Exploring Kent's Past

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Monument details

HER Number:TR 34 SW 594
Type of record:Maritime
Name:Langdon Bay Wreck

Summary

Site discovered in August 1974 by members of the Dover sub-aqua club on the eastern side of Langdon Bay. The site consists of flat fissured chalk bedrock covered in parts by mobile sandy sediment. A hoards of 96 bronze objects (including 25 winged axes, 14 spatulate axes, 2 spearheads, 8 daggers and 24 palstaves) was purchased by the British Museum. More than 350 bronze objects including toold weapons, ornaments and scrap dating to 1100 BC have been found. This is probably a wreck site due to the close concerntration of finds, their qualitiy, and the undoubted French provenance.


Monument Types

  • WRECK (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)

Associated Finds

  • AXEHEAD (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)
  • BRACELET (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)
  • DIRK (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)
  • PALSTAVE (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)
  • RAPIER (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)
  • SOCKETED AXEHEAD (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)
  • SPEAR (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)
  • SWORD (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)
  • WINGED AXEHEAD (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1200 BC to 1000 BC)
Protected Status:Protected Wreck Site 1000059: Langdon Bay

Full description

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Site discovered in August 1974 by members of the Dover sub-aqua club on the eastern side of Langdon Bay. The site consists of flat fissured chalk bedrock covered in parts by mobile sandy sediment. A hoards of 96 bronze objects (including 25 winged axes, 14 spatulate axes, 2 spearheads, 8 daggers and 24 palstaves) was purchased by the British Museum. More than 350 bronze objects including tools, weapons, ornaments and scrap dating to 1200-1000 BC have been found.

This is probably a wreck site due to the close concerntration of finds, their qualitiy, and the undoubted French provenance.(1)

Professor R.F Tylecote, Newcastle University, examined the damaged edges of some of the implements and was able to show in 1977 that the collection consisted of lead-free high tin bronzes. The weapons were normally cast in moulds of clay, stone or bronze from a bronze solution of about 12% tin and heated to around 900 degrees centigrade. (2)

Additional information (3, 4)



From the NMR:

Middle Bronze Age finds from Langdon Bay, near Dover. On the 14th August 1974 Mr S Stevens and Mr M Hadlow of the Dover Sub-Aqua Club began diving on the eastern side of Langdon Bay east of Dover where they had frequently dived over several years. On this occasion they came across a total of 86 objects of Bronze Age date. The finds mostly came from a narrow gulley in the chalk about 79 ft long, 2 to 10 ft wide and 1 ft deep. The site was marked by a buoy and was plotted on a chart.

A further eight objects were recovered in July 1975.

The group is middle Bronze Age in date c.1200-1000 BC. The finds include flat winged axes (nos 1-3), spatulate axes (nos 4-7), daggers(nos 8-10), palstaves (nos 11-17) and spearheads (nos 18-19) (see illustration card no 1).

The large group (25) of unusual winged axes is particularly interesting as they are very rare. The origins of these axes may be central Europe. The 24 palstave probably have a continental origin and some have similarities to the 'Breton' palstave of the 12th century BC.

The site, which is located 500 yards from the present white cliffs suggests a wreck possibly belonging to a trader or bronze-smith who was bringing a cargo across the channel in a small craft to a location in Dover harbour. The remains of any vessel has long since disappeared. The hoard is the property of Dover Harbour Board.

Systematic investigation of the area began after further finds were made in 1977 and 1978. In the 1979 a season or work was undertaken by the Dover Sub-Aqua Club. The site was gridded into 2 metre wide corridors, within which an intensive visual search was made for all surface bronze; in addition one trench 15m long was excavated in one of these corridors. The bronzes lie at a depth of 7.13m on a chalk sea bed where visibility is 2m or less. Most of the finds discovered lie within a radius of 50m. A total of 189 objects have now been recovered (see illustration card no 2) and they are of French provenance. Because many of the items were cut it is suggested that this is a cargo of scrap, the items being carried for their metal value rather than for use.

Recovery of objects from the sea bed continued up to 1984 (and presumably beyond) with ever smaller quantities being recovered each year. The total haul by 1984 comprised 61 winged axes, 49 palstaves, 4 axe blade fragments, 18 socketed tools of various kinds, 178 pieces of swords, dirks and rapiers, 7 spearheads and ferrules, 10 ornaments including bracelet fragments, and 17 objects described as miscellaneous and/or unidentified. The objects are regarded as representing the surviving traces of a shipwreck rather than a hoard which has eroded out of the cliff at some point in the past. Although ballast represents a possibility, it is suggested that the material represents bronze as raw material, rather than finished objects, for exchange. Although many of the object types are not without parallel from southern Britain, most are more commonly found across a wide expanse of northern and western France, though some are rarely, if ever, found in association there. The assemblage also dates to a period when very few hoards, if any, were being deposited in southern England, effectively restricting the number of comparable assemblages.

From the National heritage List for England:

List entry Description

Information provided under the Statutory Instrument heading below forms part of the official record of a protected wreck site. Information provided under other headings does not form part of the official record of the designation. It has been compiled by Historic England to aid understanding of the protected wreck site..

Summary of Site

The recovery of Middle Bronze Age artefacts from Langdon Bay, Kent, has pointed to the possibility that the wreck of a cargo vessel of the same date lies within the Bay, although no remains of the vessel have been recovered. The location of this material is tangible evidence of cross-Channel connections that, either from shipwreck or a ritual deposit soon after arrival provides a rare chance to view trade in action, rather than trade as inferred from redistributed material. However, no Bronze Age artefacts have been observed or recorded on site since 1990.
.

Reason for Designation

The Langdon Bay Protected Wreck site is Listed for the following principal reason:

Archaeological: The Langdon Bay site is of international significance and arguably the oldest known shipwreck site in northern Europe. The importance of the site lies in the breadth of its Bronze Age metalwork assemblage which is unparalleled in both maritime and terrestrial archaeology
.

Statutory Instruments

1978/764
1979/56
.

History

In 1974, members of the Dover Sub-Aqua Club found bronze objects just outside Dover Harbour. These were identified as types of tools, weapons and ornaments, made in France during the Middle Bronze Age and rarely found in Britain. The typology of the metalwork indicates a date of c.1100BC. More than 350 objects have been recovered from the site and are in the care of the British Museum, though no Bronze Age artefacts have been observed or recorded on site since 1990.
.

Details

Designation History: Designation Order: 1979, No. 56 Made: 19th January 1979 Laid before Parliament: 26th January 1979 Coming into force: 16th February 1979 Protected area: 150 metres within 51 07.60 N 001 20.80 E

No part of the restricted area lies above the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides.

Documentary History: Middle Bronze Age finds from Langdon Bay, near Dover. On the 14th August 1974 members of the Dover Sub-Aqua Club began diving on the eastern side of Langdon Bay east of Dover where they had frequently dived over several years. On this occasion they came across a total of 86 objects of Bronze Age date. The finds mostly came from a narrow gully in the chalk about 79 ft long, 2 to 10 ft wide and 1 ft deep. The site was marked by a buoy and was plotted on a chart. A further eight objects were recovered in July 1975.

Archaeological History: The first artefacts were found by members of Dover Sub-Aqua Club in August 1974 and to date a total of 360 finds have been recovered from the site, all of bronze and comprising tools, weapons, ornaments and miscellaneous pieces. A high proportion of these finds are of continental forms with potentially widespread origins between Brittany and the Lower Rhine region. The bronzes have suffered varied degrees of abrasion as a result of their periodic exposure on the seabed during three millennia, but a good proportion is still identifiable to specific types. There is also clear evidence that many pieces were already bent and broken up in antiquity. Because of this damage and their likely continental origins, it has been hypothesised that the assemblage forms a cargo of scrap metal being imported into the Britain for recasting. In that context it is significant that the Bronze Age Dover boat was found only 2.5 miles away.

In 1977, a Professor at Newcastle University examined the damaged edges of some of the implements and was able to show that the collection consisted of lead-free high-tin bronzes. The weapons were normally cast in moulds of clay, stone or bronze from a bronze solution of about 12 per cent tin and heated to about 900 degrees centigrade.

The site lies on a chalk wave-cut platform in 6 to 10 metres of water, 500 metres seaward of the white cliffs of Dover. A blanket of mobile sediment formed during and after the Channel Tunnel excavations, which has now dispersed, although fine sediment lies in shallow gullies across the site. There are strong currents and poor visibility.

Investigations by Cotswold Archaeology in 2016, commissioned by Historic England, The Dover group were to recover a number of other artefacts in 1975 and 1976 when the material was acquired by the British Museum which recognised it as a key assemblage in understanding Bronze Age exchange and production networks. The site was subsequently designated in May 1978 (with re-designation following in January 1979 which expanded the size of the site’s restricted area). The involvement of Keith Muckelroy, a pioneer in underwater archaeology, from May 1978 until his death in September 1980 switched the focus from the recovery of surface artefacts to intrusive excavation and environmental study. This work continued under the late Martin Dean, former Director of the Archaeological Diving Unit, until 1989 and the last bronze artefacts were recovered the following year. No Bronze Age artefacts have been observed or recorded on site since that time.

Three visits undertaken by the Archaeological Diving Unit between 1995 and 1999 similarly failed to observe Bronze Age material on the seabed with licensed assess to the site ending shortly thereafter. There is currently no licensee for the site. In 2013, archaeological investigations on the Langdon Bay wreck were published by the Council for British Archaeology (Research Report 173).

Investigations by Cotswold Archaeology in 2016, commissioned by Historic England, comprised desk-based research and diver survey. Diver observations revealed that the site lies on a wave-cut chalk platform in 6 to 10 metres of water, some 500m south of the Dover cliffs. A thin layer of mobile sediment overlies the exposed and generally flat chalk bedrock which can accumulate in shallow gullies across the site. These gullies were searched with a hand-held metal detector, though no bronzes were recorded or observed. Cotswold Archaeology concluded that ‘although it is possible that [bronzes] may be present in parts of the designated area that were not investigated, the potential for these is considered low.’ .(6)


Coombes D, 1976, Archaeologia Atlantica (Article in serial). SKE6706.


Coombes D, 1976, Archaeologia Atlantica (Article in serial). SKe6706.


1980, Article Bronze Age wreck site Antiquity (Article in serial). SKE6705.


1980, Article Bronze Age wreck site Antiquity (Article in serial). SKe6705.


K. Muckelroy, 1981, PPS (Article in serial). SKE6707.


K. Muckelroy, 1981, PPS (Article in serial). SKe6707.


Needham, S., Dean, M.,, 1987, Congres Prehistorique de France 1984 (Article in serial). SKE6708.


Needham, S., Dean, M.,, 1987, Congres Prehistorique de France 1984 (Article in serial). SKe6708.


Historic England, 2017, Langdon Bay, Middle Bronze Age Wreck Site, 1000059, de-listing assessment (Unpublished document). SKE32444.


<1> Simon Stevens and Brian Philp, 1976, Kent Archaeological Review: Major Discovery of Bronze Age Implements at Dover. Vol. 43, Kent Archaeological Review No 43 p67-72 (Stevens, S. (Article in serial). SKE31854.


<3> Cluttons, 2002, Desk-Based Assessment of Dover Eastern Docks Supply Main (Unpublished document). SKE8212.


<4> Barham, A. J. & Bates, M. B., 1991, A Preliminary Research Report on the Palaeoenvironmental & Geoarchaeological Significance of the North Kent Marshes (Unpublished document). SKE11863.


<5> Museum of London, 2007, Leigh Technology College, Green Street Green Road, Dartford: An archaeological watching brief report. (Unpublished document). SKE13717.


<6> Historic England, National Heritage List for England (Index). SKE29372.

Sources and further reading

Cross-ref. Source description
---Unpublished document: Historic England. 2017. Langdon Bay, Middle Bronze Age Wreck Site, 1000059, de-listing assessment.
---Article in serial: 1980. Article Bronze Age wreck site Antiquity.
---Article in serial: Coombes D. 1976. Archaeologia Atlantica.
---Article in serial: K. Muckelroy. 1981. PPS.
---Article in serial: Needham, S., Dean, M.,. 1987. Congres Prehistorique de France 1984.
<1>Article in serial: Simon Stevens and Brian Philp. 1976. Kent Archaeological Review: Major Discovery of Bronze Age Implements at Dover. Vol. 43. Vol. 43. pp. 63-73. Kent Archaeological Review No 43 p67-72 (Stevens, S..
<3>Unpublished document: Cluttons. 2002. Desk-Based Assessment of Dover Eastern Docks Supply Main.
<4>Unpublished document: Barham, A. J. & Bates, M. B.. 1991. A Preliminary Research Report on the Palaeoenvironmental & Geoarchaeological Significance of the North Kent Marshes.
<5>Unpublished document: Museum of London. 2007. Leigh Technology College, Green Street Green Road, Dartford: An archaeological watching brief report..
<6>Index: Historic England. National Heritage List for England.

Related records

TR 34 SW 88Parent of: Bronzes from Langdon Bay - possible prehistoric shipwreck site (Findspot)

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