Kent Archaeological Review extract
 

Major Discovery of Bronze Age Implements at Dover.
by Simon Stevens.

Recent work by the Dover Sub-Aqua Club has resulted in a discovery of major importance for British Prehistory. The Club is a branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club whose aim is to train divers to its high standards and to organise dives for its advanced members.

For several years the Dover Club has dived in Langdon Bay, east of Dover Harbour, mainly because of its accessibility by boat and its comparatively slack water. The bottom is very interesting being cut by chalk gullies of varying depths. The bottom is also littered with war relics ranging from odd cannonballs to World War II bombs and shells, many of which are unexploded.

On the 14th August, 1974 the writer and Mike Hadlow began diving on the eastern side of the Bay. We eventually swam above a small group of objects, including a spear-head and lifting only five, mainly because of the great weight, surfaced. Once back aboard no-one really knew what the objects were, though Mike suggested that they might be ancient tools. The following day the objects were taken to Dover Museum and shown to Mrs Coveney, the curator. Immediately recognising their importance Mrs Coveney contacted Mr Brian Philp, Director of the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit, and arranged for the objects to be examined. Mr Philp then met Mr Alan Moat, the Dover Club's Diving officer, and explained the archaeological importance of the find and asked that a log be kept of dives and a record made of any finds.

The next task was to relocate and mark the site. On 28th August the first diving-group soon found another bronze axe and marked its position. The second team dived around the marker and eventually another 22 objects were recovered. The following day the site was relocated and marked with a buoy and a more detailed examination began. The finds mostly came from a narrow gully in the chalk about 79 feet long, 2 to 10 feet wide and only 1 foot deep. A line was placed along its axis and both ends marked with coloured buoys. From these compass bearings allowed the site to be fixed and plotted on a chart. Another dive recovered 58 more bronze objects bringing the total up to 86. Sudden gales and wintry conditions brought the season's diving to an abrupt end early in September.

The 1975 diving-season was very slow in starting owing to bad weather and the original marker buoys had been swept away by winter gales. The site had to be relocated and marked again which took ten hours of diving organised on a grid-search pattern. This work was hindered by bad visibility and it was not until 21st July, 1975 that it was found. Two more bronze objects were found that day and finally two more on the following Sunday. A final dive in September with the help of an under-water metal-detector located another 6 objects. All are now in the safe keeping of the Dover Museum pending further work and it is essential that these objects stay in Dover.

The following table records the dates, diving-times and objects recovered:

30
  1974 Aug Sept 1975 May June July Total hours dived Total finds
  14 28 29 10 14 15 18 1 7 8 12 15 19 20 21 27
S Stevens 50 45 25 10 5 5 20 30 40 30 30 40 40 50 60 9.40 46
C Osmond 40 30 40 50 40 3.20
P Mayes 40 30 60 60 3.10 11
K Jaynes 20 30 30 35 40 2.35
A Moat 40 10 5 30 30 2.25 20
T Stewart 45 65 25 2.15 13
R Player 30 35 60 2.05
M Hadlow 50 5 30 30 1.55
D Leviar 45 5 45 1.35
T Dole 60 1.00
B Atkins 30 0.30
R Mosely 30 0.30
R Shelow 25 0.25
Total hours dived. 1.40 3.35 3.40 0.20 0.10 0.05 0.10 1.30 2.45 2.20 2.00 2.00 1.20 1.50 3.40 4.20 31.25
Total finds recovered 5 23 58 2 2 90

From this it will be seen that 13 divers took part in the work which included diving on 16 different occasions and 31.25 hrs. of bottom diving. The cost of these 52 man-dives was approximately 70 being about 40 for boat-fees and 30 for compressed air. A record was also kept of the discoveries by each diver.

I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the whole diving-team for its hard work and in particular Mike Hadlow and Alan Moat. Also to Mrs Coveney for her help and interest; to Mrs Wendy Williams for kindly drawing and describing many of the finds for this report and finally to Mr Brian Philp for his guidance and comments printed below. The hoard is the property of Dovor Harbour Board.

BRIEF DISCUSSION OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FINDS by Brian Philp.

Mr Stevens and his colleagues of the Dover Club must be congratulated on their public spiritedness, firstly on reporting the discovery and secondly on their willingness to record in detail the circumstances of discovery. Sadly, so much else from British waters has in recent years been pirated away without any proper record!

PHOTO: Members of the Dover Sub-Aqua Club examine some of the Bronze Age objects 
found during diving near Dover Harbour.

Members of the Dover Sub-Aqua Club examine some of the Bronze Age objects found during diving near Dover Harbour. From left to right: Simon Stevens, Terry Dole, Keron Jaynes, Chris Osmond, Peter Harris-Mayes. Photo: Brian Philp.

Members of the Dover Sub-Aqua Club examine some of the Bronze Age objects found during diving near Dover Harbour. From left to right: Simon Stevens, Terry Dole, Keron Jaynes, Chris Osmond, Peter Harris-Mayes. Photo: Brian Philp.

This group of bronzes forms a most interesting and highly important collection. Whilst a detailed study is awaited a tentative examination suggests that the group is of Middle Bronze Age date, perhaps dating 1200-1000 BC.

The large group (25) of unusual winged axes is particularly interesting. Although similar axes occur occasionally in British Bronze Age hoards their occurence in such numbers in Britain is rare. The origin of these axes may be Central Europe and indeed a related type has recently been claimed as Italian of the 12th century. One similar axe from Glamorgan has been grouped with other objects of the 11th-10th centuries BC. The palstave group (24) is a type well known in Britain, but the precise character of this group is disguised by heavy rolling by the sea which may well have removed some of the loops, the median ridges and other characteristics. On balance these too appear to be of Continental origin and some at least have similarities to the 'Breton' palstaves of the 12th century BC. See Footnote [1] See Footnote [2] See Footnote [3]

At first glance, therefore, this group appears to be essentially Continental in character and origin. That it was found in the Straits of Dover suggests that the objects were in fact in transit to Britain and had formed a cargo lost at sea. The site, only some 500 yards from the present white cliffs, strongly suggests a wreck which even allowing for the change in coast-line since Bronze Age times must have been off-shore. Had any vessel been wrecked at the foot of the cliffs then the bronzes could have been collected at low-water or at least subsequently buried by the millions of tons of chalk rubble from the cliffs above. The evidence tends to suggest that a trader or bronze-smith was bringing a cargo of material across the Channel in a small craft when, failing to make the shelter of the wide tidal estuary of the Dour (now deeply buried under Castle Street) he was wrecked close to the cliffs one mile further east. Of his vessel or any other cargo there is, apparently and logically, no trace, but his heavy bronze implements became trapped in the gully. Indeed, is this the earliest evidence of a wreck in British waters so far recorded?

Notes:

Footnote 1.

Proc. Prehist. Society, Vol.XXXVI (1970) page 242, Number 2 . Ellen Macnamara. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 2.

Arch.Jnl., Vol.CXXV, (1968) page 7 Number 5. C B Burgess. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 3.

Arch.Jnl., Vol.CXXVI (1969) page 149. C B Burgess. Return to the paragraph.
A selection of Bronze Age winged axes, spatulate axes and 'daggers' found by divers near Dover Harbour. Wendy Williams Palstaves and spearheads also found by divers. A total of 90 objects were recovered. Wendy Williams

DESCRIPTION OF THE BRONZE IMPLEMENTS by Wendy Williams.

PHOTO: A selection of Bronze Age winged axes, spatulate axes and 'daggers' found 
by divers near Dover Harbour.

A selection of Bronze Age winged axes, spatulate axes and 'daggers' found by divers near Dover Harbour. Wendy Williams

PHOTO: Palstaves and spearheads also found by divers. A total of 90 objects were 
recovered.

Palstaves and spearheads also found by divers. A total of 90 objects were recovered. Wendy Williams

Flat Winged Axes (Numbers 1 - 3).

This was the largest group with a total of 25 axes recovered. The longest was 23.1 centimetres (Number 1) and the shortest was 17.6 centimetres. Almost all the axes have a worn down 'loop' at the butt end. All the blades are narrow and No.1 shows the greatest flare across the blade (4.9 centimetres) and is slightly waisted. In some cases the wings are very high and curved (again No.1) while others are worn and shallow. The wings are usually nearer the butt end.

Spatulate Axes (Numbers 4 - 7).

There are 14 objects in this group and all are flat in section and very worn. The group can be subdivided and eight of the objects are blunt with either square or rounded ends (Numbers 4 & 5) while the remaining six seem to have been pointed at one end and shaped at the other. These may have been daggers (Numbers 6 & 7). Lengths range from 8.8 centimetres to 19.6 centimetres.

'Daggers' (Numbers 8 - 10).

The eight objects in this group are all of a uniform shape and only vary in length. They are all flat in section, pointed at one end and blunt at the other and simply because of this tapered shape they are here referred to as 'daggers'. The longest of these is 17.9 centimetres and the shortest is a mere 6.2 centimetres and may be a broken point.

Palstaves (Numbers 11 - 17).

This was the second largest group with a total of 24 objects. Of these, at least 15 seem to have been looped. The remaining nine show no signs of a loop but may simply be very worn. Lengths range from 14.6 centimetres to 19.5 centimetres (Number 16). The stops are set nearer the butt end and are either squared (Numbers 11, 12,13,15,17) or rounded (Numbers 14 & 16). All the palstaves are slightly waisted along the blade just beyond the stop. There is very little flare -- none at all in one case although again this may simply be worn.

Spearheads (Numbers 18 & 19).

Only two of these were found and both are leaf-shaped. One of them (Number 19) has both the point and the haft broken away but the other (Number 18) is complete. The haft in this case is pierced about half way along its length and is hollow for a depth of 5.5 centimetres. Number 18 has a more narrow blade than Number 19 and was probably much smaller.

Miscellaneous.

Another ten objects were recovered which do not seem to fit any of the above groups. These include a bronze 'pin'; two possible spatulate axes, one of which is a broken fragment and the other is bent double; six broken, worn objects which just may have been palstaves and one long, narrow cone of bronze which is hollow and rectangular in section and which may have been part of a spearhead.

 
Close Window
Accessed this page via search engine or bookmark? Full K A R Index here.