Hidden Wrecks Revealed

NEARLY a thousand new archeological sites have been discovered off the North East coast as part of an English Heritage-funded project.

During the survey, conducted by EH archaeologists along with help from Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ship wrecks, wartime defences and medieval remains have been uncovered. The survey has been done to help researchers understand the history of the coastline and damages it may face.

Among the results were four ship wrecks found in mud flats off the coast of Amble. Their existence had previously been recorded, but until the survey took place their exact location was not known. However, it is not known when the wrecks date back to, but they are clearly visible on aerial photographs from the 1940s.

And on the Farne Islands, a pattern of rectangular features around the medieval St Cuthbert's Hermitage can be seen. It is believed that the unusual features may be related to the activities of the lighthouse crews, rather than with medieval use of the island.

Also uncovered during the project were a number of Iron Age multivallate forts and hillforts. At Howick Hill, these are still used as earthworks.

David MacLeod, senior investigator with English Heritage's Aerial Survey Team, said: "Often, it's only by looking at a site from the air that you start to understand its size and structure.

"Historic sites along the coast are vulnerable to the effects of both natural coastal change and human activities.

Although erosion has actually helped to reveal a number of nationally important sites along the North East coast, such as Bronze Age burial mounds at Low Hauxley in Northumberland, too often it poses a threat.

"This project will help us understand not just the history of our coastline, but also the dangers it faces now and in the future."

Dr Clive Waddington, from Archaeological Research Services, who carried out the survey, said: "We've always known that the North East coastline is rich in archaeological sites. However, we were really surprised not just at the number of new sites we found, but also the range and diversity.

"This survey has given us evidence for human activity in the region from prehistoric times right through to the modern day and helped us build up a much better picture of what activities have taken place along our coast over the last 10,000 years."

The project is just one of several Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Surveys funded by English Heritage with the aim of increasing our understanding of the historic environment around the entire English coastline and help English Heritage, local authorities and other agencies assess the impact of erosion on archaeological sites.

By 2010, the survey aims to have produced the most detailed picture yet of the threat posed to the nation's heritage by rising sea-levels, coastal erosion and managed realignment of the coast. The results will allow decisions to be made about the best way to manage the coastline to preserve historical sites or, where nothing can be done, to ensure that they are recorded and understood before erosion takes its toll.

As part of the project, Dr Waddington's team is now working with experts at Durham University to feed the results into a computer-generated map. It will show not just the archaeological sites along the coastline, but also Ordinance Survey information and geological data to give a complete picture of the area.

This will also be used as a predictive tool, for example to identify which sites could be under threat if there were a rise in sea levels.

For further information on the Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Surveys, visit http://www.english-heritage.org.uk.