New discoveries in hunt for sunken city

MARINE archaeologist Stuart Bacon has used cutting edge technology to discover a “new” church hidden beneath the waves.

Richard Smith

MARINE archaeologist Stuart Bacon has used cutting edge technology to discover a “new” church hidden beneath the waves.

Mr Bacon, who first located the lost city of Dunwich in the 1970s, is making “spectacular” new discoveries in a £25,000 survey of the Suffolk seabed.

He has dived off Dunwich countless times but has now used new technology to map an area believed to contain the remnants of structures which were once important features of the landscape.

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As Mr Bacon navigated the North Sea in a boat with four other marine experts he told how a church, which he had been trying to find for years, had been discovered.

The chosen site for the survey is known to contain debris from two churches and a priory - at one time Dunwich had 16 churches, chapels and monasteries - but now evidence of another ecclesiastical building has been uncovered.

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Mr Bacon believes that it is the remains of St John's Church. This was Dunwich's leading church through the Middle Ages and it contained a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas.

In 1510 a pier was erected in an attempt to act as a breakwater from the sea, and in 1542 further funds were raised in a bid to save the building, but to no avail, and the building was largely demolished before it went over the cliffs.

Mr Bacon, director of the Suffolk Underwater Studies, said yesterday: “The weather is bad but one of the main things is the surface conditions are quite good and we can carry on work.

“We have found a new church. I knew there were three here but now we have another one. It is one I have been trying to find for years.

“This is new information and it means that the results of the survey are going to be quite spectacular.”

He added: “At the moment we are deploying to try and find evidence of Roman occupation off the entrance to the river Blyth and from where I am sitting you can not image the coastline how it was 2,000 years ago.

“This is a very exciting time but I can remember when we had the expeditions and found a church and various items and I think that was just as exciting. We may dive later on this year.”

The remains of the lost city of Dunwich, Britain's own underwater 'Atlantis', have slowly been mapped in recent years and Mr Bacon hopes the success of this latest survey will provide the impetus for further investment in the research.

Mr Bacon has teamed up with David Sear, of the University of Southampton, to use underwater acoustic imaging technology to find out what lies beneath the surface from a depth of 10ft to 50ft.

It has taken two years for this survey to be organised and represents another milestone in a long-running investigation to discover what lies beneath the waves.

This latest survey is highly significant for it uses equipment never employed here before and it can detect material through the sediment. Visibility for divers is only a few centimetres under water due to the high levels of silt.

Dunwich was once a thriving city and port to rival London in the 12th and 13th century but storms, erosion and floods have wiped out most of the settlement and eaten away a mile of land.

Prof Sear said, before the survey started: “Technical advances, such as side-scan multibeam sonar, have massively improved our ability to create accurate acoustic images of the sea floor, and this survey should greatly enhance our knowledge of the site.”

The findings will be presented as a new public display for the Dunwich Museum. Funding has come from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and English Heritage.

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