Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

East Wear Bay archaeological field school


The site occupies a spectacular location, overlooking the Channel, with the famous White Cliffs of Dover sweeping away to the east. The French coast can be seen on the horizon on clear days. Fieldwork since the 1920′s and as recently as 2010-13 has revealed an extensive, deeply stratified and well-preserved prehistoric site, including a major late Iron Age trading and production site, with evidence of intensive trade contacts with the Romans via Gaul from the 1st century BC onwards. From the mid-1st century BC onwards this appears to have become one of the major points of contact between Britain and the Roman world, up until the Roman invasion under the Emperor Claudius in AD 43.

By the late 1st century AD a winged corridor villa had been constructed on the site. Finds of stamped tiles suggest a link with the Classis Britannica, the Roman fleet in British waters, which was active in the Channel region at this time. This first villa was replaced by c AD 200 with a larger complex which was occupied until AD 265-70, when it was abandoned, perhaps as a result of upheavals associated with the break-away Gallic Empire. Occupation of the by then semi-derelict site resumed in the early to mid-4th century and continued perhaps into the very early 5th. The site is rich in material culture, including a wide range of imported pottery, amphorae, coinage and metalwork.

Reconstruction of 3rd century villa complex © Smith Kriek Productions

East Wear Bay: Reconstruction of 3rd century villa complex looking out to sea © Smith Kriek Productions

But the site is being lost to the sea. The underlying geology of is Gault Clay sitting on a bed of Lower Greensand. On the beach below the base of the Clay is subject to wave action at high tide and is thus constantly eroding. This geological process is causing the gradual but unstoppable destruction of this internationally important site; perhaps more than half of it has already been lost to the sea, including parts of the villa buildings themselves. This factor provides a major rationale for excavation; if we don’t excavate the surviving archaeological remains we will soon lose them forever.

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