Tides turn up child's Bronze Age remains; Race against time as erosion threatens our archaeological sites.
HIGH tides and winds that have battered the Northumberland coast served up a burial mystery for archaeologists yesterday .
Erosion by the sea and weather has revealed what seems to be the remains of a Bronze Age child, which have emerged from the coastal edge at Druridge Bay.
But what perplexed archaeologists yesterday was a layer of hard white material which appears to have been moulded around the body, like a casing.
"I have never seen anything like this material. It has obviously been applied deliberately and it is intriguing and baffling," said Sara Rushton, Northumberland County Council archaeologist.
The burial had been purposely cut into a layer of peat which has been dated to between 3780BC and 1000BC.
The same vicinity has produced other examples of prehistoric burials falling onto the beach because of erosion.
Last week, The Journal reported how a two-year survey of the entire North-East coastline is starting because of the threat to archaeological and historic sites from climate change and coastal erosion.
The latest find was made by Keith Hartnell, who was filming a DVD about the new Northumberland Coastal Path for the Northern Heritage company which he set up in 1991, but which is now run by his son, Chris.
Keith, who lives in Longhorsley, wanted to include material on the previous Bronze Age coastal burial discoveries on the 64-mile path in the DVD, which is due out on December 3.
He said: "I was following the ancient peat layer along the cliff edge when I saw something which was bright white, and below that, a rib cage emerging from the cliff face.
"The stormy weather had broken off the edge of the burial chamber and you could see the rib cage and backbone of what looked like a child. My concern was that it could disappear with the following tides.
"It was an incredible find and it left me gobsmacked."
Dr Clive Waddington, who excavated a Stone Age site on the Northumberland coast at Howick, is managing director of Archaeological Research Services, which has been commissioned by English Heritage to carry out the coastal survey.
He said: "There have been one or two instances elsewhere in the country where a white gypsum-like material has been found in burials, which turns hard, like concrete.
"It is certainly an unusual find. The gypsum may have been applied to symbolise the transition from the world of the living to the world of the dead, to reflect the change from one state to another."
Series of finds reveal evidence of large burial site
TWO prehistoric burial cairns containing the remains of two bodies and a cremation emerged from the eroding Druridge Bay coastline in 1983.
Ten years later, two cists - or stone burial chambers - were revealed in the same area, and two highly decorated Bronze Age pottery beakers were found.
This suggested a large Bronze Age burial site which had been used over a long period of time. Investigations concluded that most of the burial site had been lost to coastal erosion and coal opencasting. But the new discovery indicates that burials still remain.
The study also revealed evidence of Stone Age use of the site, which in prehistoric times would have been a ridge of higher land some distance inland from the sea.
"These burials have survived because they are beneath layers of sand which were of no use for agriculture," said archaeologist Sara Rushton.
MYSTERIOUS: The Bronze Age remains. Inset, archaeologist Sara Rushton.; AMAZED: Keith Hartnell, who found the bronze age burial at Druridge Bay.