Project updates

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The past couple of weeks of the Rescued from the Sea excavation have been spent desperately trying to achieve all that we wanted to before we had to begin the backfilling process. We hired a mechanical excavator in to remove almost all of the tsunami deposit, leaving a few areas that we needed to investigate further. The main focus of our attention has been what appears to be a circular Mesolithic hut scoop. We split the house into four quadrants and carefully trowelled out two opposing sides. This produced a phenomenal number of flints, and we also identified and investigated several internal features such as pits and postholes. The sections of the quadrants that we had removed were drawn, photographed and recorded before we set to work removing the remaining parts. Due to time constraints, however, these parts were removed with mattocks and spades and the entirety of each fill was passed through the flotation tank to retrieve flints and dating evidence such as charcoal and hazelnut shells. This discovery is extremely exciting as finds like this are rather rare.

Elsewhere on the site we found various other pits both within the tsunami deposit but also, excitingly, beneath it. More hazelnut shells from these features will be used to date the features and therefore the deposits that they were dug into. Finding evidence of occupation beneath the tsunami means that we are potentially looking at evidence of human activity on the site dating back to over 8000 years ago.

This past week has also been used to ensure that we had all of the information from the site that we need in order to reconstruct its history. A final section of the cliff face has been drawn and more samples were taken to send off to various specialists for analysis. On Tuesday we began splitting the sandbags and rolling up the netting, and on Wednesday we began backfilling the trench.

It is very strange seeing the trench being backfilled, as for the past 13 weeks we've become accustomed to seeing the same view through the trench, almost like a window. Now however, the site is on its way to being returned to how it was before we began. We at Archaeological Research Services will be sad to see the end of the dig, but we also feel a massive sense of achievement. Not only have we discovered and excavated some amazing archaeology but we've also met and worked with some great people. Opportunities to excavate sites such as Low Hauxley do not come round very often and we are extremely grateful to all those who have been involved and have helped to make it possible.


We are now at the end of our 10th week which was supposed to be our original finish date. One look at the site clearly demonstrates that there is still so much to do, and that the 3-week extension is vital for excavating and recording the remaining archaeology. We are very nearly through the remainder of the Bronze Age/Mesolithic soil and, yet again, the hard work of all the volunteers has been greatly appreciated. It has been very hard-going at times to get to this point.

We have identified and excavated a number of probable Mesolithic features that have been dug into the tsunami deposit, including a possible hut scoop with a narrow curving ditch. Archaeology of this date is extremely fragile due to its age and is therefore a lot harder to identify than Bronze Age or Iron Age archaeology, for example. We are also currently in the process of investigating another possible Mesolithic occupation area in the part of the site that was underneath the Iron Age house and associated stone platform.

By the end of this week we hope to have almost finished, if not completely finished, excavating through the soil. This means that next week we can begin removing the tsunami deposit to see what lies underneath...

Philippa Cockburn, ARS Ltd.


Now that the cairn and Iron Age house have both been completely recorded and removed, there is a race against time to excavate through the remaining soil that sits on top of the tsunami deposit. Work is progressing very well due to the hard work of our volunteers but there is still a lot to do. Trowels have now been put down in favour of mattocks, shovels and spades in order to work down to the tsunami deposit at a quicker pace. Despite the increase in speed we are still finding and recording hundreds of flints a day, many of which are still showing evidence of having been worked. We are still overwhelmed by and extremely grateful for everyone's enthusiasm and the response that the site is receiving from visitors.

I have found great pleasure over the past 9 weeks in talking to people about the site and letting them know exactly what it is we're doing and why it is so important. While carrying out an excavation such as Rescued from the Sea I believe that it is important for the local community to feel a part of it all and that they should be able to have any of their questions answered. Not only have we had a huge amount of support from our volunteers during the actual excavation process itself, but we have also had a team of people willing to speak to the public on a daily basis, including Sundays and Mondays when we haven't been working. We are extremely grateful for this too and we have had scores of visitors everyday who are leaving site having found out something new about the archaeology of Northumberland.

Philippa Cockburn, ARS Ltd.


The cairn kerb stones have now been completely removed and the layer of soil beneath them is being dug away. The volunteers are now working hard trowelling back from the edge of the cairn down to the tsunami deposit below. The Romano British feature has also been completely recorded and removed. Last week some sherds of both native and imported Roman pottery were recovered from a feature within the building. It has come to our attention that the stone slabs that were used for the paved area outside of the building probably came from the dismantled cist that was found beneath the cairn. This places the event that disrupted the cairn in the Iron Age period.

Hundreds more flints are being found, collected and recorded every day and the number has now reached well over 3000. These include some lovely scrapers, many more narrow-bladed microliths and lots of waste flakes. Impressive new evidence in the form of water-rounded pebbles and rocks has been discovered below a Mesolithic soil at Low Hauxley. The soil contains thousands of flint tools which, based on their shape and method of manufacture, date to around 6000 BC. This means that the tsunami debris situated below it must date to immediately before this period. The dating of this catastrophic event coincides with that previously obtained for a tsunami deposit at Howick (near Craster). Archaeologists believe that this tsunami could represent the tidal wave that travelled south as a result of a collapse of the Norwegian trench and ultimately cut Britain off from the continent. Prior to this, Britain was connected from an area around the Wash over to the low countries but due to the effect of the' tsunami event in combination with rising sea level Britain became an island sometime around 6000-6500 BC. The discovery of the tsunami deposit at Low Hauxley provides the most southerly evidence yet for this important historic event that resulted in the drowning of 'Doggerland' and the divorcing Britain from the continent.

Even more importantly, another prehistoric soil has been discovered below the tsunami deposit dating to the earlier Mesolithic, a period for which very little evidence has previously been found in northern Britain.

Philippa Cockburn, ARS Ltd.


All but the kerb stones of the cairn have now been removed. We were able to establish that the cairn had been built in 3 phases so we attempted to de-construct it in the same way, in order to fully establish and record the sequence. While we were taking the stones off the cairn we found the remains of 2 cists. Only one of these cists contained any human remains, and they were very fragmentary. It appears that the cairn was robbed for stone at some point and that the remains of these individuals were disturbed. Some sherds of Bronze Age pottery were also recovered from around the same area and it is thought that they too were in the cists until they were disrupted.

Trowelling of the Bronze Age soil is continuing across the site and over 3000 individual flints have now been found and recorded, including Bronze Age knives, numerous narrow-bladed Mesolithic microliths and a spectacular Neolithic leaf-shaped arrowhead. Trowelling the soil can be very hard work once the sun has baked it hard, and we are very grateful to all of the volunteers and students who have so far given their time to help us.

The Iron Age feature has almost been fully excavated with only the stone platform left to remove. Numerous features have been found and excavated including two stone-lined hearths. A whet stone was recovered from the base of one of them.

Work on the site is progressing well and we are extremely pleased with what we have found so far. We are also overwhelmed by the response that we have had from all those that have been involved and have visited the site.

Philippa Cockburn, ARS Ltd.


We’ve continued to clean the cairn and have removed the rest of the loose stone to expose its structure. It has now been drawn and photographed and today we began taking it apart. Some sherds of Bronze Age beaker pottery were found amongst the cairn stones yesterday; these are of the same period of the cairn itself and the beakers that have been found in cists in previous excavations.

A number of other small features have been excavated on the site also. These have mainly been postholes and pits. We’ve found a possible roundhouse at the western edge of the trench along with a stone flagged surface, and we found a rim sherd of Roman-British pottery amongst the stones which almost definitely dates the feature to this period.

School children have been coming along since Tuesday and have been excavating the footprints in the intertidal peat bed on the foreshore. They’ve uncovered hundreds of prints and have gone away with brilliant plaster casts of some of the best prints. They all seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed their archaeological experience and we are really keen to do some more in the future.

Philippa Cockburn, ARS Ltd.


We are now in to the third week of the project and are progressing really well. The site changes every day and we're discovering more and more about the site and its development as we excavate through it.

The first two weeks were spent removing the dune sand, filling sandbags and securing the battered sides of the trench. We were really grateful to the volunteers who turned up during those two weeks to help us out as it was pretty physical, tiring work.

Archaeologically-wise, we've come down on to the Bronze Age ground surface and are in the process of excavating it, although there is still a lot more to be done. The main cairn (which we knew about already because we could see it in the cliff face) sits upon this surface, along with a few other features which we're yet to investigate. We think that we have just under half of the cairn surviving, but there is still the potential for it to contain numerous burials.

The next stage, now that the cairn is clean and has been photographed, will be to draw it in detail and then to carefully deconstruct it in stratigraphic order to establish how it was constructed in the first place. It will be during this stage that we will see just how many burials we have. In addition to the Bronze Age remains, however, we have what appears to be a flagged floor surface at the western side of the trench that is definitely younger than the cairn, but could potentially be from any period, from the Iron Age through to the Medieval.

Philippa Cockburn, ARS Ltd.