Coastal erosion and deposition is a theme that is currently relevant in places such as Happisburgh and Easton Bavents along the East Coast. It has also been a constant theme throughout history and extends back into the geological timescale.
Coastal erosion caused by storms has destroyed most of the once major medieval port of Dunwich in Suffolk, and deposition of sandbanks at Great Yarmouth enabled the town to develop, and the silting up of the river Yare's mouth over 250 years caused the harbour to be relocated 7 times. Ancient settlements such as Snitterly and Shipden have been replaced by their modern counterparts at Blakeney and Cromer respectively.
Many villages and towns along the East Coast were subjected to intense flooding within living memory in the Flood of 1953.
The beach and cliffs of the coast from Cromer to Walton are sources of much beachcombed and excavated marine life and fossils. The coast is also of course home to birds and other wildlife. Ironically, winter waves and storms which scour out the cliffs uncover long-buried geological remains which were deposited when the coastline was much further out than at present.
Romano-British populations made salt at the Wash and near Burnham-on-Crouch. Back further in time, a Bronze Age community erected the enigmatic 'SeaHenge' at Holme-next-the-Sea. At the time of its construction it was not near the sea, it is the advance of the sea inland which has given it part of its name.
West Runton Elephant part 1. The Background.
The story begins on 13 December 1990 when, following a stormy night, local residents Harold and Margaret Hems took a walk on the beach. They found a large bone partly exposed at the bottom of the cliffs, and contacted Cromer Museum and the Norfolk Museums Service. It was identified as a pelvic bone of a large elephant. Just over a year later after another storm, several more huge bones were uncovered. This was obviously a find of major significance, and in January 1992 the first exploratory excavation took place. Once the results of this had been evaluated, a second major 3 month excavation followed in 1995.
The “West Runton Freshwater Bed” is a five-foot thick layer of organic-rich mud deposited by a medium sized river about six hundred thousand (600,000) to seven hundred thousand years ago, long before the last ice age. This deposit, just east of West Runton on the North Norfolk coast, is full of all sorts of fossils. These range from thousands of small snail shells, twigs and small mammal bones, through medium sized deer, horse and rhino bones to the huge bones of elephants that roamed our country in herds back then. There have been many species of elephant living in England over the last few millions of years. The West Runton Elephant, living when the Freshwater Bed was laid down, was the Steppe Mammoth Mammuthus trogontherii.
This was the largest species of elephant that has ever lived, and the largest animal ever to have lived on land except for the very biggest dinosaurs. Standing four metres high at its shoulder, it would have weighed about ten tons – twice the weight of any male African elephant you would find today. It is the largest elephant skeleton ever found and is the oldest elephant skeleton to have been found in the UK (some individual bones or teeth from elsewhere are older, but none make even a partial skeleton). The West Runton Elephant skeleton is also the best example of this species ever to have been found. Previously the best were two partial skeletons, one in Germany and the other in Russia, both only about 10-15% complete. The WRE skeleton is about 85% complete.
Because the West Runton Freshwater Bed is the “type site” for the Cromerian Interglacial it is the benchmark that all other countries in Europe use when studying their own deposits of a similar age. That is why when the first bones of the elephant were discovered after storms in the winters of 1990 and 1992, the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service applied for funding to excavate the site more fully to unearth the rest of what this very important find. It was clearly also a good chance to study other aspects of the site in more detail. To find such a complete skeleton during the 1995 excavation, so well preserved and with so many other bones, was a very welcome surprise.
Theme: Coastal Environment
Exhibition: West Runton Elephant
James Stevens no.14 at the October MHE 2008 event
Bow Pudding of restored lifeboat
W Hammond's RNLI Certificate
Walton Maritime Museum Volunteers with the James Stephens No.14 in October 2008
black and white photograph of Cromer coxswain Henry Blogg with the Prince of Wales at a presentation ceremony in the Central Hall, Westminster, London
West Runton Elephant. A reconstruction drawing by Sam Brown of the likely appearance of the West Runton elephant.
Gansey knitting stick or shield
Cromer Museum have kindly invited me to come & do my Propagansey talk & display this Satu…