Dunwich is the iconic lost city – in the early Middle Ages this town was one of the largest in England, and its outer walls stood nearly two miles beyond the present shoreline. Since then coastal erosion, and particularly several huge storms in the late 1200s and early 1300s, have almost entirely destroyed the town. Only the old Greyfriars Priory and a solitary gravestone survive of the old town. The slice of map above shows the Dunwich 2000 land line and the town as it was in 1587 and 1826 digitized with overlaid aerial photography. You can also download the full map if you want to see more.
Touching the Tide worked with the University of Southampton to complete the mapping of this lost underwater city. You can download the full report about the marine archaeological work done here.
The project also took some fascinating soil cores from Dingle Marshes. Locked in the sediments is a record of storm surges and changing landscapes going back into the Iron Age.
The project also found a new shipwreck off the coast of Dunwich. Dive team leader, Professor David Sear from Southampton University, reports from the Underwater Dunwich dive on the site’s newly revealed secrets:
“The work at Dunwich, also known as ‘Britain’s Atlantis’, has a number of aims, one of which is to dive on new sites revealed by a previous large scale mapping project back in 2011. The new survey involved sending a diver down with a DIDSON sonar – a novel system that uses sound instead of light to ‘illuminate’ objects rather like a torch and means objects can be identified even in muddy water.
We dived the first site – located north of Dunwich and close inshore. The site proved to be a shipwreck. The diver could see the ribs of a wooden vessel, with piles of stone ballast lying in between each rib and in a pile on the landward side. Feeling around one of the ribs, the diver found it covered by a thin sheet of copper. Copper sheathing was put on the bottom of ships hulls after 1750AD so we knew we had a wreck from the last 250 years. The pile of ballast probably results from the ship leaning to landward as it was driven onto the sand bank or beach during a storm. At the moment we do not know the identity or type of wreck but someone somewhere will – so the next step is to work with local museums and archives to track this information down.
We have located a new wreck, which itself reminds us of the dangers of this coast, and the variety of the heritage that can be found in the coastal zone.
We have also learned just how dynamic the sea bed is off this coast. Movements of sand and shingle occur on a daily basis but huge quantities are shifted around during storms, revealing and burying the archaeology. This emphasizes just how difficult it is to conduct marine archaeology in shallow coastal areas with shifting sand banks.
For Dunwich, we’ve added another archaeological site to the inventory of sites that make this among the most extensive and unique marine heritage areas in the world.”