must have been terrifying!'
'Unless it's Roman graffiti, or medieval.'
'Well, I'm not an archaeologist,' said Quintin. 'I wonder how you might date it?
'Like many other passage graves,' continued Miranda, 'this one has separate chambers to it, perhaps for the bones of different parts of the body. The entrance faces southeast as well, like many similar tombs in Denmark, the direction of things rising – possibly the full moon, but perhaps also the midwinter sun, as at Newgrange, in Ireland. The direction of renewal.
'Well,' said Quintin, 'if the midwinter sunrise did shine into this tomb, it did so onto a giant phallus.