Race to record historic sites at risk from sea

Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. SUS-140509-115933001
Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. SUS-140509-115933001

A Bronze Age village, burial mounds and a Second World War Royal Air Force base are just some of the fascinating archaeological sites which are on the brink of being lost forever due to coastal erosion.

But an exciting project to study and excavate sites at Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters is under way and the National Trust is appealing for the public’s help to record them for future generations.

People are being asked to volunteer their time to help archaeologists with the project and a public meeting will be held at the Birling Gap Visitor Centre on Tuesday, November 25, at 7pm for you to find out more.

The National Trust’s regional archaeologist for West Sussex and the South Downs, Tom Dommett, said, “It’s a great opportunity to get experience with archaeological practice and a great way to enjoy that bit of the landscape which is just breathtaking.”

Among the fascinating sites under threat are a Neolithic hill top enclosure dating back to between 6,000BC and 2,000BC at Belle Tout. This surrounds a Bronze Age village where an excavation is planned to take place in summer 2016.

The sea has already started to erode part of this site.

The hill hop enclosure remains an archaeological mystery. Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and even Medieval dates have been suggested for various parts of the site.

Further down the coast at Bailey’s Hill are Bronze Age barrows, burial sites about 4,500 years old, perched just 20m from the cliff edge.

Inside Tom is expecting to find beads made of jet, burial urns, pottery, tools for the after-life and, of course, skeletons. An excavation is planned next summer.

And over at Gales Farm is a former RAF base, RAF Friston, which held a squadron of Spitfires and more than 1,000 personnel at one stage.

This site is a little safer than its neighbours with a couple of hundred metres between it and the destructive power of the English Channel.

Tom said, “With more extreme weather it seems likely that something 100 metres away will be gone in 200 years or less.I am very excited about the project. It’s an amazing opportunity look at a diverse range of archaeological sites.”