Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Devon divers find 3,000 year old bronze age artefacts on shipwreck site


Maritime And Coastguard Agency (National)
March 08, 2005

A group of divers have discovered a submerged hoard of Bronze Age artefacts off Salcombe, Devon. The find includes swords and rapiers, palstave axe heads, an adze, a cauldron handle, and a gold bracelet.

The artefacts have been reported to English Heritage and declared to the Receiver of Wreck at the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, as it is believed that these relics come from an ancient shipwreck.

The artefacts are currently being studied at the British Museum, which also holds the finds from the nearby 'Moor Sands' Bronze Age wreck site.

The South West Maritime Archaeology Group (SWMAG) had been diving under licence from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, on the shipwreck known as the Salcombe Cannon site last summer, (where they discovered a hoard of gold coins in 1995), when they found evidence of a far older wreck.

The new site falls within the protected area of the Salcombe Cannon shipwreck site, which is designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. This means that this area is already protected from unauthorised and illegal diving.
The finds from 'Moor Sands' and the new site belong to exactly the same phase of the Bronze Age, dating to around the 13th century BC, and archaeologists are wondering if they all came from the same vessel.

The find is dominated by the blades of swords and rapiers, but axes, tools and ornaments are also present. The swords are amongst the earliest found in north-west Europe. Some of the objects are of north French origin and are types which are rare in this country. The Bronze Age was a time of considerable trade in metals, right across Europe but it is exceptional to find material which has actually been caught in transit.

Sophia Exelby, the Receiver of Wreck said, "This is a very exciting find which shows the breadth of information which is available from shipwreck sites. We are now working to ensure that these unusual artefacts are given a good home, where their historical value can be appreciated by everyone."

Stuart Needham, Curator of European Bronze Age collections at the British Museum said: "The evidence from Salcombe and other rare sites, such as that at Langdon Bay, help us to build up a picture of object movements, the organisation of trade and the character of seafaring."

A spokesperson for the SWMAG said: "this exciting new discovery has really been a team effort and we are now working with the Receiver of Wreck and English Heritage to ensure that these important artefacts are put on permanent display to the public."

English Heritage and SWMAG are planning a research-led field season in 2005 in order to try to answer some of the questions about the site which this remarkable collection of artefacts has raised.

Notes to editors:
* A photograph of a selection of the finds is available from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Public Relations Office

* It is a legal requirement that all recovered wreck is reported to the Receiver of Wreck. The Receiver of Wreck is responsible for the administration of that part of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which deals with wreck and salvage. If you find wreck you should contact the Receiver of Wreck on 02380 329 474 or via email at

* 56 historic wreck sites around the UK are designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. These include Holland No.5, first British-built experimental submarine launched in 1902 and sunk in 1912, the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's famous flagship and HMS Colossus, one of Nelson's fleet wrecked in the Isles of Scilly carrying antiquities belonging to Lord Hamilton. Under the Act a licence is required to visit, survey, recover artefacts from, or excavate any of these sites. It is illegal to dive on a protected wreck site without a licence.

* Artefacts from wrecks which are designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, must still be reported to the Receiver, even if they were recovered under licence.

* English Heritage manages all the historic wreck sites in English waters designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. English Heritage is the Government's advisor on all aspects of the historic environment in England.

* The South West Maritime Archaeology Group has been involved in underwater archaeology for the last 15 years, and has made a number of significant finds during this time. These include the Erme Estuary site, where tin ingots of as yet unknown date were discovered, the Salcombe Cannon site, which yielded the largest collection of 17th Century Moroccan gold coins in Europe together with numerous other artefacts including jewellery and personal effects, and most recently, Bronze Age artefacts in an area close to the Salcombe Cannon site. SWMAG includes divers from Devon, Northampton and Wolverhampton.

* Two of the other rare examples of Bronze Age wreck sites with cargoes from this period include the Langdon Bay Protected Wreck site in Kent and the Ulu Burun shipwreck discovered off the Turkish coast in the Eastern Mediterranean. These sites demonstrate trading and merchant sailing activity across Europe during this period, however, they also highlight how little is known about the nature of that trade, and about the people and places involved. Whilst the results of European trade, travel and communication, the metal objects and goods originating from other parts of Europe, are visible in the archaeological record of English Bronze Age burial and settlement sites, evidence of the trade itself, the traders and their lives is remarkably rare. * The Langdon Bay Bronze Age finds from The British Museum are currently on display in the Bronze Age Boat Gallery of the Dover Museum alongside the Dover Bronze Age Boat, dated to c.1600BC.

* Further photographs and images are available from Emma Fitzgerald, English Heritage: 020 7973 3855, and are courtesy of the British Museum.

Press releases and further information about the Agency is available on the Web at
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