Tsunami archaeology dig continues at Low Hauxley

Posted on 23rd August 2013 | in Community , Heritage & Tourism

At the beginning of the summer, work started on a unique archaeological dig on the north Northumberland coast. It began as a race-against-time investigation of a Bronze Age burial cairn literally falling out of the cliff face, but developed into an amazing opportunity to uncover evidence of a prehistoric tsunami or sandstorm from the time Britain separated from the continent.

The Ambler talked to lead archaeologist Clive Waddington at the start of the dig. Here we catch up with Steve Lowe, Head of Conservation at Northumberland Wildlife Trust to find out how the project has progressed.

Steve Lowe, Head of Conservation, Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Steve Lowe, Head of Conservation, Northumberland Wildlife Trust

The dig here on the  Low Hauxley dunes started in July. What have you discovered so far?

The dig has been going for a couple of months, it was supposed to finish this Friday (16 August). There’s been some amazing finds on the site, which include artefacts from prehistoric times. Red deer antlers have come out of the peat beds, we’ve found some burials on site. There are also nearly 10,000 flints that have been found, which is an amazing total, which shows that the site has been occupied for a long, long time.

One of the interesting finds as well,  a whetstone – that came out almost like the day it had been put into the ground by the looks of it. There was also an area to one side of the dig that had a patio on it. There was evidence of Roman occupation in there. But also right back to the Mesolithic period. Once that had been lifted, it was realised that it was a tomb that had been reused to create flagstones.

There were also boulders that have got signs of the cup and ring markings that you get elsewhere in Northumberland – which was a wonderful find in itself and tells us a little bit about the links in the area.

Why are you extending the dig?


Volunteers have been able to work alongside professional archaeologists

The most important thing that’s come out has been this soil deposit. There is evidence here of a storm event which we would nowadays call a tsunami. The supposition is that this is the one event that created the UK, [it] separated us from the continent.

I’m pleased to be able to say that we’ve secured some additional funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to allow this dig to progress for another three weeks, so that this particular event can be explored further. We’ll also be able to see then what’s underneath that.

The tsunami event can be dated back to 8200BC… what we want to find out is what’s underneath. We hope we’re going to find evidence that man was here before that time, as has been found in Howick, and [if we do, it] will put this as one of the most important sites, because we didn’t really know that man was here that long ago, further north than Yorkshire.

Can you tell me a bit about the volunteers, what have they got out of the project?

So far on site, the support has been brilliant. We’ve had at least 20 volunteers every day. Most of them have not done archaeology before. Many, if not the majority come from the local area; there’s still now an opportunity  for another three weeks of work.


The site has changed significantly during the summer, as archaeologists dig from the Bronze Age levels, further down into the tsunami age soil

So we need more volunteers to help with that  – a number of the people are going to come back. Its hard work, but it’s really rewarding , especially when you come across  something that hasn’t seen the light of day  for 8000 years!

Once we’ve finished, we’re also going to need people to help to put it back .. most of the soil is going to go back via machine, I’m thankful to say, but we’ll need people to help plant marram grass and things like that , so we can recreate the dune system that was here in the first place.

I’ve spoken to a number of people who’ve been volunteering, young and old, which is brilliant,  and they’ve all got something different out of it, not least a long, hot soak at the end of the day!

So has the project met your expectations?

From the Wildlife Trust’s point of view, this project has massively exceeded what we thought we’d get out of it. Firstly, the finds have been great – more than what was expected. It’s given us a great picture of  what went on here in the past, how the whole are has changed, how man has used it, exploited it and how that’s changed over time.


Visitors have been very interested throughout the project

It might be a strange thing for a wildlife trust to be doing an archaeology project, but actually we’re interested in this whole area and how it fits together. The evidence from this, and the support from the local community and local volunteers, all helps up build up for a wider landscape scale project right across Druridge Bay.  This is an essential piece  because we’re rescuings omethiogn that is falling into the sea.

I’d also like to comment on the number of people who’ve visited the site. It’s not on the main map, but every time I’ve visited the site, there are at least 20 -30 people; they either arrive on bikes, or walk up, and just see [the dig] and they’re interested. Everyone’s gone from here with a really good impression of the area, which is fantastic.

When Hauxley was an island surrounded by lagoons, wetlands and trees

Wanting to know a bit more about what life would have been like for our Bronze Age neighbours, we grabbed the chance to ask lead archaeologist Clive Waddington for his expert opinion.

Can you tell us a bit about the finds and what the area would have looked like for the people who lived here in the Bronze Age and before?

whetstone red-deer-antler beaker
The archaeological finds from the Low Hauxley excavation are remarkable not only for their superb degree of preservation but also for the variety of material from different periods; over 12000 stone tools, ancient food remains, Bronze Age pots and whetstones and Iron Age and Roman pottery and even a wonderfully delicate bone pin.

In the Bronze Age, the sea would have been around a hundred metres further out with a sand dune system further out than it is today – lagoons and wetlands would have been situated behind the then dunes with the archaeological site being a small island poking up out of the wetlands set back behind the dunes.

The Tsunami took place in the Mesolithic (over 4000 years before the Bronze Age) around 8200 years ago. At this time the sea would have been perhaps two or three hundred metres further out than today and probably with no dune system in existence then.The excavation site would have been dry land and so too would the land immediately north and south of it. There would have been light woodland cover around the site, including on the ground that is now the foreshore.

Above: some of the finds from the Low Hauxley dig: l-r whetstone, red deer antler, pottery

If you would like to help with the last couple of weeks of the dig, please contact Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Anna Williams

See also: Uncovering Bronze Age Hauxley devastated by sandstorm

Clive Waddington describes the excavation at Low Hauxley. Video (3m 20s)


This article was updated on 27 August

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2 thoughts on "Tsunami archaeology dig continues at Low Hauxley"

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