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Research project

Investigating submerged archaeology offshore Happisburgh, UK - BA/Leverhulme SG

Project overview

Over the past ten years discoveries of internationally important archaeological sites contained within the Cromer Forest-bed Formation (CF-bF) at Happisburgh, Norfolk, have been shown to date to the Early Pleistocene. As the earliest occupation of northwest Europe, this has refocused our interpretations of the dispersals and behaviours of our earliest ancestors at a time when their contemporary landscapes stretched to Europe, across what is now the North Sea. Recent analysis of large numbers of out-of-context fauna and stone tools, recovered from local beaches, has led to diving expeditions that targeted and discovered submerged exposures of the CF-bF. Palaeoenvironmental analysis and geophysical data collection have further refined our understanding of these exposures, significantly increasing our knowledge of this Formation, its complexity and its onshore-offshore correlations. This project will build on this, targeting high-potential locations for underwater archaeology and expanding the mapping of these archaeologically-rich deposits into previously unrecognised locations.
The aim of this project is to use the palaeoenvironmental analysis and sub-bottom data to refine the search areas for the location of in situ archaeology, and to increase our understanding of the submerged palaeochannel deposits for contextualising the prolific archaeology appearing at Eccles. This will be achieved through the following objectives:
1. Diver ground-truthing of the sub-bottom targets associated with these channels;
• Should no exposures be located, analysis of sub-bottom data will have identified channels that are closest to the surface of the seabed that will be targeted for sediment coring;
2. The known exposures of Sites OA and OC will be further investigated for archaeology.
In order to carry these objectives out, the methods used will employ standard archaeological and scientific diving practises: the sub-bottom targets associated with the channels have accurate GPS locations, which will be used to drop divers onto the sites. Circular searches in these locations, as well as the swimming of transects in the extrapolated direction of these channels—determined by their appearance in several lines of survey data—will identify where, if anywhere, these deposits are currently exposed. The identification of exposures will lead to sampling (cores and bulk samples) and systematic searches for archaeological material. Should we need to fall back on targeting channels closest to the surface, one area will be chosen for the removal of overburden (modern sands, as identified through previous ostracod analysis). This removal should allow for the diver-retrieval of sediment cores through the underlying channel deposits for further analysis. Finally, the work on previously identified exposures will this season target the site of OC. This is because of the spatial analysis of derived onshore archaeology indicating that this location is the second most prolific area of archaeology. This will involve systematic survey and search methods and the opening-up of several small test pits. Site OA will also be briefly re-investigated for the retrieval of organic remains to further refine the chronology of these extensive deposits. The sediment cores collected as part of this field season will be sent for palaeoenvironmental analysis. This will specifically include pollen, ostracods, diatoms and particle size analysis, in order to constrain both chronology, environments and correlation with the growing numbers of know deposits along this coastline. The completion of these objectives will provide increased context for the prolific archaeology being continuously recovered from the beaches in this area and hopes to begin to locate the sources of this; the first submerged Palaeolithic archaeological site of such antiquity. With the location of exposures already demonstrating the value of working with out-of-context beach finds that would otherwise be disregarded, the location of their parent deposits would provide the opportunity to develop methods to work effectively with these submerged sites. This is crucial if we are to begin to engage with the archaeology contained within these submerged landscapes and ultimately recognise and investigate those sites further offshore containing unexplored evidence for coastlines and non-analogous environments.

Staff

Lead researcher

Doctor Rachel Bynoe

Teaching Fellow in Maritime Archaeology

Research interests

  • Human origins
  • Quaternary landscape and environmental change

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