Dorset

Dorset's oldest human settlement 'could fall into sea'

Dorset coast at Doghouse Hill Image copyright Paul Baker
Image caption Doghouse Hill and the surrounding Dorset coastline is highly susceptible to landslides

Parts of what is believed to be Dorset's oldest human settlement could be lost to coastal erosion, archaeologists have warned.

Hunter-gatherers lived on Doghouse Hill near Seatown up to 10,000 years ago.

The settlement was on land a mile inland, but erosion means it is now on a cliff edge which has crumbled further during the winter storms.

Archaeology writer Paul Baker said there was an "imminent danger" of landslips.

The National Trust, which owns Golden Cap Estate, led excavations in 2009 that unearthed a stone hearth, fire pit and pot shards from Bronze Age periods (2,500 to 1,000BC) and other relics from the Mesolithic Age (10,000 to 4,000BC) when Dorset was inhabited by hunter-gathers living off the land.

Image caption Excavations were carried out in 2009, metres from the cliff edge at Doghouse Hill

Storms in December led to cliff rock falls at nearby Burton Bradstock. Mr Baker said "great lumps are literally falling into the sea", with barrows on Golden Cap, the highest point on the Dorset coast, also eroding and "on their way".

"Once they go, out of context and position, it's just bits of flint on the beach," he said.

Martin Papworth, regional archaeologist for the National Trust, said the falls were inevitable given the "soft geology" of the cliffs.

Image caption Charred stones and other signs of a Bronze Age community were found during the 2009 excavations

He said the trust would be monitoring locations along the coast to see if landslips provided an opportunity for more archaeology to be exposed.

"You never can tell what is going to happen - it can appear stable, then suddenly a huge chunk will fall," he said.

"You can't put it back once its gone, but a fresh section and fresh material is exposed and needs to be recorded - its a constant process. There is still more of the settlement to be found."

Image copyright Paul Baker
Image caption Landslips can expose archaeological evidence of early settlements on the west Dorset coast

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