|49' 29.8284" N, 2' 30.3822" W (GPS 33min, entrance) New Guernsey Grid 4053 4962* Old Grid WV358 831|
|*estimated, Guernsey grid not available for GPS|
|Visited June 2005||Mound diameter 20m (Pub.)|
The Le Dehus passage grave lies on the west side of Rue de Dehus, about 4.5km northeast of St. Peter Port in the parish of Vale. The land is flat and about 15m OD, the passage grave actually being built on a raised beach. The monument stands hard by the crook of a bend in the road opposite a market garden.
Now known as Le Dehus, Lukis sometimes uses the name Du D'Hus or Du Tus, these being local useage, other alternatives being l'Autel du Grand Sarrazin and l'Autel du Tuese (the former not to be confused with Le Tombeau du Grand Sarrazin, which is another monument close by). The claims for the origins of the name Dehus have involved Gaulish gods (Dis or Esus), or even Breton goblins (Duz, Teuz or Teus), but it is probably derived from the Old Norse dys, meaning a mound, or barrow.
Joshua Gosselin (1) mentions the monument in his 1813 description of four of the island's "Druidical Temples", calling it "La Pierre du dehus". He included two views of the monument and a diagram of the surviving roofstones exposed then. The stones supporting the roofslabs projected about 75cm above ground level and Gosselin took this to be their full height "as the bottom is too rocky", little did he suspect the archaeological treasures lying buried below. Due to the exposed roofslabs, the monument had been known locally well before Gosselin's account, it is mentioned in a Livre de Perchage of 1753 as " l'Autel de Dehus". Towards the end of the 18th century the large exposed stones had attracted the attention of local quarrymen and the monument was saved in the nick of time by John de Havilland who bought the monument and the surrounding four perches of land in 1775 for the princely sum of four pounds and ten shillings.
|Lukis' chamber labelling and layout.|
Dehus was excavated between 1837 and 1847 by the Lukis family, principally F.C.Lukis, who unfortunately published very little, the details of the excavation being contained in notes, diaries, and the unpublished manuscripts of his Collecteana Antiqua. A short piece on Le Dehus is however contained in a general paper by Lukis on "Celtic" tombs and megaliths in the Channel Islands (2). The map above shows Lukis' layout and chamber labelling, note the position of the fallen piece of capstone 2.
An unspecified amount of restoration was carried out in 1898 by the Rev. G.E.Lee and in 1915 Col. T.W.M. de Guerin (3) (4) carried out further excavations in the area between side-chambers C and D. The appearance of Le Dehus as we see it today is largely the result of the re-excavation and restoration (particularly of the mound) carried out in 1932 by V.C.C. Collum (5).
Although the monument is covered by a mound 20m in diameter, this is modern, being added after Collum's excavation as part of the restorations carried out then. There are no early accounts or drawings showing an original mound covering the monument, but a circle of large stones surrounding it was described by Lukis in 1837 as being "nearly perfect". A later map made made by Lukis on, or after 1844, shows nineteen of these stones remaining. The circle of stones has been incorporated in the modern mound as kerbs, dry stone walling being employed to replace the parts of the circle where stones are missing.
The main problem for the modern visitor trying to interpret the interior structure of Dehus is the vexed question of chamber layout. The monument has been both excavated and "restored" several times, beginning with the Lukis excavation in 1837. It seemed that every plan of the layout that we discovered, although agreeing upon the main chamber, had a (sometimes markedly!) different side-chamber layout.
The plan above is a synthesis of modern diagrams for the monument interior, the positions and sizes of the orthostats and roofstones are usually in pretty good agreement, it is the interpretation of the internal spaces as original chambers which differs. The five accessible side-spaces we found during our visit are labelled A-E, the four side-chambers investigated by Lukis are A-D, but space E is not shown as a side-chamber on any plan we saw. This space must therefore be an artefact of restoration, this is curious as the fabric appears much more convincing as an original chamber than that of B. Most aberrant of all the plans we saw for the monument interior was the plan on the plaque affixed to the front of the monument, this diagram shows the side-chambers as ACDF, B is not labelled as a side-chamber. This is very unusual, B has a very good claim to being a bona fide original chamber as Lukis famously discovered that it contained two kneeling skeletons! The area shown as chamber F was completely walled off by close-fitting wall slabs during our visit, although some of our photos do suggest the presence of a void behind some of these stones. A further consideration is the complex space between chambers C and D which was investigated by de Guerin as a possible additional side chamber.
Because of the uncertainty over side chamber layout, we will limit our descriptions to those identified by Lukis in his map above.
Before the interior is described in detail, a
ubiquitous presence at Dehus must be mentioned - limpet shells. According to
Lukis' notes these shells were found everywhere in the interior in great
amounts, leading to the speculation that the entire monument had been
constructed in a shell midden. As the shells were so omnipresent we will only
refer to them occasionally.
Dehus is a passage grave with a NE-SE axis, the entrance opening
to the NE facing the seashore. The passage is almost 3m long and is 1m wide, it
runs straight from the trilithon entrance to the
beginning of the chamber. Lukis found a pair of stones set opposite each other
against the passage sidewalls acting as constricting stones to choke the passage
width, these are shown in red on the modern plan above. The stones were removed
and have been replaced sometime after 1989, the stones are not tall enough (1.2m
& 1.3m) to reach the underside of the roof stones, but it is unclear if their present
position reflects their original situation accurately. The passage is roofed by
four capstones. the westerly three being found in situ, the front stone, which
is the entrance lintel, was found displaced and was reinstated during the Rev.
G.E.Lee's restorations of 1898.
The main chamber is 6m long and around 3.5m at its widest, the walls are comprised of the huge closely fitting orthostats that support the roofslabs. The passage and chamber form a "flask" shaped plan typical of these monuments in the Channel Islands, La Varde and Le Creux es Faies also have similar plans. The main chamber was probably roofed by four capstones of which three remain at the west. There are presently two free standing stones in the chamber, a short one (which does not appear on Lukis' plan) near the south wall and the present entrance to chamber C, and a large pillar in the chamber proper. The large pillar is original and served as a support for the second capstone which narrows considerably at its northern end, this support was demonstrably necessary as the capstone failed in antiquity, the northern section falling to the chamber floor to be unearthed by Lukis in his excavation. The second capstone is decorated on its underside with an anthropomorphic carving (click the Rock Art button above for photos and details), it has been speculated that this stone was originally a free-standing statue menhir (such as the one at Catel) that had been re-used in the construction of Le Dehus. It seems likely that the stone was carved before incorporation in the passage grave structure as parts of the carving were hidden by the top of the support pillar which is definitely part of the primary structure. Lukis excavated the passage and most of the main chamber in 1837 discovering "an abundance of limpet shells", beneath these "a thick layer of earth and limpet shells followed, mixed with a dark grey mould in which human ashes and bones became abundant. In this and the next layer of yellowish clay, human skeletons, bones, urns, stone and bone implements, and fragments of pottery were observed, the whole resting on the alluvial soil".
For some reason, Lukis did not excavate under fallen part of the second capstone in the main chamber for another ten years. When he finally did dig this spot he came across a deposit of pottery vessels and human bones. A total of 7 or 8 vessels were recovered, the majority of them beakers, including part of this beaker more parts of which had already been recovered from side-chamber A. It seems likely that all of the beakers recovered from Le Dehus were found near the base of the pillar in the main chamber.
This chamber measures 1.60m E-W, 1.65m N-S and is 1.45m high beneath the intact capstone, this stone is large and around 40cm thick. Lukis entered the chamber in 1837 excavating through a gap in the passage side slabs, presumably now used as the modern entrance. Lukis found human bone in this chamber along with pottery ( click Finds button above for photos ), one piece of pottery was the base of a splendid beaker, the remaining pieces of which were discovered later in the main chamber near the pillar and fallen capstone section. There was a small ledge to the right of the chamber entrance, an axe head of polished serpentine and bone "ornaments" were discovered there.
This is a small chamber, 1.07m at its widest point, indeed the
"entrance" is so small that neither of us could squeeze inside, the original
height below the capstone was 1.27m. The capstone is reported as being small,
and a mere 15cm thick, and although shown as extant on modern plans, we found
the chamber to be roofed with modern concrete. We also found that most of the
northern half of chamber walls was now constructed of modern dry stone walling,
it seems this chamber must have seen a lot of disruption (see our VR panoramas
of the interior).
Lukis did not discover this chamber until September of 1844, a stone had been noticed on the surface in this location and he decided to dig beneath it, thus discovering chamber B. The chamber was excavated from the top down, not from the side as for chamber A. Underneath the capstone was a 25cm space above the now ubiquitous earth and limpet shell mixture, 15cm below the fill two skulls were found. The skulls were later found to belong to two complete skeletons kneeling side by side in the chamber, one at the east, the other at the west, they were facing in different directions, one north, one south. In a macabre aside Lukis noted that their situation "would easily give countenance to the hypothesis of the two persons having been buried alive." No pottery was found in this chamber.
Chamber C is roughly circular varying in
diameter between 1.47m to 1.68m, the orthostats of the sidewalls stand 1.42m
high. No capstone was in place during its discovery, but large stone
fragments found in the chamber (one still there today) may be parts of one. The
Lukis plan actually shows the two fragments, and we did notice a largish slab
embedded in the modern concrete roof and wondered if that could be the second
piece (see VR tour for chamber interior).
Lukis did not discover this side-chamber until August of 1847 when the tops of the wall orthostats were found by his sons as they cleared the ground there. Digging through the customary earth/limpet shell mixture Lukis first found a layer of pebbles beneath which were more limpet shells covering three groups of human bones. The bones rested on a pavement of flat slabs and each group was associated with a round-bottomed pottery vessel, the southern group of bones appeared to be those of a child. Confusingly, Lukis mentions in his diary that a "censer"-like vessel was also found in this chamber, but later notes and labelling state that it came from side-chamber A.
At present, side chamber D can be entered from the main passage or via a gap in the orthostats between it and the "new" space E. It seems from Lukis' description that on excavation this chamber was found to be self-contained, with no access from either the passage or side chamber C. Side chamber D is irregular in shape and is about 1.47m across north to south, at excavation there was no capstone, although a large flat stone found to the east of the chamber may be a fragment of one. The chamber seems to have undergone changes during the various excavations and restorations, as late as 1928 Kendrick (6) describes the northern side of the chamber as being comprised of "rubble walling" whereas today the backs of the passage orthostats are visible and an entrance way leads to the passage. The confused area between the passage orthostats and the walls of chambers C and D was cleared during an excavation in 1915 by Col. T.W.M de Guerin, but Kendrick's "rubble walling" was obviously removed later, perhaps during Collum's 1932 excavation.
Lukis investigated the chamber in 1847 and its layering suggested several periods of use. Excavating downwards through the ubiquitous earth/limpet shell mixture, he found a pavement of small granite slabs on which rested several piles of human bones, 30cm below the slabs was a second pavement bearing more heaps of bones, 60cm beneath these slabs was the natural floor of chamber bearing further finds. In the SE corner of the chamber at floor-level Lukis found a crouched skeleton and a second at the west, both skeletons were arranged facing the chamber walls. On the north side of the chamber an hemispherical bowl was found inverted resting on three pieces of stone arranged in a triangle. Beneath the bowl, bone fragments from the front part of a human chest were discovered, leading Dr.Lukis to theorise that a heart "rudely removed with portions of the parietes" had been buried there. The bowl was the only piece of pottery found in side chamber D. Engravings of the chamber during excavation and of the bowl can be seen on our antiquarian page here.
The multi-layered nature of the deposits
found in this chamber definitely suggest multiple usage of this space, which is
difficult to reconcile with Lukis' claim that there was no access to this
chamber from the main space of the monument. Given the capstone and mound
construction, it is difficult to see how multiple access from above would have
The Le Dehus passage grave is a wonderful, if confusing, monument to visit. There is ample modern interior lighting, including oblique illumination of the carving on the second capstone, and this is switchable, allowing visitors with their own torches to view the carving lit from other angles. There was a parking space next to the monument large enough for one car during our visit. Note that there is no footpath in front of the monument and it is situated on a tight bend, so be cautious of traffic if you visit with children, or if photographing the exterior frontage. As we mentioned above, the plan of the monument on the plaque affixed to the front shows a chamber layout that differed from every other diagram we saw, further adding to the problems of interpreting the interior space as it stands today.
1. Gosselin J., Archaeologia,
17, p254-6, 1813.
2. Lukis F.C., Archaeologia, 35, p232-58, 1853.
3. de Guerin T.W.M., Transactions and Reports of the Societe Guernesiaise, 8, p.52, 1917.
4. de Guerin T.W.M., Transactions and Reports of the Societe Guernesiaise, 8, p.214, 1919.
5. Collum V.C.C. "The Re-excavation of the Dehus Chambered Mound at Pardis, Vale, Guernsey" 1933 private pub.
6. Kendrick T.D., The Archaeology of the Channel Islands - Vol1 Guernsey, p.143, 1928, Methuen, London.
7. ibid p. 147-54