Friday, September 08, 2006

 

Coastline holds key to our past

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North Norfolk News
September 07, 2006


NORTH Norfolk's crumbling coastline holds the key to unearthing further discoveries about Britain's earliest human inhabitants, archaeologists said this week - but they face a race against time to make sure precious artefacts are not lost to the sea.

Britain has one of the richest records of early human history in the world, but archaeological discoveries elsewhere - particularly in Africa - tend to grab headlines.

Now archaeologists want to put Britain on the prehistoric map and believe East Anglia - particularly around Happisburgh and sites in Suffolk - will help them do it.

A major funding announcement for investigations in the region is due next month, but archaeologists fear the speed of coastal erosion means artefacts could be lost unless something is done to stem the tide.

The news comes as the people of Happisburgh are at the forefront of a campaign to stop the government abandoning sea defences in a new policy of “managed retreat”.

If they fail, the quickening erosion could overtake archaeologists' attempts to capture the evidence.

If they succeed, it could stop Mother Nature gnawing away at the cliffs and throwing up vital clues for the history hunters.

Prof Chris Stringer, head of Human Origins at the Natural History Museum in London, who gave a lecture at the BA Festival of Science in Norwich on Tuesday, said: “East Anglia is unique in this country because when the glaciers swept across much of Britain, instead of destroying everything in their path, what was underneath was preserved.”

There are several key archaeo logical areas, including Pakefield in Suffolk and Happisburgh.

Prof Stringer said: “We will certainly do more work at Happisburgh in the future. This is where a dogwalker, who is also a local collector, discovered a handaxe which we think dates from at least 680,000 years ago but probably earlier.

“Personally, I am hopeful that we will even find fossil remains of the people themselves.

“The trouble is the erosion is happening too fast and one of our fears is that it will be destroyed before we can get to it. Some way needs to be found to slow it down.”


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