CITiZAN Coastal and intertidal project
– that is, those areas that are covered by water at high tide and exposed at low tide. These locations vary wildly across England, from the dramatic Seven Sisters cliffs in the south-east to the sprawling estuary of Morecambe Bay or the active harbours of Devon. Inevitably, the sites will cover all periods of human occupation in the country.
Among the range of sites to be explored are those related to maritime and coastal industry.
ABOVE CITiZAN works t o record sites at risk from wind, waves, tide, and human activity. Here we see evidence of erosion affecting the archaeology and coastal path at Bawdsey, Suffolk. BELOW Grounded vessels at Maldon, Essex, and Purton, Gloucestershire.
These include Roman salt-working sites, or red hills, such as on the Alde in Suffolk; Saxon fish traps; shipbuilders’ yards; and mines and quarries. By investigating these features, we will be able to explore how people used, and interacted with, the coast over time.
Allied to this, we shall be recording the locations of the sunken vessels that litter the intertidal zone, which include everything from canoes to warships. In some areas, these vessels have been wrecked. In others, they have been intentionally beached. Such is the case current archaeology | www.archaeology.co.uk 38
at Purton ships’ graveyard in Gloucestershire, where a narrow bank set between the canal and the River Severn has long been used as a graveyard for old barges in order to protect the bank from the river’s strong currents.
As an island, with miles of potentially vulnerable borders, many of England’s coastal features relate to defence, from dramatic Roman-era forts along the Channel, such as the example now incorporated within medieval Portchester Castle, to the ubiquitous Second World War concrete pill boxes and anti-aircraft emplacements that pepper the coast. The latter provide particularly startling evidence of rates of coastline change, as they show how defensive structures placed on the then-coastline within living memory are now eroding off cliffs on to beaches below.
Other features provide even more dramatic evidence for England’s shifting coastlines. This is particularly true of sites that were not originally related to coastal activity, but now lie within the intertidal zone and its environs. These can include whole villages, such as Dunwich in Sussex, the capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles in the Anglo-Saxon period.
At its height, Dunwich was an international port similar in size to 14th-century London. Its (literal) decline began following two violent storms in the late 13th century, and since then the harbour and most of the town have disappeared as great chunks of buildings simply fall off the cliff into the sea below. Likewise, the Coastguard Cottages and surrounding Bronze Age features at the aforementioned Birling Gap – an East Sussex coastal hamlet not far from Beachy Head – provide yet further notable instances of land slippage and erosion.
The site’s fragile heritage is disappearing in such a way that now the cliff shear has created natural sections through features. However, by investigating what has eroded out on to the
September 2015 |