LOOKING BACK: Neolithic axe is site’s top treasure

Hard at work on the cliffs at Crowlink
Hard at work on the cliffs at Crowlink

This is the final instalment in our look at a recent excavation on the remains of the former Coastguard Cottages on the cliff edge at Crowlink.

Heritage Service manager Jo Seaman writes, “Although we found plenty of pottery on the site that seems to pre-date the buildings by 100 years or so, by far our oldest object was a complete Neolithic (New Stone Age) flint axe dating from anything up to 5,500 years ago. This obviously has nothing to do with the cottages themselves but was a relic from a time when man was starting to clear and farm these slopes and that had sometime over the millennia found itself moved in the soil down towards the valley bottom where it became lodged in a gully in the chalk, awaiting our discovery. A much later part of the story of the site was found towards the rear of the building, where beneath the thin turf we found a massive jumble of bricks and mortar lying as if it had fallen outwards from the main wall.

“There were even large chunks of intact walling that looked as if they had just fallen on top of this rubble, but how exactly could that happen? We suspected what had happened but a visit from a Museum of London archaeologist familiar with dealing with the buildings of the Thames Foreshore confirmed what we thought.

“This pattern of jumbled bricks and sections of wall matches well with evidence from buildings ‘blitzed’ during the dreadful bombing raids of World War Two.

“It seems likely that a shell exploded somewhere inside the house, first blowing out the base of the wall followed by the collapse of sections of brickwork above it and finally scattering shattered brick and mortar over it all.

“So it would seem that the story of it being destroyed by ‘friendly’ artillery fire in the early 1940s does seem to be based on truth but we cannot say with certainty that it was the Canadians who were responsible.

“Also dating from this time were a lot of cases, and one or two live ones, from .303 rifle bullets all with the dates 1941 or 1942 on them, mostly found among the ruined building indicating infantry training using the house as cover.

“These are only a few of the stories that the excavation has revealed and as the research and report are written over the next few weeks I am sure that we will have many more. But this project shows how much we can learn from sites that will inevitably in 20 or 30 years be in danger of being lost forever to coastal erosion. This in turn indicates just how important this project by the National Trust is and how privileged we feel to have been part of it.”

For more information on the project contact The National Trust at Birling gap on birlinggap@nationaltrust.org.uk, call 423197 or visit website nationaltrust.org.uk/birling-gap-and-the-seven-sisters For details on the Eastbourne Heritage Service and the community excavation work contact localhistory@eastbourne.gov.uk, call 415641 or visit eastbournemuseums.co.uk

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