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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 15:34 GMT


'Seahenge' moves on

Seahenge only emerges at low tide

BBC's Kim Riley reports from Seahenge
A Bronze Age circle of wooden posts, known as "Seahenge", is being removed from the sands on the Norfolk coast.

The wooden circle, which may have been a sacrificial altar, is being taken out of the beach because of concerns that coastal erosion will eventually destroy it.

Seahenge is thought to be 4,000 years old and would originally have stood on dry ground.

[ image: The central post is surrounded by 55 smaller ones]
The central post is surrounded by 55 smaller ones
"It is one of the most enthralling archaeological discoveries in our time," said Sir Jocelyn Stevens, Chairman of English Heritage, who are organising the dig.

"The henge will be lost if it is left where it is because of the continual erosion along this stretch of coast.

"The first priority is to safeguard it from the ravages of the sea and ensure a proper record of the timbers is made."

Difficult project

The wooden posts will be removed and taken to a laboratory near Peterborough for examination. They will be returned to West Norfolk after the work is complete.

It is estimated the excavation of the 56 posts will take a month. The excavation project is difficult because the site is covered by the sea every high tide.

Seahenge was uncovered last November by a local nature warden when the peat dune covering it was swept away.

"A channel to the gods"

The forensic work on the wood will include a study of the tool marks and the activities of prehistoric insects, as well as dating of the wood.

It will be the first time well-preserved tool marks from a complete Early Bronze Age site will be studied in Britain.

David Miles, Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "Lifting, recording and analysing all the timber will transform our knowledge of prehistoric religion and prehistoric sites."

"The evocative structure, forming a symbolic tree, stands at the boundary of earth, sky and sea. To prehistoric people it probably represented a channel to the gods," he said.

Local opposition

[ image: Philip Walker:
Philip Walker: "We will listen to local people"
There were concerns that a flood of tourists would damage the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) surrounding the location. The area is also an important bird sanctuary.

However, the removal of Seahenge has met strong local opposition. Inhabitants of the nearby village from Holme-next-the-Sea told the BBC they want it left where it is.

Philip Walker, of English Heritage, says they have consulted widely and have agreed the removal plan with local councils, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and English Nature. The excavations, commissioned out to the Norfolk Archaeological Unit, began on Wednesday.

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