Archaeologists are returning to investigate the protected shipwreck at Dunwich Bank, Suffolk, this week to uncover more about this significant site, which has so far yielded impressive Tudor period weaponry, thanks to further funding from Historic England.
Our team, in collaboration with local divers, will be working to survey and record the site, including a mysterious mound of material, and locate the ship’s bronze cannons and any remaining wooden material to try and identify the ship and how it came to founder off the Suffolk coast. They will also recover small amounts of material and artefacts from the seabed for specialist analysis at Wessex Archaeology’s head office.
Although unidentified, at present the Dunwich Bank site is considered likely to be the remains of an armed Tudor cargo vessel which foundered off Dunwich in the second half of the 16th century.
The site was located in 1993 by a Southwold fisherman who recovered ship timbers with more than fifty cannonballs embedded in it. The site was initially investigated by a local historian, Stuart Bacon, and inspected by the Suffolk Underwater Studies Unit in 1994 and a bronze gun and other wreck material was discovered and raised.
Research has identified the gun is a Flemish Saker type produced by Dutch gun founder Remigy de Halut in c.1540. Although originally thought to indicate a Dutch warship lost in the nearby Battle of Sole Bay in 1672, it would have been rare for Dutch warships to have a gun of this age on board, much less several.
The site is protected by law under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 due to its national historical significance, but fears over the vulnerability of its cannons has led to continued archaeological fieldwork to ensure the wreck is kept off the Heritage at Risk Register.
A multibeam sonar image of the Dunwich Bank site
Toby Gane, Senior Project Manager (Coastal & Marine) at Wessex Archaeology, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to return to this important site, which we still have so much to learn about. We know about the impressive guns but by excavating we are hoping to find out what else is there which may help us piece together the story - maybe even the remains of the ship itself, buried under the silt in the mysterious mound in the middle of the site.
“We will be surveying the whole area to look for clues as to how and why this ship foundered. It would be unusual for a ship of this sort to have simply disposed of its precious cargo in order to save itself when in danger, so our team will be attempting to finds clues as to what happened.
“The work is a real challenge for the divers because there are strong currents and the water is silty and black, so you can’t see anything – everything must be done by touch. We therefore also use advanced sonar technology to ‘see’ which creates highly detailed digital images of the wreck.
“The project is a collaborative effort; we are working closely with local divers, Historic England, Dunwich Museum and cannon experts to unravel the mystery of this site.”
As part of the project, Historic England has also supported a feasibility study. This aims to help the local divers and the local community take the study of this important site forward and ensure that its historical value is preserved in the future.
Hefin Meara, Maritime Archaeologist at Historic England, said:
“We’re delighted to be supporting the investigation of this nationally important wreck. There is still so much to learn about the site, so we’re looking forward to seeing the results of the fieldwork. It’s especially important to involve locally based volunteer divers who play such an important part in the care of our maritime heritage.”
The bronze cannon and other finds raised from the site when it was originally discovered can be seen in Dunwich Museum.