Kent Archaeological Review extract

From a Wreck on the Goodwin Sands.
by Peter Keller.

Just occasionally circumstances present archaeologists with opportunities that are otherwise denied. One such opportunity has recently been presented by the construction of Dover's new hoverport, by the Dover Harbour Board, adjoining the Western Docks. Something in the region of 750,000 tons of sand have been taken from the Goodwin Sands, surely one of the world's richest archaeological ship graveyards and redeposited on Dover's beach. As there was a surplus amount of sand for the new hoverport, it was decided to spread the excess on the stretch of beach adjoining the Prince of Wales pier. Certainly a rare occasion, for here was undisturbed material of an unknown quantity that had been sucked into a ship and redeposited some ten miles away largely unexamined.

As a result of these operations several objects came to light including a number of interesting tokens. One such token came into the possession of Mr E Cornish of Dover, who realised the implications and kindly passed the item on to the writer. The copper token was issued by the East India Company (founded circa 1600) in 1808. The obverse bears the Arms of the company and date of issue with the cash value shown on the reverse. We may assume that the tokens found represent part of a shipment bound for the East Indies and that the ship sank off the Goodwins. It would be nice to think that they were part of the cargo carried by the Britannia which apparently sank in the vicinity in 1809. Why these tokens were being shipped out in bulk is difficult to gauge. However it seems reasonable to suppose that they were paid out as wages to the employees in the East Indies where normal currency was lacking.

Unhappily, as recently reported on television, there are many people using mechanical devices to search out the 'treasures' that this sand may yield. This not only causes embarrassment and problems to the Harbour Board and contractors concerned, but also cheats the future of its history. Apart from the legal aspect that by law all that is recovered from such shipwrecks is the property of the Crown and should be handed to the Receiver of Wrecks, some adequate documentation must be made for posterity. The importance of recording such finds relating to our past, whether in the soil or in the sea, cannot be stressed enough. Alas, as in some other cases, few of the items recovered from these 'sands of time' will come into the possession of the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit for the purpose of recording, as did this particular token.

Accordingly, on behalf of the Unit, I thank Mr Cornish for his prompt and responsible action.

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