Mitigating heritage loss at Seaford Head

An Iron Age hill fort and multiperiod site under threat from coastal erosion at Seaford Head in East Sussex is being investigated as part of a new initiative tackling the wider problem of heritage loss. The project, funded by Historic England with support from Seaford Town Council, and led by Archaeology South-East, the Institute of Archaeology, and University College London, will develop a template for managing historic sites under threat, while encouraging public dialogue about the impact of environmental issues on coastal communities.

IMAGE: © Historic England Archive IMAGE: © Historic England Archive
IMAGE: © Historic England Archive

The first excavations of Seaford Head were carried out in 1876, by Lane Fox, who identified a Bronze Age bowl barrow, an Iron Age hillfort, and later Roman activity, said Jon Sygrave, project manager for Archaeology South-East. Further work by Owen Bedwin in the 1980s revealed that the fort was built in the early Iron Age, c.600-400 BC, Jon added, but there has been no systematic investigation of the monument or its interior.

The 4ha site sits on c.80m-high chalk cliffs overlooking the Channel and, although it is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and was added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register in November 2021, little can be done to prevent its ultimate loss from coastal erosion. Jon said there had been a substantial cliff-fall to the west of the site just last March, further destabilising the area. The new project aims to test rapid survey and project management techniques for dealing with heritage loss, which could be replicated elsewhere by other groups.

Working to gather data before the headland’s inevitable collapse, the team conducted desk-based research alongside on-site topographic, geophysical, and drone photogrammetry survey.

Public engagement in the project will be undertaken through a series of digital outputs funded by the South Downs National Park Authority, including a series of short films about heritage loss, the archaeology of the site, and the impact of coastal erosion, and podcasts on the project and wider heritage-loss issues. Links to these outputs will be posted at archaeology-south-east/seaford-head as they become available.

An archaeological report and management template will be published in due course, and we hope to bring you more about the project and its findings in a future feature.