CITiZAN volunteers record the newly exposed archaeology at Cooper's Beach in Essex (c) CITiZAN

CITiZAN discover prehistoric archaeology on the Essex coast

MOLA team

On January 5th 2017 the CITiZAN East team met with their dedicated local volunteers to mount an emergency investigation of prehistoric timbers that had been exposed by winter storms at Cooper’s Beach, Mersea Island. The team was alerted to the discovery by local oysterman Daniel French, who recognised that the strange looking timbers were at risk of being washed away by further storms.

The timbers were discovered 650 metres offshore at Cooper’s Beach on Mersea Island, Daniel French first spotted the timbers after they were exposed by raging winter storms and contacted the CITiZAN East team. The timbers provide an amazing insight into the development of industry and changing landscapes on the East coast of England. 

CITiZAN archaeologists have revealed that the well-preserved prehistoric timbers may have formed part of a planked trackway. It may have been at least 75m long, if all the exposed elements are part of the same structure and may connected wet areas to drier areas of what could have been marshland enabling people to move across this landscape. Each of the planks have axe-marks and sockets cut through the ends which would have been used to stake the structure firmly to the ground.

Oliver Hutchinson, CITiZAN archaeologist said:

‘What our local volunteers on Mersea have discovered at Cooper’s Beach is something of potentially national significance. The Mersea timbers are possibly part of a much bigger archaeological site sitting on a long lost landscape. As the sea continues to expose more archaeology, we will be able to work with our team of volunteers to map and record it so we can piece together the clues and build an ever more detailed picture of a prehistoric Mersea Island.’

CITiZAN have been working closely with Colchester Borough Council and Historic England who advised that the timbers should be lifted in order to gain a better understanding of them. They are now in the care of Historic England and will be dated using radio carbon and dendrochronological (tree-ring dating) methods.

Dr Zoe Outram, Science Advisor at Historic England said:

‘The relationship and date of the five timbers will be investigated to see if they were part of the same trackway. Initial investigations suggest that the wooden trackway was prehistoric, potentially dating to the Bronze Age, but this will be determined through scientific dating funded by Historic England. Further work in partnership with CiTIZAN will look at how the structure was built and the type of wood used. This will provide valuable insights into woodland management and trackway construction techniques at that time.’

The investigation featured on Countryfile Winter Diaries on15th February 2017, you can catch up here. You can also explore a 3d photogrammetry model of the Mersea Timbers...

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