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New survey to reveal "Britain's Atlantis"

Published: 
15 January 2008

The lost city of Dunwich, Britain's own underwater 'Atlantis', which has captured the imagination of people for centuries, could be revealed for the first time with high-tech underwater sonar.

Professor David Sear, of the University of Southampton, and marine archaeologist Stuart Bacon, will explore the ancient sunken city, off the Suffolk coast, in the early summer.

Dunwich, fourteen miles south of Lowestoft, was once a thriving port, and in the 14th century similar in size to London. However, storms, erosion and floods over the past six centuries have almost wiped out this once prosperous city, and the Dunwich of today is a quiet coastal village.

The project will use the latest underwater acoustic imaging technology to assess the existence of any remains from the city that lies between 10ft (3m) and 50ft (15m) down.

Professor Sear comments: 'We will be applying new technology to the investigation of what has become known as "Britain's Atlantis", and making this information publicly available. Technical advances, such as side-scan multibeam sonar have massively improved our ability to create accurate acoustic images of the seafloor, and this survey should greatly enhance our knowledge of the site.'

Diving evidence suggests the site contains debris from at least two churches and a priory, but underwater visibility at the location is very poor, and no one has any idea what remains (if any) exist from the medieval settlement that was lost in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Stuart Bacon, Director of the Suffolk Underwater Studies, first located the lost city in the 1970s and has dived there many times. He and Professor Sear hope to begin exploring the seabed in June.

The city-scale survey of the sea floor will provide information on the location and state of any structures of archaeological interest in relation to historical records. The findings will be presented as a new public display for the Dunwich Museum, documenting the technology used and what the project has revealed of the lost city.

The expedition is being funded by a £20,000 donation from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The GeoData Institute, a University of Southampton-based research and consultancy group, is managing the project and dealing with collation and digital capture of the data and interpretation, while EMU Ocean Survey are conducting the actual survey.

Notes for editors

  • Professor David Sear of the University of Southampton has over 20 years' experience of project management for over 30 projects undertaken for international, national and local clients, including research councils and UK Government departments. He has published over 100 books, reports and scientific papers in a wide range of outlets both academic and popular.

    Stuart Bacon has over 36 years' experience of the study site, being the first person to attempt a scientific survey of the ruins of Dunwich. He has had considerable success in managing underwater survey projects at the site, most recently using similar technology to that proposed.

    The GeoData Institute at the University of Southampton (http://www.geodata.soton.ac.uk) is an environmental consultancy with over 25 years' experience of GIS, website development and working with industry, Government and heritage organisations in delivering similar projects.

    EMU Ocean Survey (http://www.emulimited.com/) is an international oceanographic survey company with over 25 years' experience of deploying a range of coastal and ocean survey equipment in support of international and national business clients.

  • The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. It is one of the UK’s top 10 research universities, offering first-rate opportunities and facilities for study and research across a wide range of subjects in humanities, health, science and engineering. The University has around 20,000 students and over 5000 staff. Its annual turnover is in the region of £310 million.

    The University is one of the country’s top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine, and has a strong enterprise agenda. It is home to a range of world-leading research centres, including the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies.

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