Race to record prehistoric site before secrets are lost by Philippa Cockburn and Clive Waddington, Archaeological Research Services Ltd
Rescued from the Sea is a Heritage Lottery Funded community archaeology project run in partnership between Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Archaeological Research Services Ltd and Northumberland County Council. It aims to rescue and record fragile prehistoric archaeological remains in the cliff face before they are eroded in to the sea. The site is precariously located in the dunes, just south of Amble on the North East coast.
The Project is currently in its post-excavation phase, now that the fieldwork has come to an end. The excavation enlisted the help of approximately 140 volunteers, 60 University students and 250 local school children who excavated and recorded the site before it was back-filled in mid-September.
Initially, the main focus of the site was the Bronze Age burial cairn, which archaeologists had known about since the early 1980s when human burials were first noticed eroding from the cliffs. Since then, and prior to the latest round of excavations, a number of human burials have been discovered along with some beautifully decorated pottery beakers. The most recent excavations found that just under half of the cairn remained and that it would have originally been 16m wide with three distinct construction phases. The fragmentary remains of a human burial were found within what was left of a disturbed and robbed-out cist.
Excavation of the western corner of the site revealed a stone-flagged surface and a number of dark stains in the sand which represented the remains of buildings, as well as three stone-lined hearths. Finds included a small copper ring, a whetstone and some Iron Age and imported Roman pottery sherds which place the house, and its associated features, in the later Iron Age and Romano-British periods.
Once the Iron Age and Bronze Age deposits had been excavated, a layer of sand and stones was found beneath the Bronze Age soil. It is thought this could represent a massive catastrophic storm surge event, or ‘tsunami’, although tests on this deposit are on-going as it is also possible that it could turn out to be the remnants of an ablation (melt out) till. A number of Mesolithic features had been dug into this layer including pits and two large shallow scoops which are interpreted as house scoops.
In addition, the excavation produced approximately 20,000 individual pieces of worked flint, some of which had been made into tools such as knives, scrapers and tiny barbs for arrowheads and spear heads. Many of these tools are typical of the Mesolithic period and will help to date the earlier deposits.
In addition to the archaeological work, a considerable amount of environmental research is being carried out to help understand what the past environment was like, how it compared to the present day, how sea levels have changed through time and what type of vegetation and wildlife occupied the area. Tying this in with the archaeological remains is an important objective of the project and will involve working closely with environmental scientists from Durham, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Southampton Universities.
The site will yield around 40-50 radiocarbon dates and this will allow for a detailed chronology of the site and surrounding environmental deposits to be produced. The post-excavation analyses should be completed by April 2014 with the site expected to be published in Autumn 2014. A TimeTeam documentary focusing on the site is to be broadcast on Channel 4 in the Spring.