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Submerged Heritage Assets and Landscapes NHPP Activity 4H1

Research carried out 2011-2015, concerned with understanding the significance and character of both individual submerged sites and of past landscapes now submerged below the sea. It was part of the National Heritage Protection Plan.

Wreck of the Protected PS Iona II, off Lundy, Bristol Channel, showing paddle wheel debris.
Wreck of the Protected PS Iona II, off Lundy, Bristol Channel, showing paddle wheel debris. © Wessex Archaeology

Scope of the activity

England's marine historic environment broadly comprises two types of archaeological remains:

  • The remains of landscapes now submerged as a result of the rise in sea level.
  • Individual artefact-based sites such as shipwrecks and crashed military aircraft.

This Activity focused on these two types of underwater archaeological remains, with emphasis placed on those that we do not yet understand well enough, that are threatened by change, and are of potentially high significance.

This Activity therefore identified key targets (wrecks, crash sites etc) and wider landscapes (elements of terrain or 'landforms' that are of high potential) for follow-up assessment. Our further investigations related only to areas or specific sites subject to imminent change or risk (for example dredging, energy developments, fishing, and loss through tidal action/erosion). We therefore heavily prioritised those most in need of attention.

The wreck of the Holland No. 5 submarine off Hastings. It is the ony example of its type on the seabed anywhere in the world.
The wreck of the Holland No. 5 submarine off Hastings. It is the only example of its type on the seabed anywhere in the world. © Wessex Archaeology

Project areas within the activity

Assessing and protecting submerged landscapes

Archaeological material recovered from the southern North Sea in 2007 derives from undisturbed Middle Palaeolithic deposits laid down during the Devensian Ice Age (from 110,000 years ago). The importance of this material is that it comes from a time when the north-west European peninsula was believed, until recently, to be devoid of human occupation.

While work characterised the location of the Palaeolithic material on the seabed under the collaborative North Sea Prehistory Research and Management Framework, fieldwork was carried out on more recent sites in the English Channel off Bouldnor Cliff, and in the Isles of Scilly. Both of these projects sought to map submerged later prehistoric landforms.

However, it is not only prehistoric sites that are submerged around our coast; more recent settlements are too. Recent work has included a documentary analysis and underwater survey of the drowned medieval town of Dunwich, off Suffolk. Imagery was obtained of the site of Blackfriars Friary, St Peter's Church, St Nicholas' Church and some of the northern harbour area of the town.

Assessing and protecting submerged heritage assets

This element of the Activity focused largely on the assessment of significant artefact-based sites (shipwrecks and sunken vehicles). Here, work has included the initial appraisal of specific sites, such as an assemblage of military vehicles lost at sea, for protection and subsequent monitoring. In addition, we have also addressed the back-log of Protected Wreck Site archives as well as mitigating the loss of significance of archaeological material from these sites.

The assessment of specific sites was driven by our Introductions to Heritage Assets for ships and boats and the collaborative Maritime, Marine and Coastal Historic Environment Research Framework coordinated by the University of Southampton. This Research Framework will enable long-term strategic planning, informed policy and provide a statement of agreed research priorities for submerged heritage assets and landscapes.

Examples of assessed sites so far include three fascinating shipwrecks of the west coast off the Lizard Peninsula (Cornwall). These are the Rill Cove Wreck, the Schiedam Prize and the St Anthony.

Claimed by the Sea: Salcombe and Langdon Bay

English Heritage has funded analysis and the first comprehensive publication of exceptional Bronze Age marine finds from Langdon Bay, Kent and Salcombe, Devon. The finds may have been lost or jettisoned from vessels in difficulty. Claimed by the Sea: Salcombe, Langdon Bay and Other Marine Finds of the Bronze Age by Stuart Needham, Dave Parham and Catherine J Frieman, is published as a Council for British Archaeology Research Report.

Diver trails

Organised visitor diver trails are a constructive way of managing public access to some sites designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. They can explain the history of the wreck concerned and why it is protected. We supported the following diver trials:

West Bay Protected Wreck Site (Dorset): seventeenth-/eighteenth- century bronze cannon and iron cargo.
West Bay Protected Wreck Site (Dorset): 17th-/18th-century bronze cannon and iron cargo. © Wessex Archaeology

Links to other NHPP activities

An English Heritage diver preparing to assess the Protected submarine A1 in the Solent.
An English Heritage diver preparing to assess the Protected submarine A1 in the Solent. © Mike Hamilton-Scott

 

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