Visit Dunwich today and you will encounter a quiet Suffolk coastal village with steeply sloping shingle beaches. From time to time the waves move the pebbles to expose the great black sea defences which lie amid the stones like great beached whales, designed to slow the longshore drift of the beach into the oblivion to which the once great city has been consigned. Today the real Dunwich lies out there beneath the cold grey waters, 50 feet down and perhaps a mile out.
This British Atlantis – with its eight churches, five houses of religious orders, three chapels and two hospitals – is now about to be exposed to human gaze for the first time since the first of a series of great storms and sea surges hit the East Anglian coast in 1286 and began the process of coastal erosion which led to the city's disappearance. For the past 30 years one man, Stuart Bacon, a marine archaeologist and director of the Suffolk Underwater Studies, has dedicated himself to discovering what lies beneath the waves. He has made more than 1,000 dives on the medieval site since 1971 but with limited success. High silt levels in the water mean that visibility is limited to just a few centimetres.
"You can't see," he says. "The water is black because of the sediment in suspension. On very rare occasions visibility can be one to two metres but more usually it is one or two centimetres. You can't read your watch with a lamp on some occasions."
He has explored by touch, with the aid of a map drawn in 1587, which has proved remarkably accurate. But, from May, Mr Bacon will be teaming up with Professor David Sear, of the University of Southampton, and they will bring to bear the latest underwater acoustic imaging technology to reveal the secrets of the past.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
I can't help it, I'm a sucker for "lost cities". I'd never heard of Dunwich or that it was once considered a rival to London. Anyway (link updated~thanks Loren)...