England's Historic Seascapes: Withernsea to Skegness

Museum of London Archaeology, 2010

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Museum of London Archaeology (2010) England's Historic Seascapes: Withernsea to Skegness [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor] https://doi.org/10.5284/1000104

Outer Silver Pit Character Area

Present Day Form

The Outer Silver Pit offshore character area is situated at the north-eastern extent of the study area, just to the south of Dogger Bank. It consists of a deep channel which cuts south across the Bank. The geology of the area is a complex anticline of Jurassic and Triassic bedrock overlain by glacial till (clay, sand and gravel debris deposited from ice sheets along with some early Holocene deposits of sand and peat) known as the Elbow formation. The water depth across the area is generally around 50m to 70m, although there are localised shallower areas in the south east of c. 30m. The maximum tidal range is c 2-3m. The Outer Silver Pit is dominated by a mainly muddy, sandy seabed. There are gradients of the order of 1/25 to 1/10 down into the Outer Silver Pit (Flemming 2002). The area is a major navigation route for North Sea traffic.

Sea Use: Present

The Outer Silver Pit character area is an active navigation route and fishing area. The southern part of the area is a modern deep water route and is used as an RAF military and submarine exercise area. It is also part of larger sprat, sandeel and herring spawning areas and sprat and whiting nursery areas. There are five active gas fields which lie within, or partly within, the character area. The Schooner gas field was discovered in 1986 and started production in 1996. The corresponding pipeline runs to Theddlethorpe via Caister-Murdoch. The Ketch gas field was discovered in 1984 and started production in 1999. This pipeline runs through the same system as Schooner. There are two smaller gas fields in the area: Chiswick and Orca. The fields have reserves of c 30 billion cubic metres making the complex one of the larger southern North Sea production areas.

Sea Use: Past

The Outer Silver Pit character area has been shaped by thousands of years of dynamic sea level changes and erosion and deposition. The deep channel which forms the bulk of the area is a relic palaeolake and sea embayment of the Late Devensian/Early Holocene period. The relatively shallow nature of the sea bed in the surrounding the area, especially the Dogger Bank to the north and Markham's Hole, suggests that the lake and sea embayment would have been surrounded by dry land in the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and probably in the Neolithic periods. Marine traffic would have crossed this area on a regular basis from the Roman period onwards using the deep water channel across the area.

Fisheries were exploited from Hull and Grimsby fishing the deep water holes and guts such as the Outer Silver Pit. The pit was named by the generations of fishermen who have fished the area over time.

Archaeological Potential

The Outer Silver Pit character area has potential for the presence of drowned land surfaces on its northern and southern margins resulting from the fact that sea level has fluctuated between -120m and +10m over the past 500,000 years. From the period 500,000 BP to 22,000 BP (before present), human population levels were low, and little more than stray finds may be expected, although these may still be of considerable archaeological importance. From 22,000 BP to 2100 BP parts of the North Sea were dry land and human population levels were higher, especially in the Mesolithic age. Finds dating to the Mesolithic have been found to a depth of 40m so any area of sea bed above that has potential for habitation.

Inundation of the North Sea landscapes occurred between 10,000 and 6,000 BP and the most likely evidence for human occupation would be, therefore, Mesolithic in date. Earlier Palaeolithic occupation is less likely to be found and later Neolithic occupation is likely to have been limited to the inshore and very highest of the banks and shoals such as the Dogger Bank. The Outer Silver Pit palaeolake and sea embayment make the southern and northern sides of this area a prime Mesolithic habitation site with the likelihood of significant occupation of the favoured prehistoric coastal area.

Consequently, there is high potential for surviving evidence of human activity within the area. Artefacts might occur in valley or beach structures on the slopes (Flemming 2002).

Over the last 6000 years (if not more), humans have used sea faring vessels and so wrecks and related material may lie on the sea floor or be buried beneath the sea floor. UKHO and NMR data show 4 unnamed wrecks in this area, one of which is an obstruction.

Character Perceptions

The area is perceived as an offshore fishing ground and also as a gas production area.


Close's Fisherman's Chart (UKHO 1953)

Fisheries Sensitivity Maps in British Waters (MAFF 1989)

Scandoil, North Sea Oil and Gas production Fields (Scandoil Oil and Gas Magazine online)

Flemming, N, C, 2002 The scope of strategic environmental assessment of North Sea areas SEA3 and SEA2 in regard to prehistoric archaeological remains, DTI rep

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