Could archaeologists be about to uncover an early Bronze Age settlement on the cliffs of Seven Sisters?

By Culture24 Reporter | 02 September 2016

After a century of searching, a National Trust-backed set of excavations expects to find evidence of the Bronze Age on some of Sussex's most scenic hills

A photo of the cliffs at Seven sisters and birling gap in sussex
The Seven Sisters, with Belle Tout on the far right© National Trust / David Sellman
A huge outer earthwork, stretching across 1.2 kilometres of the beautiful hilltop of Belle Tout on top of the Seven Sisters cliff, was probably part of an early Bronze Age settlement. Archaeologists are about to get to work on a coastal site they describe as a mystery in their field, with their plans including laser scans, environmental scanning and analysis of microscopic snails which can only exist in certain habitats.

They don’t know when the hilltop enclosure was built, and their previous discoveries in the area have ranged from prehistoric flintwork to early Bronze Age Beaker pottery. “We don’t know for sure how much we’ve lost over the last 6,000 years due to coastal erosion,” says Tom Dommett, the National Trust Archaeologist and key man on the Seven Sisters Archaeology Project, underlining the urgency of the latest work.

A photo of the cliffs at Seven sisters and birling gap in sussex
© National Trust / John Miller
“But there is a good case for saying it was the largest prehistoric enclosure in the country. We will be investigating the heart of the settlement – likely to be Bronze Age.

“This is one of the most ancient and fascinating archaeological sites in Sussex. The site at Belle Tout is already a scheduled ancient monument – a site of national importance.”

A photo of the cliffs at Seven sisters and birling gap in sussex
Radar technology over the cliffs© National Trust
A century of searching has resulted in few groundbreaking finds. Modern science, suggests Dommett, could make the breakthrough now, helped by 25 volunteers sticking to a distance of ten metres from the cliff edge.

“This is the gold standard in terms of archaeology research - and rightly so,” he says. “Conceivably it will be the last chance to undertake this work before the areas are gone due to coastal erosion.

A photo of the cliffs at Seven sisters and birling gap in sussex
© National Trust / Megan Taylor
“We have worked closely with Historic England and with Natural England to enable this important project to take place in such a sensitive area.” Public tours of the trenches will take place during the 15-day project.

  • Runs September 6-21. Tours run 11am with extra sessions at 2pm on weekends. A finds processing area will open at the Birling Gap Visitor Centre on September 11. Visit the homepage at the National Trust for more.
A photo of the cliffs at Seven sisters and birling gap in sussex
© National Trust / Megan Taylor
Three places to discover archaeology in Sussex

Lewes Castle and Barbican House Museum
Lewes Castle is one of the oldest castles in England, built soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Over the years it was extended and altered and its high keep and towers still dominate the town.

Arundel Museum
The state-of-the-art museum has been designed to provide visitors to Arundel with a fascinating insight into the history of the town and its people. There's a children's trail and a chance to handle and learn more about some of the exhibits.

Battle Abbey
The exciting new exhibition, 1066: The Battle for England, uses the latest technology and interactive displays to draw a vivid picture of the social and political events, both for Saxons and Normans, of the years which led up to the conflict, and illustrates the impact this pivotal battle had on shaping English history.
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