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Wreck divers recover Bronze Age treasures

From This is Devon website, 8 March 2005

A Westcountry diving team has uncovered one of the oldest shipwreck sites in the world. In an exclusive report, John Kirk reveals how the remarkable find was made off the Devon coast

A team of amateur divers who uncovered the find of a lifetime off the Westcountry coast has struck gold for a second time. Thirteen divers - all members of the South West Maritime Archaeological Group (SWMAG) - have unearthed 3,000-year-old Bronze Age artifacts from what may be one of the oldest shipwreck sites in the world.

They include a gold bracelet called a torc, a cauldron handle, and the remains of weapons ranging from rapier blades to axe heads and swords.

All were discovered off the coast of Salcombe last October, when the divers were expanding their area of investigation from a previous site where in 1995 they found the biggest collection of Islamic riches ever found off Britain.

Experts say the latest finds are even more significant, as they may be from one of the oldest shipwrecks ever discovered. The finds, which date from 1300BC, were immediately declared to the Receiver of Wreck, Sophia Exelby, at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as it is believed the relics come from an ancient shipwreck. They are now at the British Museum in London, where they are being examined.

Once the examinations are complete, the collection will be valued as a whole and interested museums will be able to bid for it - although it is likely that the British Museum will get first refusal, as the find is of national significance. It is believed the museum has already expressed an interest.

The divers received a salvage award of almost £100,000 when their last collection - discovered on a shipwreck a quarter of a mile off Prawle Point in 1995 - was eventually sold to the British Museum. That find included 460 gold coins, as well as ingots, nuggets, pewter, jewellery and pottery which had lain undisturbed since it was lost at sea in the 1630s.

The latest site falls within the area for the wreck which is protected from unauthorised and illegal diving under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

The divers say they do not want to talk about salvage awards for the latest discovery and are more interested in the significance of the find.

A spokesman for SWMAG, which includes four divers from Devon, said: "The cash has not been discussed because it's very early days and we're just really excited about the find.

"We thought the 17th century wreck site where we discovered Islamic gold was wonderful. But this is different and is extremely significant.

"It could possibly be one of the oldest shipwrecks in the world. To my knowledge there's also been no gold found at a Bronze Age wreck before, and this is one of just two Bronze Age wrecks in the country.

"This discovery has really been a team effort, and we are now working with the Receiver of Wreck and English Heritage to ensure that these important artifacts are put on permanent display to the public."

The spokesman said the location was of national interest, particularly as Bronze Age artifacts were found at the nearby Moor Sands site in the 1980s. The finds from Moor Sands date to around the same time as those discovered in the latest find, and archaeologists are examining whether they came from the same vessel.

The latest find is dominated by the blades of swords and rapiers, but axes, tools and ornaments are also present. The swords are among the earliest found in north-west Europe, while some of the other objects are of northern French origin and are types which are rare in this country.

Receiver of Wreck Ms Exelby said: "This is a very exciting find which shows the breadth of information which is available from shipwreck sites. We are now working to ensure that these unusual artifacts are given a good home, where their historical value can be appreciated by everyone."

Stuart Needham, curator of European Bronze Age collections at the British Museum, said: "The evidence from Salcombe and other rare sites help us to build up a picture of object movements, the organisation of trade and the character of seafaring."

English Heritage and SWMAG are now planning a research-led field season later in the year to find out more about the site.
Jane Posted by Jane
8th March 2005ce

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