An assemblage of Middle Bronze Age weapons thought to represent part of a contemporary cargo and thereby indicative of a shipwreck, off Moor Sand. Dated to around the twelfth century BC, swords, palstaves, and other bronze materials have been recovered, thought to have been manufactured in France. If this is the case, then France may have been the de facto departure point of any wrecked vessel.
This site consists of a scatter of eight Middle Bronze Age (twelfth century BC) implements, discovered between 1977 and 1982. The assemblage indicates that a prehistoric boat may have sunk at this point about 3,000 years ago, although the assemblage may have been eroded from adjacent cliffs (though this is considered to be less likely).
The initial discovery of a bronze sword was made by divers on a YHA training course at Salcombe. Additional searches by the instructor and trainees yielded an eroded bronze blade which was followed by the recovery of a further five Bronze Age items after systematic searching. In 1982, a sword handle was discovered exposed on rock in an area thoroughly searched in previous years. All eight finds were acquired by the British Museum.
Designation Order: (No 1), No 199, 1978
Made: 14th February 1978
Laid before Parliament: 15th February 1978
Coming into force: 8th March 1978
Protected area: 150m within 50 12 44 N 003 44 12 W
Designation Order: No 56, 1979
Made: 19th January 1979
Laid before Parliament: 26th January 1979
Coming into force: 16th February 1979
Protected area: 300m within 50 12 42 N 003 44 20 W
No part of the restricted area lies above the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides.
On 4th July 1977, a fine Bronze Age sword was found on the sea bed at Moor Sand in a depth of 6.5m by two divers. Further searches revealed another eroded blade. The blades appear to have originated from north east France during the Bronze Final 1 (Penard) period. Further searches recovered an additional five blades. The site lies in shallow water of approximately 4 to 8 metres depth, with a gravel seabed, and lies just off the eponymous sandy beach of Moor Sand. Many gullies lie in the vicinity of the site with a dense canopy of kelp and other seaweed, rendering visual surveys difficult.
Despite metal-detector searches failing to find further artefacts in 1979, a short season of work was undertaken in 1982 by archaeologists from the National Maritime Museum (NMM). Using techniques developed on the designated Bronze Age wreck site at Langdon Bay, Dover, an area of the seabed was systematically searched in an attempt to assess the potential for work. No finds were made within the searched area but, while trying to locate datum points from earlier work, a bronze sword handle was discovered exposed on top of sand in a gully 20m to the south west. Preliminary identification places the sword in the flanged-hilt family and its finding brings the total of bronzes from the site to eight. The fact that it was discovered in an area carefully searched in previous years suggests mobility of either sands and gravels, or artefacts, or both.
The NMM noted that future work will have to include excavation of some gullies to see if there is evidence for such movement or any indication as to whether the objects are from a wreck or an eroded land site.
The blades belong to the 'Breton Group', generally agreed to be imports or copies of imports. The classification of the blades is difficult because of their eroded condition, but a metal sample from one showed it to be of a later phase than the others, Bronze Final 11 at the earliest. The blades were conserved by Doncaster Museum.
Originally designated for its archaeological significance; the site may represent the oldest possible shipwreck in Britain, with evidence of trade in the Middle Bronze Age, either from an actual shipwreck or from votive offerings.
An archive assessment has been funded by English Heritage while the South West Maritime Archaeological Group website includes a feature on the discovery of the Bronze Age 'wreck' at Moor Sands.