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Moor Sand

Location: Off Prawle Point, south coast of Devon
Age / period: middle Bronze Age (12th century BC)
List entry number: 1000050
Reason for designation: archaeological significance

Wreck history and loss

The site consists of a scatter of middle Bronze Age implements from about 1300 BC (similar to Langdon Bay). The scatter suggests a cargo which would make Moor Sand one of the oldest shipwrecks discovered in Britain to date.

No traces of boat structure have ever been found on the site so its history is largely unknown. However, the apparent Northern French origin of the finds may to be evidence of cross-channel trade (see also Langdon Bay and Recent Salcombe Finds).

Discovery and loss

The site was recognised in 1977 when two bronzes were discovered by diving instructor Philip Baker during a Youth Hostel Association diving course. Baker enlisted the help of the late Keith Muckelroy and systematic searches of the seabed in the following years yielded another five items.

Following Muckelroy's death in 1980, work on the site was continued by Martin Dean, then of the National Maritime Museum, when a further one item was found. Much of Muckelroy's work was published in archaeological journals.

Artefacts recovered

In total eight finds have been recovered from the site, all of which were acquired by the British Museum. They range in state of preservation from highly eroded to well preserved and consist of two swords, two rapier/swords, one rapier/dirk, one sword hilt and two palstaves.

Whilst the eroded blades show no diagnostic features, the well preserved sword is unique in Britain and Ireland. It is, however, similar to material from the middle Bronze Age (around 1300 BC) on the continent, particularly with material in the Seine basin of northern France.

The palstaves are of a type very common in Brittany of which small numbers occur in southern England, thought to be imports. As is the case with Langdon Bay, the dating of the Moor Sands bronzes could suggest that this is one of the earliest shipwreck sites anywhere in the world.

Further work

In more recent years, a magnetometer survey was carried out by the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU), identifying new areas for investigation and providing a basis for monitoring the site. Bournemouth University, in conjunction with St Andrews University, the British Museum and the Department of Materials at Oxford University are currently assessing the documentary and material archive as part of the English Heritage-funded 'Bronze Age Designated Wreck Site Archive Assessment' project, with a view to publication.

Further Bronze Age finds have recently been discovered on the adjacent Salcombe cannon site (47) which may be linked to the Moor Sand collection.

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