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The University of Southampton

Revealing Britain’s own underwater ‘Atlantis’

Published: 16 June 2008

For centuries people have wondered what happened to Britain's own underwater 'Atlantis'.

Now the truth of the lost city of Dunwich's current location is set to be revealed with the production of the first-ever map of the seabed over the area of the former city.

The map is being drawn up following last week's successful exploration of the seabed off the coast of Suffolk using the latest underwater acoustic imaging technology.

Professor David Sear, of the University of Southampton, and marine archaeologist Stuart Bacon, led a team investigating the ancient sunken city to assess the existence of any remains of the once-thriving 14th Century port.

The city was almost wiped out thanks to storms, erosion and floods, and poor underwater visibility at the site has previously prevented anyone discovering exactly how much of the medieval city remained.

But now, thanks to the data collected from the recent expedition, a clearer picture of the city's current resting place is emerging.

Professor Sear said: "Our recent discoveries were hugely exciting. It is the first time anyone has seen the seaned over the entire site in this level of detail.

"We collected data from side scan sonar, multi-beam bathymetry and sub-bottom profiling which penetrated through the sediment layers. These have revealed a much more complex seafloor than we were expecting and scattered over this are a number of interesting side-scan sonar targets that may be associated with the remains of the medieval city.

"Now we have to mosaic all the data together to build it into the first map of the city site on the seabed."

He added that once the data had been processed they would be able to look at any interesting areas and see how they relate to each other and whether they correspond with any known locations of larger structures such as churches or former quaysides.

"For the most promising and interesting areas we would plan to get divers down to see exactly what is there. We will now know exactly where to go and will be able to deploy them straight over the site," said Professor Sear.

They hope to be able to carry out the dives later this summer and will be looking for funding to finance this.

The current survey is being funded by a £20,000 donation from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and £5,000 from English Heritage. 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.

The findings of the survey 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.

Notes for editors

  • About the project

    Professor David Sear of the University of Southampton has more than 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 more than 100 books, reports and scientific papers in a wide range of outlets both academic and popular.

    Stuart Bacon has more than 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.

    The GeoData Institute at the University of Southampton is an environmental consultancy with more than 25 years' experience of GIS, website development and working with industry, Government and heritage organisations in delivering similar projects.

    EMU Ocean Survey is an international oceanographic survey company with more than 25 years' experience of deploying a range of coastal and ocean survey equipment in support of international and national business clients.

  • About the University of Southampton

    The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship.

    This is one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine, and 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.

    We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

    As one of the UK's top ten research universities, we offer first-rate opportunities and facilities for study and research across a wide range of subjects in humanities, health, science and engineering.

    We have over 22,000 students, around 5,000 staff, and an annual turnover in the region of £325 million.

  • For further information

    Liz Gilbride, Communications, University of Southampton,
    Tel: 023 8059 2128, email:

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