A sunken town described as “Britain’s Atlantis” after it was lost under the sea for centuries has been mapped fully for the first time thanks to advanced underwater imaging.
Much of the Suffolk village of Dunwich was lost beneath the waves after a storm in 1286, and the ruins under the sea have fascinated people for centuries.
Several churches which were lost over the cliffs in succeeding centuries have become objects of fascination - and the subject of factual and fictional accounts.
An entry on a map from 1736 records simply “churches beneath the sea”. Local legends claim that the bells of submerged churches can sometimes be heard from beneath the waves.
Divers first attempted to map the “lost town” in the Seventies, but discovered that strong tidal currents and low visibility made the task extremely difficult.
After an acoustic scan using sonar from a vessel in 2008, divers armed with 3D acoustic scanners have now outlined the streets and “lost” buildings of the submerged town.
Professor Sear said, “It is a sobering example of the relentless force of nature on our island coastline. It starkly demonstrates how rapidly the coast can change, even when protected by its inhabitants.”
“Global climate change has made coastal erosion a topical issue in the 21st Century, but Dunwich demonstrates that it has happened before.”
“The severe storms of the 13th and 14th Centuries coincided with a period of climate change, turning the warmer medieval climatic optimum into what we call the Little Ice Age.”
The expedition also found new, unknown buildings, says Professor David Sear of Southampton University. The new scan found six additional ruins and 74 potential sites for investigation.
Professor Sear said: “Visibility under the water at Dunwich is very poor due to the muddy water. We have now dived on the site using high resolution DIDSON acoustic imaging to examine the ruins on the seabed – a first use of this technology for non-wreck marine archaeology."
“DIDSON technology is rather like shining a torch onto the seabed, only using sound instead of light. The data produced helps us to not only see the ruins, but also understand more about how they interact with the tidal currents and sea bed.”