Brightly coloured seaweeds were washing ashore at Studland Bay in Dorset on 21st May 2017. Isolated clumps of vivid red, green, and brown soft seaweeds, that looked attractive floating in the clear shallow water, or scattered individually on the yellow ribbed sand, soon accumulated into thick solid multi-coloured mats undulating on the water’s edge. When a mat of algae like this is pushed high with the rising tide, and left stranded on the upper beach, it decays rapidly to become what the human eye perceives as a rather smelly, ugly mess. For every other organism large or small on the beach, rotting seaweed is a marvellous bonanza of food and shelter, which also helps to stabilise the sandy beach for further colonisation by plants.
As you walk east along the shore at Seatown in Dorset, you reach Ridge Cliff from which numerous boulders have fallen over the years, and accumulated across the beach and into the water. What is most interesting is the great variety of shapes, colours, textures, and compositions. They represent all the different strata that make up the 80 metre high cliffs.
I am delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of a brilliant new book called Molluscs in Archaeology – methods, approaches and applications edited by Michael J. Allen and published as part of the Studying Scientific Archaeology Series (3) by Oxbow Books. I have myself contributed a chapter on Oysters in Archaeology to this book, summarising my past research and suggesting new ways forward using latest technologies. It is available at a pre-publication discounted price for a limited period. See the details below. You can also download a list of the contents and a copy of the application form as pdf files.
A large rock that had rolled down from the top of the cliffs at Seatown in Dorset was lying on the pebbles of the beach. It was yellow and rusty coloured. At this point along the shore, called Ridge Cliff, the rocks belong to the Dyrham Formation of the Liassic/Jurassic period. The lower section of the cliff is the Eype Clay Member of pale, blue-grey micaceous silty mudstone and shale. Above that is the Down Cliff Sand Member mostly of silts and fine sands with thin lenticles of hard calcareous sandstone. On top of this is the Thorncombe Sand Member with yellow-weathering, heavily bioturbated sands, with several horizons of large rounded calcareously cemented concretions. This boulder obviously came from one of these upper sandstone layers but I cannot say which one. Its broken edge revealed lovely abstract patterns and beautiful crystals.
The beach at Seatown in Dorset comprises a series of steep pebble banks. You can see how far up the shore the last high tide has been by the line of natural debris extending along the shore parallel to the water’s edge. On this occasion the strandline was almost entirely made up of dried red seaweed which contrasted well with the pebbles. Quite a number of white cuttlefish bones rested on the weed. I am fascinated by their beautiful structure. For some reason, the shape of the more concave surface (as in image 5) always makes me think of angels.
The shingle shore at Whitstable in Kent is protected by massive wooden groynes or breakwaters. At the time of my visit, the tide was high and the flint and other mostly worm-holed pebbles were steeply banked. The flat top of the beach was stabilised by vegetation with pink and white valerian and yellow ragwort the most colourful flowers. Pale bands of white empty oyster shells (mostly the rock oyster Crassostrea gigas) were high, dry, and dull on the shingle between the groynes; while lower down splashed by waves or heaped up against the wooden sea defence structures was a great variety of other empty shells including winkles, cockles, mussels, limpets, slipper limpets, whelks, netted whelks, Manila clams, and sting winkles. These were jumbled up with wet and dry seaweed, horn wrack, small pieces of driftwood, and flotsam. There was a marked contrast in the appearance of the shells and stones between the water’s edge where the wet shells were brighter and more colourful and the upper shore where everything was dry.
Whitstable Woodgrain 1 – 9: Rust-stained woodgrain in old railway sleepers recycled as fencing at Whitstable Harbour, Kent, England.
Information boards in the harbour area at Whitstable say that in the late 1820’s a company was set up to build a railway line linking Canterbury and Whitstable and to construct a new harbour there. The railway opened in 1830 and was the first to carry passengers in trains drawn by steam power. At that time, on the hilly sections of the route, the trains were pulled on ropes reeled in by stationary steam-driven winding machines. Stephenson’s Invicta locomotive hauled trains along the flatter section of the line near Whitstable. Because of its seaside connections the railway was popularly known as the Crab and Winkle Line. The harbour was built two years later in 1832.
Eventually trade declined in the harbour and the railway closed in 1952. It is interesting to speculate whether the old timbers shown in these photographs with all their wear, rust stains, and drilled holes are the actual wooden sleepers from that old Crab and Winkle Line.