Rescued from the sea


Rescued from the Sea

Image by: Lynette Friend

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 consists of sand dunes and soft glacial clays and 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 the 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, 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. 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 were carefully conserved and made accessible for everyone. The volunteers taking part helped shed light on the artefacts and pieced together parts of our heritage that no one has seen before. We at the Heritage Lottery Fund were delighted to be a part of this special project.”

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 called 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 had to be analysed

A cyst from the site is on permanent display at Hauxley Nature. 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.

The story of the dig has been superbly reproduced in the popular book Rescued from the Sea by Clive Waddington. In addition, Archaeology and Environment on the North Sea Littoral: A Case Study from Low Hauxley has been released, a complete monograph volume recording this site, which includes previous excavation work undertaken by Dr. Clive Bonsall. This brings 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.

Project Literature

Discover more about the archeological work and the Rescued from the Sea project at Low Hauxley in two special publications:

Archaeology and Environment on the North Sea Littoral: A Case Study from Low Hauxley

At 318 pages, the volume is a comprehensive piece of work bringing together decades of archaeological work along the North Sea coastline and the results have already received national and international recognition in archaeological fields. Written by Clive Waddington and Clive Bonsall, the book includes details of the wildlife charity’s ‘Rescued from the Sea’ Project, the 13 week archaeological excavation project at Low Hauxley, situated at the north end of Druridge Bay during that summer.

The book costs £30 and is available to buy from Hauxley Wildlife Discovery Centre.

An Archaeologist's Tale

With sea level rise accelerating, archaeologists are in a race against time to record ancient remains eroding from our shores before they are destroyed by the sea. A popular book resulting from the Trust’s HLF funded ‘Rescued from the Sea’ Project at Low Hauxley has just been published, authored by lead archaeologist Clive Waddington. Documenting the story of how a nationally important archaeological site was excavated from an eroding cliff edge next to our Low Hauxley Reserve. 

This book costs £10 and is available to buy from Hauxley Wildlife Discovery Centre.