The discovery, made in September 2017 on the small island of Chapelle Dom Hue off the coast of Guernsey, revealed the ancient remains of a buried medieval dolphin, and archaeologists were unable to explain the story behind this mysterious pet burial. “Why would they go to the trouble of burying an animal in what looks like a tomb?”
The mystery is further compounded by the way the animal was buried, which doesn’t mean the dead dolphins were just dumped underground in some way. Instead, it appears to have been laid to rest with the body aligned east to west according to Christian tradition, and careful excavation of the tomb indicates that it was intended as a solemn resting place.
As such, de Jersey was expected to find the remains of a medieval monk in the tomb, as the island was thought to be a religious retreat for monks seeking asylum. However, after noticing changes in the soil that likely indicated the presence of a burial beneath it, the researchers uncovered the skull of a baby dolphin they think had been buried next to the graves of other monks since the 14th century.
Since these mammals were eaten in medieval times, it is possible that the dolphins were killed for food. But if that’s the case, the researchers say it would make much more sense for humans to dispose of the remains in the sea just 10 meters from the site, where the small island is surrounded by water.
“If we were in a church and found something similar in shape to this, we would think it was a burial section,” De Jersey said. “This is what surprises me. If they ate it or killed it for oil, why should they go to the trouble of burying it?”
“One possibility is that the animal may have been killed for food and carefully hidden until needed, but the preserved remains were never used,” De Jersey thinks. It may have been salted and then for some reason they didn’t get back to him,” he said.
After their discovery, the dolphin bones were removed from their resting place and handed over for examination by a marine expert. De Jersey says it’s the strangest finding in his 35-year career as a scientist and has been a real puzzle for ages.
Yunus has a great importance in Christianity, but I have not come across anything like this before,” he said. “It’s a bit of a strange thing that you might encounter in the Iron Age but not in the Middle Ages.” he added.
In a follow-up in late 2018, Jersey said he most likely believes the animal was indeed kept for food, but we’ll likely never have a definitive answer as so little remains of the Chapelle Dom Hue. “I guess we’ll never find out,” he said.