Martime Archaeology

A Day in the life of CITiZAN Community Archaeologists

CITiZAN is the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeology Network. We’re Megan and Andy, the team’s Northern office. Between us we cover the English coast, running between the Scottish border and the Dee on the west coast and the border to the Wash on the east.1

Discussing coastal erosion with the Historic England’s inspector for the World Heritage site of Hadrians Wall on the coast of the Solway Firth

Over the last few days we have been travelling down the north-western coast of England from Cumbria to Lancashire; staying in Maryport and Morecambe. Along the way we’ve been stopping off to explore exciting intertidal and coastal archaeology. Our preparation for the Day of Archaeology started on Thursday with Andy whizzing off to the record office. Meanwhile, Megan went off to site for a reccy ahead of a guided walk around the 7th-century chapel.


The 7th-century St. Patrick’s Chapel on the dramatic coast of Morcambe Bay

Andy spent most of the day searching out historic records; seeking 19th century and early plans of the area for a community training session in map regression. Among the things he found was a list of fruit trees planted by the rector of St Peters (the successor of the early medieval chapel) recorded in the list of Birth, Burials and Marriages for 1773.

Meanwhile Megan was out at the site planning her tour. The guided walk started at Rectory Gardens Wood, looking at the terraces where the rector had planted his apple, plum, pear and cherry orchard. She then moved on to look at Mesolithic settlement sites and Second World War practice trenches on Heysham Head before heading to the early medieval St Patrick’s Chapel, a National Trust owned site with unique, enigmatic rock cut graves. She finished at the 10th century St Peters Church, where several medieval cross bases and a hogback stone nestle amongst Post-medieval gravestones.


Megan discusses the Mesolithic settlement of Heysham Head on her guided walk

The Day of Archaeology itself started with a big fry-up before heading to St. Patrick’s Chapel, to kick off a two-day building recording event. The 7th-century chapel overlooks the stunning Morecambe Bay and although it stands on a sandstone promontory, a good 10 metres above mean sea level, is at serious risk of erosion and destruction with several metres of the headland having disappeared since the turn of the 20th century.

The morning was spent teaching interested member of the public the theory of archaeology recording; off-set planning, buildings recording, taking levels and photographs. It was a lot of information for our novices to take in but everybody enjoyed themselves.

In the afternoon we put the classroom sessions into practice. There was a chance to plan the rock-cut graves; some with head sockets and others with indications of slab coverings. The graves proved a little bit challenging but our volunteers ploughed on. Next they moved on to drawing an elevation of the chapel, much of it ruinous, with the west wall completely gone. But a fantastic Anglo-Saxon doorway in the south wall remained. Intrigued by the arched door, with three similar doors reconstructed in St Peters Church, they discussed it with Paul Gwilliam, our building’s expert.  Debating whether the doorway was in its original position or whether it was moved during the early 20th century reconstruction of the chapel.


Our volunteers record the enigmatic rock-cut graves

All these processes are how a buildings archaeologist would go about recording a site such as St. Patrick’s Chapel. Our volunteers now have the skills to record their medieval church and monitor the erosion caused by Morecambe Bay.  The three CITiZAN offices, based in York, Portsmouth and London will be teaching archaeological skills on beaches, cliff tops and intertidal zones around England in the next three years.  Hopefully every training session will be as fun as today!