Examination of a variety of aerial photographs, to National Mapping Programme (NMP) standards has provided a comprehensive record of all the archaeological features that are visible on aerial photographs in Suffolk's coastal zone, river estuaries and the surrounding areas.
The NMP project was part of the Suffolk County Council Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey of Suffolk (RCZAS), which also involved a field survey project of the inter-tidal areas.
Intertidal, coastal and estuarine archaeology
The archaeology of the Suffolk coast has been influenced and affected by a variety of factors. These are both historical, such as the medieval drainage and reclamation of the salt marsh, and on going, such as coastal erosion and accretion, river dredging and housing development.
The NMP project was particularly focused on the coastal and inter-tidal zones, where sites are often located in areas that ground-based surveys can find difficult to reach. Reviewing historic photography dating from the 1940s onwards enabled the recording of features in these zones that have since been lost to erosion or obscured by shifting river silts.
On the eroding coast most features surveyed related to coastal anti-invasion defences from the Second World War, whilst in the areas of reclamation there were Roman salt production sites and features relating to post-medieval drainage.
In the inter-tidal zone of the estuaries, timber structures of varying dates were recorded along with post medieval oyster pits. On the higher ground above the estuaries, fragments of extensive prehistoric or Roman ditched field systems are visible as cropmarks.
The project also mapped and recorded some of the archaeology that is located inland of the coast and estuaries in order to give a better understanding of Suffolk's coast in the past. This means it has been possible to accurately record for the first time some of Suffolk's earliest historic landscapes that are visible as cropmarks on the aerial photographs.
The NMP results paint a picture of a coastline with a complex topographical and archaeological history and with huge potential for further research.
A brief but dramatic effect
The Second World War had a brief but dramatic impact on the Suffolk coast. Following the invasion of France in 1940, extensive coastal anti-invasion defences were rapidly constructed that stretched almost continuously along the coast.
On contemporary wartime photographs it is possible to see these defences in great detail, ranging from anti-aircraft gun batteries to barbed wire barriers and individual pillboxes. Most of these defences were quickly removed once the war ended, but it is important that the complexity of their original form is recorded to help us understand what remains today.
The publication 'Suffolk's Defended Shore' examines the remains of the coastal defences and can be purchased from English Heritage Publications.
The images used on this page are copyright English Heritage unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the English Heritage Archive.
For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Aerial Survey team please contact us by email via the link above.