The Shiprwrecks of Salcombe

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You can find cheap holiday deals to places around Devon online. Salcombe is not too far from Plymouth, so as you can imagine, has a long marine history. Salcombe seafront, which lies in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is on the Erme Estuary. The estuary is known as a shipping hazard. This is because there is a reef that blocks entrance to the estuary and ships can get stuck on it. In the past, some of these ships sank to the seabed below and there are a number of wrecks in the area, one of which is particularly significant.

Perhaps the most exciting shipwreck of the few that have been discovered off the coast of Salcombe, is the Bronze Age wreck. The South West Maritime Archaeological Group (SWMA) had been diving in the area for about fifteen years before the largest find a couple of years ago. Early discoveries they made were a few gold coins, dating it to between 1200 and 900BC. In that largest find, the SWMA brought up almost 300 Bronze Age objects from the seabed. Among the finds were a gold bracelet and a Bronze Age leaf sword. There were also hundreds of copper and tin ingots, the raw forms used to make bronze. The finds point toward a complex trading system that existed before the Roman Empire. This evidence of such a large amount of raw materials being sailed to the UK from Europe is very important historically, as there had been no proof such trading took place before. Between 2004-2008 seventy-six objects were found and before that, in the late seventies and early eighties just eight objects were found. So almost 300 in one year is really something. Unfortunately, the ship itself has, in the elapsed time, disintegrated, making it harder for a definitive story to be pieced together. On the other hand, it is the absence of the iron components that would have been left if the ship had been Iron Age or later, that further support the wreck dating from the Bronze Age.

Another notable wreck is the Salcombe Cannon Wreck. In the early nineties there was a shift on the seabed that lifted some artefacts to its surface. Gold and jewellery were found as well as coins dating from between 1510 and1636. The British Museum bought them in 1998.

One Swedish gun from the 1600s has been recovered and there are at least four iron guns still down there, but at the moment there is a layer of sand over many artefacts yet to be recovered.

Although the British Museum owns many of the artefacts discovered at the two sites, it does occasionally loan some of them to the local museum. The International Shipwreck Conference is held annually in nearby Plymouth at the University of Plymouth.

It is worth doing some research to see if you can time a visit to coincide with the museum having some of the artefacts on display, or with the conference, which is relatively inexpensive to attend.

John Hutchinson has enjoyed travelling since he was a young boy when his parents first took him to visit family overseas. Since leaving home, John has tracked down family all over the world and regularly jets off to faraway lands to see distant relatives.