Mesolithic remains, an early Bronze Age cemetery and ancient peat beds were just some of the heritage wonders excavated from the cliffs at Low Hauxley, Northumberland in 2013 in a partnership project between NWT and Archaeological Research Services Ltd, with a grant from Heritage Lottery Fund.  

Read the project blog here!

Situated at the northern end of Druridge Bay in Northumberland, the dig site was directly next to the popular NWT Hauxley nature reserve. This particular stretch of coastline mainly sand dunes and soft glacial clays is experiencing significant erosion, exacerbated by rising sea levels. Although erosion is not new, it has increased over recent years. Erosion and sea level change are not only threats to coastal archaeology, but also to a variety of habitats and associated wildlife.

Previous erosion had revealed significant archaeology in the area, including graves and it was recognised that the increased rate of loss would lead to the destruction of the site and loss of information. As a result, and as part of NWT’s conservation programme all along Druridge Bay (now brought together as Dynamic Druridge), a partnership was formed primarily between Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Archaeological Research Services Ltd to undertake an emergency rescue.

Thus, with funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and the support of Northumberland County Council, Newcastle and Durham Universities, Natural England, English Heritage and the Great North Museum: Hancock, the Rescued From The Sea Project commenced.

The project engaged a small army of volunteers to meticulously uncover, record and preserve the extremely rare and nationally important archaeological finds that were hidden within the cliff face. Most people had never undertaken archaeological work before but despite the hard work involved, supervised by ARS staff, they kept coming back as the dig become engrossing. 

A number of interactive classroom sessions and guided tours were provided for school groups and University students by ARS and NWT and casual visitors to the site were provided with short tours. This helped to inspire the local community and other visitors and helped them understand their past heritage and the changing landscape.

Ivor Crowther, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “Rescued from the Sea gave people a fantastic insight into life in Northumberland through the ages. The exceptional finds will be carefully conserved and made accessible for everyone. The volunteers taking part will help shed light on the artefacts and piece together parts of our heritage that no one has seen before. We at the Heritage Lottery Fund are delighted to be a part of this special project and can’t wait to see the final results.”

Media interest was huge – ranging from regular updates on local TV, to interviews with John Craven on BBC Countryfile and a special documentary by Time Team, Bronze Age Mummies. As the initial dig period came to a close in early autumn of 2013, evidence was uncovered that pointed towards evidence of the catastrophic event which helped cut Britain off from the Continent thousands of years ago. This triggered an 'emergency' HLF grant of £70,000 to continue the excavations for another week before the site was infilled.

However, the work had only just started. The huge amount of data, finds, surveys and scientific information gathered by the team and supplemented by the voluntary involvement of specialist academics from across the UK.

The story of the dig have been superbly reproduced in the popular book Rescued from the Sea by Clive Waddington and work is underway on a complete monograph volume recording this site, which will include previous excavation work undertaken by Dr. Clive Bonsall. Due out in April 2016, this will finally bring all the evidence together to create a fascinating insight into the use of the area by man and how they adjusted to an ever changing environment, which mirrors the current day in so many ways.

This story will form an important part of the interpretation planned for the Hauxley Discovery Centre, and the reserve itself. Artifacts from the site will form part of the internal and external displays, supplementing the reconstructed cyst already in situ. 

Volunteers continue to monitor the coast for anything of interest (biological as well as archaeological) and this has already resulted in further work to rescue a Mesolithic hearth and to record peat beds, with footprints.
An education pack has also been produced, in partnership with Tyne & Wear Museums Service and has been used by local schools as part of the national curriculum. There are also other learning opportunities that have arisen from work with local high schools and this will continue.

Low Hauxley photos

Visit our Image Gallery for photos of our work/findings at Low Hauxley.

ARS Ltd.

Visit the ARS website for reports on previous discoveries at Low Hauxley.

Project partners