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Coastal People

You are in: Cornwall > Marine Watch > Coastal People > Coastal Erosion

Constantine Island Excavation

Coastal Erosion

BBC Radio Cornwall reporter Hannah Stacey needed a head for heights as she scaled Bedruthan Steps on the north Cornwall coast to find out how the craggy cliffs were formed as well as finding out about the dramatic finds at an archaeological dig.

This stretch of coastline is is generally exposed and rugged in character, with small coves, headlands and high cliffs falling to the Atlantic, providing dramatic scenery for much of its length.

The rocks are mainly metamorphosed sediments (metasediments), consisting of folded and faulted slates and sandstones of Devonian and Carboniferous age (400 to 230 million years old), with some igneous rocks, mainly granite and basalt. With no less than 77 sites included in the Geological Conservation Review, this Natural Area is of outstanding significance for its geology and landforms.

Bedruthan Steps by Stephanie Latham

Bedruthan Steps by Stephanie Latham

The rocky cliffs provide many, often spectacular, sections through folded slates and sandstones. These were deposited as muds and sands on the sea bed of an east-west aligned marine gulf over a long period during Devonian and Carboniferous times.

The gulf was bounded by a land mass to the north-east, covering what is now central and southern Britain, and by a continental area to the south. The sequence of marine deposits can be seen at several Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including Harbour Cove, while sediments of a similar age containing important early fossil fish are found at Bedruthan Steps.

Further up the coast at Constantine Island near Padstow has also uncovered some dramatic finds during an archaeological dig.

While visiting Constantine Island in the summer of last year Mr Trevor Renals of the Environment Agency noticed that some bone had become exposed on the seaward side of Constantine Island which he reported to the National Trust North Cornwall Office.

Similar barrows (or burial mounds) of presumed Bronze Age date, had been identified in previous surveys of the area although not precisely at this location. However recent storms, the ongoing process of coastal erosion and the location of a nearby path had accelerated the erosion of the site, exposing the very top of a possible cist (a stone lined burial pit) and fragments of bone.

Property staff with Shirley Blaylock, the National Trust Regional Archaeologist realised the importance and rarity of the discovery and decided that before the site was lost - dues to the onset of Winter - the eroded and most vulnerable area of the burial mound should be excavated if at all possible.

The Excavation (information extracted from CHES Report)

The excavations demonstrated that the site was a complex monument. The cist (a stone lined burial pit) was found to hold the remains of a crouched adult male, set within a cairn comprised of slates.

Constantine Island Excavation

Constantine Island Excavation

The cist and cairn had been built upon an earlier low sandy mound with a stone ring. The sandy mound was found to contain flint, shell and further cremated human bone. At least four individuals, including children, were represented by bone fragments in the barrow. Interestingly, several flints recovered from the mound were found to fit together.

The sandy mound was in turn found to cover an earlier land surface, which contained evidence of occupation. A sherd of Early Neolithic pottery and further flint work was recovered from this layer. Mesolithic flints were also found in the wider vicinity of the site. This would suggest that the area had been important as a focal point for thousands of years before the construction of the barrow.

After the excavation was completed and in an attempt to stabilise the site, the upstanding section was subsequently reburied beneath the spoil from the excavation.

last updated: 07/08/2008 at 15:45
created: 07/08/2008

You are in: Cornwall > Marine Watch > Coastal People > Coastal Erosion

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