Seabed Prehistory

Wessex Archaeology, 2009

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Wessex Archaeology (2009) Seabed Prehistory [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

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Project Overview

Seabed Prehistory - Round 1

The work undertaken in the 2003 - 2004 season was the first round of work on the Seabed Prehistory project. This initial phase was funded by the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) administered by the Mineral Industry Research Organisation (MIRO) under the Sustainable Land-Won and Marine Dredged Aggregate Minerals Programme (SAMP).

The work carried out in 2003 - 2004 focused on the palaeo-Arun, a submerged prehistoric continuation of the Arun river, located approximately 10km south of Littlehampton on the West Sussex coast. Extensive geophysical surveys were conducted, using bathymetric and seismic survey. Geotechnical surveys, involving the taking of vibrocore samples and grab samples were also undertaken at the study area. These samples were subjected to geoarchaeological and environmental analyses; results from which were integrated with the geophysical and geotechnical survey results to reconstruct the prehistoric environment of the study area.

This first round of the project sought to test the effectiveness of using the above methods for assessing the archaeological potential of the study area. While seismic geophysical surveys and vibrocore geotechnical surveys have been successfully used in archaeology before, grab sampling was virtually untested as an archaeological method.

Seabed Prehistory - Round 2

Round 2 of the Seabed Prehistory project was a three-year programme of work funded through the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund administered through two distributing bodies: English Heritage and the Minerals Industry Research Organisation (MIRO).

The project aimed to develop methodologies for assessing the presence or absence of prehistoric archaeology within marine aggregate dredging areas and to provide guidance to industry. This was accomplished by applying industry-standard geophysical and geotechnical tools for archaeological assessment and evaluation in offshore areas.

Through the combined use of high resolution geophysical and geotechnical surveys the project identified and dated deposits and remnant landscapes from pre-Anglian to post-Devensian times, increasing our knowledge of the survival of archaeologically-important deposits in the marine environment. Palaeoenvironmental data from these sites has allowed the reconstruction of the changing prehistoric landscapes, to provide a better understanding of when and if these sites would have been exploited by humans in the past.

English Heritage funded four phases of research, which formed a major contribution to the overall project. These were:

  • Additional grab sampling survey in the palaeo-Arun, off the coast of Sussex;
  • Geophysical and geotechnical survey off the coast of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk;
  • Geophysical and geotechnical survey just offshore from Happisburgh, Norfolk and Pakefield, Suffolk;
  • the project synthesis, which provided an overall interpretation of the results from each phase, including phases commissioned by MIRO.
Seabed Prehistory: Site Evaluation Techniques (Area 240)

From 2008-2011 Wessex Archaeology (WA) was funded by English Heritage (EH), through the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF), to conduct a project concerning the application of geophysical, geotechnical and seabed sampling methodologies to marine aggregate deposits that have been demonstrated to contain potential pre-Devensian or Devensian artefactual material. Artefactual material, including hand axes, flakes and cores were recovered, along with faunal remains (including bison, mammoth, horse and reindeer) in 2008 from aggregate extraction Area 240 (licensed to Hanson Aggregates Marine Ltd. (HAML)), situated approximately 11km off the coast of Great Yarmouth. The principal aim of the project is to improve the future management of the potential effects of aggregate dredging on the marine historic environment by developing techniques to evaluate the source of prehistoric artefactual material discovered in the East Coast region. This report presents the synthesis of all stages of the Seabed Prehistory: Site Evaluation Techniques (Area 240) project. Specifically, this report comprises an overview of the methodologies used throughout the project; an evaluation of the techniques used and assessment of the staged approach used in the development of the project. A characterisation of Area 240 is presented with reference to the date, extent, quality, preservation of the sediment deposits and associated archaeological material. Finally, the report presents the local and regional implications of the results for marine aggregate licensing which will inform English Heritage and allow for the future management of Area 240 and other similar sites in the future.

The digital archive

The Seabed Prehistory project archive comprises eight reports of which Volume I presents an introduction to the project, Volumes II to VII focus on the individual study areas and Volume VIII presents the results and conclusions of the project overall.:

  • Wessex Archaeology 2008: Seabed Prehistory: Gauging the Effects of Marine Aggregate Dredging - Volumes I - VIII. Unpublished report (WA ref. no. 57422.31-38).

Non-digital Archive and Publications

In addition to the reports contained within the digital archive the project also produced the following outputs:

Literary outputs
English Heritage 2007: Extract - The ALSF Annual Report 2006-2007. English Heritage.
Leather, S., Russell, R., Tizzard, L., Paddenberg, D. and Callan, N. 2007: The Seabed Prehistory Project, in Newell, R.C. and Garner D.J. (eds.), Marine aggregate extraction: Helping to determine good practice. Marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability fund (ALSF) Conference proceedings: September 2006. P86-89.
Wessex Archaeology 2008: Seabed Prehistory: Gauging the Effects of Marine Aggregate Dredging - Volumes I - VIII. Unpublished report (WA ref. no. 57422.31-38).
Lectures / Academic Papers
The 'North Sea in Prehistory Workshop' at the Royal Society in London (May 2003);
The 'Environment and Aggregate-Related Archaeology Seminar Day' (February 2004);
The 'Seabed and Shallow Section Marine Geoscience Conference' at the Geological Society in London (February 2004);
The 'Marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund Conference' at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London (July 2005);
The Association of Environmental Archaeologists 'Visualising Past Environments' conference at the University of Hull (November 2005);
The '19th International Radiocarbon Conference' at Keble College in Oxford (March 2006);
The 'Marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund Conference' at the University of Southampton (September 2006);
Environmental and Industrial Geophysics Group (EIGG) 'Recent works in Archaeological Geophysics' Conference at the Geological Society in London (December 2006);
'Advances in Geophysics' conference by the British Geophysics Association at the Geological Society in London (February 2007).
Educational Visits
A talk to the 'Grimsby Branch of the Historical Association' at the Central Library in Grimsby (March 2007);
In-house 'Postgraduate Students Seminar Days' for students from Bristol and Southampton Universities were held in December 2003, February 2005, March 2006 and March 2007 at WA's premises in Salisbury.
A talk to Maritime Archaeology students at the University of Kiel, Germany (May 2007);
A talk to the 'Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society' as part of the winter lectures programme at the Castle Museum in Norwich (November 2006).
Meetings / Technical Forums
The 'Great Yarmouth Archaeological Society Meeting' at the Central Library in Great Yarmouth (February 2007);
The 'Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund Meeting' organised by English Heritage at Savile Row in London (March 2005);
The annual meeting of the 'Arbeitskreis f?r Unterwasserarch?ologie (AKUWA)' (association of German, Swiss, Austrian and French underwater archaeologists) at the D?partement des Recherches Arch?ologiques Subaquatiques et Sous-Marines (DRASSM) in Annecy, France (October 2006).
The 'Marine Geoarchaeology Work in Progress Seminar' at the London Geological Society (November 2003), organised by the Maritime Studies Group of the Geological Society and WA. The aim of this seminar was to facilitate wider dissemination and debate the current level of academic research into the submerged prehistory in Northern Europe.
CBA National Archaeology events
The 'National Archaeology Week' at Salisbury Museum (July 2005)
Project Website
Wessex Archaeology Seabed Prehistory website -
You tube - video

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