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HER Number:MDV7065
Name:Bronze Age Swords and Axes off Moor Sand, Devon

Summary

A significant assemblage of Bronze Age metalwork has been recovered from the sea bed off Moor Sand. The artefacts unlikely to be the result of coastal erosion and appear to represent the loss or deposition at sea of a signifant assemblage of metalwork around the 13th century BC with a subsequent deposition(s) or loss(es) in the 10th-9th centuries BC. A second, probably related site, has also been found within the area of the 17th century Salcombe wreck.

Location

Grid Reference:SX 759 361
Map Sheet:SX73NE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishChivelstone
Civil ParishEast Portlemouth
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishOFFSHORE

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: 1082109
  • National Trust SMR: 100596
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX73NE/17
  • Tide Project: 24/03/2020

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • ARTEFACT SCATTER (Bronze Age - 2200 BC to 701 BC (Between))
  • WRECK (Bronze Age - 2200 BC to 701 BC)

Full description

Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology, Development File (Unknown). SDV156767.

Other details: File 56.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, SX73NE13 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV156775.

Gehrels, R., The Sea-level History and Coastal Geomorphology of Moor Sand, South Devon (Un-published). SDV339424.

A review of the relative sea-level changes along the south Devon coast suggests that at 1100 BC the site would have been at a depth of 5 metres to 8 metres. The cliffs around Moor Sand are relatively stable, and coastal retreat cannot satisfactorily explain the position of the bronze weapons. The study supports the hypothesis that the site is a shipwreck.

Branigan, K., 1970, Wessex and Mycenae: some evidence reviewed, 89-107 (Article in Serial). SDV156784.

Silvester, R. J., 1977, Salcombe Swords (Correspondence). SDV354677.

Correspondence concerning the discovery of two Bronze Age swords off Gammon Head. Also some newspaper cuttings.

A letter from The University of Sheffield describe one of the swords as being 26 inches long and include a tang at one end, it appears to be a Rixheim type blade but with a harrow rat tang (in fact a rod-tang). It is thought to be 12th century BC, from anywhere between northwest France and northern Italy, best guess would be Central Europe (south Germany or northwest Switzerland). The finds are due to be published in the Nautical Archaeology.

Letter from the Devon Archaeological Society to the University of Sheffield state that the two weapons were found on the sea bed near Gammon Head (SX7635) but the exact location has not yet been divulged. The finder intends to revisit the site in the near future to undertake a further search and determine whether the site can be protected under the 1973 Act concerning wrecks. The photo from the finder indicates that there is grooved decoration near the shaft. The second blade is not described but from the photo it appears to be approximately 37cm long and 2cm wide but is in much poorer condition.

The various 1977 newspaper articles mention the divers found the swords in 20ft of water off Gammon Head and are described as being made of bronze and are believed to date to the Bronze Age. Both blades were found in the same locality, lying on top of gravel in a dense kelp forest. The best preserved sword was in such good condition that it was hard to believe it had been in the sea for more than a few months. They may well be the earliest imported swords yet discovered in Britain. Following the discovery of the swords a group of divers sponsored by the British Museum, the British Academy and the National Maritime Museum were investigating if there was further evidence of a wreck.

One article reports that six Bronze Age implements including two axe heads and a rare and beautiful sword are being examined by the British Museum The weapons were found during a series of dives off the Devon coast near Salcombe.

Baker, P., 1977, The Salcombe Swords (Report - non-specific). SDV156757.

'Moor Sand Wreck'. Two bronze age weapons were found while instructing beginners in skin diving. The sword was in excellent condition, but the dagger had a badly worn narrower blade. Both blades lay exposed, wholly unattached to the gravel, in gullies between weed covered rocks at about 6 metre depth. Prof K Branigan; the sword can be placed in the 11th - 12th centuries BC, and came from somewhere in western or central Europe. Its blade shows many features of the Rixheim swords, both in general shape and in such details as the broad shallow grooving and low central rib, and decorative arcs at the base of the blade. The rod tang, however is not usually associated with this form of blade, although it is found on other swords of the same period and from the same areas. The sword may well have arrived off the coast of Devon in antiquity. The finder wishes to have the swords displayed in a museum and have the area in which they were found protected as a wreck.

Unknown, 1977, Unknown (Article in Serial). SDV156768.

Anonymous, 1978, Moor Sand, Salcombe. Prehistoric wreck site. (Article in Monograph). SDV156777.

Areas of sediment checked with diver operated metal detectors. Bedrock searched visually. It cannot be categorically stated that this is a wreck site, although it may well be one. Site designated under Protection of Wrecks Act.

Muckelroy, K., 1978, Unknown, 1 (Article in Serial). SDV156770.

Baker, P. + Branigan, K., 1978, Unknown, 149-151 (Article in Serial). SDV156776.

Muckelroy, K. + Baker, P., 1979, Unknown, 189-210 (Article in Serial). SDV156774.

Muckelroy, K. + Baker, P., 1980, The Bronze Age site off Moor Sand, Salcombe, Devon. Interim report on the 1979 season, 155-158 (Article in Serial). SDV156773.

Muckelroy, K., 1980, Two Bronze Age Cargoes in British Waters (Article in Serial). SDV358791.

Muckelroy, K., 1980, Unknown (Article in Serial). SDV156758.

An investigation was sponsored by the National Maritime Museum, British Museum and British Academy, the British Museum providing assistance with conservation of objects found. Three further bronze objects - two axe heads and a blade - were found, increasing the likelihood of a wreck site. The site at a depth of 6 metres - 14 metres, mostly covered with tall seaweed, sand, rocks and gravel is exposed to south and south west winds. By the end of 1979 seven bronzes had been recovered, including two palstaves and four eroded blades as well as the original sword.

Muckelroy, K., 1981, Middle Bronze Age Trade between Britain and Europe, 275-297 (Article in Serial). SDV156780.

Anonymous, 1981, Untitled Source, 30 (Article in Monograph). SDV156760.

Further surveying planned for 1981. Bronze sword and other artefacts recovered from site now on display in British Museum.

Unknown, 1982, Unknown (Article in Serial). SDV156761.

Press report on recent unauthorised diving.

Dudley, E. R., 1983, Salcombe - Bronze Age Offshore Site (Worksheet). SDV156783.

Pearce, S. M., 1983, The Bronze Age Metalwork of South Western Britain, 437 (Monograph). SDV341822.

Found on the sea bed off Moor Sand, 3 kilometres east of the bar at the entrance to Salcombe Estuary;
a) sword, midrib with grooves on either side V-shaped shoulders, narrow rod, tang bent over length 640mm, width 38mm
b) blade, abraded by sea action length 384mm, width 21mm
c) blade, abraded by sea action length 195mm, width 10mm
d) blade, abraded by sea action length 237mm, width 18mm
e) blade, abraded by sea action length 315mm, width 24mm, spatulate shape
f) palstave, miscast loopless length 142mm, width 30mm
g) palstave, loop missing length 126mm, width 30mm.
Found dispersed on sea bed, apparently deriving from a Bronze Age wreck, the site of which remains as yet undiscovered.

Dean, M., 1983, Unknown (Article in Monograph). SDV156762.

Survey work by Martin Dean (National Maritime Museum) in 1982 produced another sword, short with a flanged hilt, the 8th bronze from the site. It is suggested that the finds could be coming from an eroded land site rather than a wreck.

Dudley, E. R., 1983, Worksheet (Worksheet). SDV156763.

Sketch given on worksheet.

Muckelroy, K. + Baker, P., 1986, The Bronze Age site off Moor Sand, Salcombe, Devon. Interim report on the 1979 season, 155-158 (Article in Serial). SDV156786.

Dean, M., 1988, Assessment of the Bronze Age Site at Moorsand, near Salcombe, Devon (Report - non-specific). SDV339421.

Seabed is of rocky gullies filled with semi-mobile mixtures of sand, gravel and pebbles. Heavy week growth on solid rock outcrops.

Eames, K., 1989, South Pool, Devon: An Archaeological Survey, 26 (Report - Survey). SDV156787.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 1996, Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites Annual Report, 30 (Report - non-specific). SDV358080.

Archaeological Diving Unit, 1998, Moor Sand, Salcombe, Devon (Report - non-specific). SDV339420.

Probably not a Bronze Age wreck, but a site where material collects after being eroded from the adjacent shore.

Waterhouse, R. E., 2000, East Portlemouth Heritage Appraisal: An Archaeological History of the Parish, 8 (Report - non-specific). SDV161003.

Hoard of bronze axe heads and swords found in the sea off Moor Sands could be the result of coastal erosion from a land-based smith's burial site of scrap metal awaiting later retrieval .

Parham, D., 2004, Moor Sands Site (Report - non-specific). SDV323453.

Swimover of the main part of the site, in 20 metre visibility, recorded no signs of made objects or human interference with the site.

Oldham, N., 2004, Moorsands Historic Wreck Site Salcombe (Report - non-specific). SDV323450.

Visual and metal detection survey of protected area by the southwest Nautical Archaeological Society Group continued, and the Broadbeam survey (by ADU) of the eastern side of Salcombe Estuary were carried out in 2004. In 2005 it is proposed to survey a corridor from the west edge of the site to the area where the first finds were made in 1977.

Oldham, N. + Parham, D., 2004, Moorsands Historic Wreck Site Salcombe 2004 Report (Un-published). SDV358797.

Palmer, B. M., 2004, Salcombe Site B (Report - Interim). SDV323455.

Survey to the south of the site in September 2004 recorded a number of bronze artefacts on the surface of the seabed. It is probable that seabed levels have reduced in the area this season. If such reduction has occurred it cannot be quantified, as seabed monitors have yet to be placed in the area. In 2000 a bronze blade was recovered. In 2001 a circular bronze ring, which was suggested by Martin Dean and Annabel Lawrence to be a pot handle, probably from a 17th century wreck. In the light of the 2004 recoveries, the team suggest the possibility that a Bronze Age wreck may be present on the site. The palstave axe heads appear consistent with a Bronze Age date, as does the pot handle (citing Cunliffe, with no further reference).

South West Maritine Archaeological Group, 2005, Bronze Age Site Meeting (Un-published). SDV351431.

Summary of finds given. The assemblage is dated to circa 1300-1150BC with the exception of a hilt fragment of a probable Carp's Tongue sword which would date to circa 950-800BC.

Maritime & Coastguard Agency, 2005, Devon divers find 3000 year old Bronze Age artefacts on shipwreck site (Un-published). SDV323395.

Divers discovered a submerged hoard of Bronze Age artefacts within the protected area of the Salcombe Cannon Shipwreck site. The finds included swords, rapiers, pastave axe heads, an adze, a cauldron handle and a gold bracelet were being studied by the British Museum in 2005. The artefacts belong to the same phase as those found at 'Moor Sands' and may have come from the same vessel.

Needham, S., 2005, Summary of Finds from Moor Sand and Salcombe Site B (Un-published). SDV320790.

Finds made between 1977-1983 of palstave and swords date to circa 1300BC-1150BC with the exception of the hilt fragment of a probable Carp's Tongue sword which would date to circa 950BC-800BC. Finds of blades armlets and other items were made in 2001 and 2004 dated to circa 1300-1150 BC with the exception of one modern knurled ring.

Oldham, N. + Parham, D., 2006, Moorsands Historic Wreck Site, Salcombe. 2006 Report (Report - non-specific). SDV339423.

Griffith, F. M. + Wilkes, E. M., 2006, The Land Named from the Sea? Coastal Archaeology and Place-names of Bigbury Bay, Devon, 71, 86 (Article in Serial). SDV339814.

Seabed scatter of artefacts dated to the 13th century BC includes bronze and gold implements and ornaments in northern French styles. The assemblage has been interpreted as scrap metal imported into Britain for reworking. The presence of the Bronze Age cargo may indicate either that the mariners were trying to reach the coast or that they were trying to avoid it.

Yates, C., 2009, Moor Sand and Salcombe Cannon Sites, End of Season Report 2009 (Report - Survey). SDV347977.


The licensees of the Moor Sand and Salcombe Cannon Sites have agreed that the archaeology takes precedence over site boundaries and the sitesare now being investigated as a single project. The artefacts found in 2009 have increased the number of of recorded Bronze Age by 100% and constitute approximately 70% of all Bronze Age copper ingots in the UK. The ingots are believed to be of continental origin and therefore would be clear evidence of cross channel trade. The distribution of artefacts is very wide and there appears to be distinct types of artefacts in distinct areas. The most likely explanation for this distribution pattern is that the site consists of the wrecks of a number of vessels.

Needham, S. + Parham, D. + Frieman, C. J., 2013, Claimed by the Sea: Salcombe, Langdon Bay, and other Marine Finds of the Bronze Age (Monograph). SDV360965.

Detailed history of the discovery, environment and interpretations of two Bronze Age metalwork assemblages recovered from the seabed at Langdon Bay near Dover in Kent and Moor Sand near Salcombe.
The site at Moor Sand comprises two groups of Bronze Age objects; Moor Sand which is between 50 and 400 metres off the beach of the same name and Salcombe B, a little further out to sea to the west. It is possible that the two sites represent the dispersal of material from a single original site. The site of Moor Sand was originally discovered in 1977 and archaeological work took place here between 1978 and 1982 and a limited watching brief has been held on the site subsequently. Salcombe B, within the area of the main 17th century site (Salcombe A), was not discovered until 2004 and extensive fieldwork in 2005 recovered additional significant Bronze Age material. Subsequent work has continued to produce more material (although only that recovered to December 2005 is included in the report).
The material from Salcombe B appears contemporary with Moor Sand although it also includes gold jewellery and a Bronze Age object of Mediterranean origin.
The site(s) date from circa 1300-1200BC at which time the sea would have been 5-8 metres deep. It is considered, therefore, that the materials were probably transported to their locations rather than being the result of coastal erosion.
Objects recovered from Moor Sand and Salcombe B include palstaves, palstave adzes, swords, a cauldron handle, gold bracelets and an object described as an 'instrumento con immanicatura a cannone' paralleled in Sicily. Two metalworking phases are represented, and appear to represent the loss or deposition at sea of a signifant assemblage of metalwork around the 13th century BC with a subsequent deposition(s) or loss(es) in the 10th-9th centuries BC.
See report for full details.

English Heritage, 2013, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV350785.

Moor Sand. Off Moor Sand, near Gammon Head, Devon. An assemblage of Middle Bronze Age weapons thought to represent part of a contemporary cargo and thereby indicative of a shipwreck, off Moor Sand. Dated to around the twelfth century BC, swords, palstaves, and other bronze materials have been recovered, thought to have been manufactured in France. If this is the case, then France may have been the de facto departure point of any wrecked vessel.
This site consists of a scatter of eight Middle Bronze Age (twelfth century BC) implements, discovered between 1977 and 1982. The assemblage indicates that a prehistoric boat may have sunk at this point about 3,000 years ago, although the assemblage may have been eroded from adjacent cliffs (though this is considered to be less likely).
The initial discovery of a bronze sword was made by divers on a YHA training course at Salcombe. Additional searches by the instructor and trainees yielded an eroded bronze blade which was followed by the recovery of a further five Bronze Age items after systematic searching. In 1982, a sword handle was discovered exposed on rock in an area thoroughly searched in previous years. All eight finds were acquired by the British Museum.

Pink, F., 2014, South Devon Coast Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey Desk-Based Assessment (Interpretation). SDV357736.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV156757Report - non-specific: Baker, P.. 1977. The Salcombe Swords. Unknown.
SDV156758Article in Serial: Muckelroy, K.. 1980. Unknown. Antiquity. 54. Photocopy.
SDV156760Article in Monograph: Anonymous. 1981. Archaeology in Devon. Unknown. 30.
SDV156761Article in Serial: Unknown. 1982. Unknown. Western Morning News. Newspaper/Magazine Cuttin.
SDV156762Article in Monograph: Dean, M.. 1983. Unknown. Archaeology in Devon. 6. Unknown.
SDV156763Worksheet: Dudley, E. R.. 1983. Worksheet. Worksheet.
SDV156767Unknown: Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology. Development File. Unknown.
SDV156768Article in Serial: Unknown. 1977. Unknown. Western Morning News. Newspaper/Magazine Cuttin.
SDV156770Article in Serial: Muckelroy, K.. 1978. Unknown. Nautical Archaeology Society Newsletter. 3. Unknown. 1.
SDV156773Article in Serial: Muckelroy, K. + Baker, P.. 1980. The Bronze Age site off Moor Sand, Salcombe, Devon. Interim report on the 1979 season. Nautical Archaeology Society Newsletter. 9.2. Photocopy + Digital. 155-158.
SDV156774Article in Serial: Muckelroy, K. + Baker, P.. 1979. Unknown. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 8.3. Paperback Volume. 189-210.
SDV156775Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. SX73NE13. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV156776Article in Serial: Baker, P. + Branigan, K.. 1978. Unknown. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 7.2. Paperback Volume. 149-151.
SDV156777Article in Monograph: Anonymous. 1978. Moor Sand, Salcombe. Prehistoric wreck site.. Archaeology in Devon. Unknown.
SDV156780Article in Serial: Muckelroy, K.. 1981. Middle Bronze Age Trade between Britain and Europe. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 47. Paperback Volume. 275-297.
SDV156783Worksheet: Dudley, E. R.. 1983. Salcombe - Bronze Age Offshore Site. Worksheet + Digital.
SDV156784Article in Serial: Branigan, K.. 1970. Wessex and Mycenae: some evidence reviewed. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Magazine. 65b. Newspaper/Magazine Cuttin. 89-107.
SDV156786Article in Serial: Muckelroy, K. + Baker, P.. 1986. The Bronze Age site off Moor Sand, Salcombe, Devon. Interim report on the 1979 season. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 9. A4 Stapled + Digital. 155-158.
SDV156787Report - Survey: Eames, K.. 1989. South Pool, Devon: An Archaeological Survey. A4 Stapled + Digital. 26.
SDV161003Report - non-specific: Waterhouse, R. E.. 2000. East Portlemouth Heritage Appraisal: An Archaeological History of the Parish. Unknown. 8.
SDV320790Un-published: Needham, S.. 2005. Summary of Finds from Moor Sand and Salcombe Site B. A4 Single Sheet + Digital.
SDV323395Un-published: Maritime & Coastguard Agency. 2005. Devon divers find 3000 year old Bronze Age artefacts on shipwreck site. Press Release. Newspaper/Magazine Cuttin.
SDV323450Report - non-specific: Oldham, N.. 2004. Moorsands Historic Wreck Site Salcombe. Unknown.
SDV323453Report - non-specific: Parham, D.. 2004. Moor Sands Site. Archaeological Advisor's Report. Unknown.
SDV323455Report - Interim: Palmer, B. M.. 2004. Salcombe Site B. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV339420Report - non-specific: Archaeological Diving Unit. 1998. Moor Sand, Salcombe, Devon. Archaeological Diving Unit Report. 98/18. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV339421Report - non-specific: Dean, M.. 1988. Assessment of the Bronze Age Site at Moorsand, near Salcombe, Devon. Archaeological Diving Unit Report. 034. Digital.
SDV339423Report - non-specific: Oldham, N. + Parham, D.. 2006. Moorsands Historic Wreck Site, Salcombe. 2006 Report. Description and Photograph. a4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV339424Un-published: Gehrels, R.. The Sea-level History and Coastal Geomorphology of Moor Sand, South Devon. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV339814Article in Serial: Griffith, F. M. + Wilkes, E. M.. 2006. The Land Named from the Sea? Coastal Archaeology and Place-names of Bigbury Bay, Devon. Archaeological Journal. 163. A5 Paperback. 71, 86.
SDV341822Monograph: Pearce, S. M.. 1983. The Bronze Age Metalwork of South Western Britain. British Archaeological Reports. 120. Photocopy. 437.
SDV347977Report - Survey: Yates, C.. 2009. Moor Sand and Salcombe Cannon Sites, End of Season Report 2009. South West Maritime Archaeological Group Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV350785National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2013. National Heritage List for England. Historic Houses Register. Digital.
SDV351431Un-published: South West Maritine Archaeological Group. 2005. Bronze Age Site Meeting. Minutes of South West Maritime Archaeological Group Meetings. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV354677Correspondence: Silvester, R. J.. 1977. Salcombe Swords. Letters + Cuttings. A4 Unbound.
SDV357736Interpretation: Pink, F.. 2014. South Devon Coast Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey Desk-Based Assessment. AC Archaeology Report. ACD618/4/3. Digital.
Linked documents:1
SDV358080Report - non-specific: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 1996. Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites Annual Report. Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2010. A4 Stapled. 30.
SDV358791Article in Serial: Muckelroy, K.. 1980. Two Bronze Age Cargoes in British Waters. Antiquity. LIV. Photocopy + Digital.
SDV358797Un-published: Oldham, N. + Parham, D.. 2004. Moorsands Historic Wreck Site Salcombe 2004 Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV360965Monograph: Needham, S. + Parham, D. + Frieman, C. J.. 2013. Claimed by the Sea: Salcombe, Langdon Bay, and other Marine Finds of the Bronze Age. Claimed by the Sea: Salcombe, Langdon Bay, and other Marine Finds of the Bronze Age. 173. Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV4848Related to: Early Medieval Settlement at Meadowsfoot Beach (Monument)
MDV40102Related to: Enclosures near Mount Folly Farm, Bigbury (Monument)
MDV58271Related to: Salcombe Cannon Wreck (Maritime)

Associated Finds

  • FDV1111 - UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT (Bronze Age - 2200 BC to 701 BC)
  • FDV141 - PALSTAVE (Middle Bronze Age - 1300 BC to 1150 BC)
  • FDV143 - SWORD (Middle Bronze Age - 1300 BC to 1150 BC)
  • FDV144 - SWORD (Late Bronze Age - 1000 BC to 701 BC)

Associated Events

  • EDV2754 - Unnamed Event
  • EDV2755 - Swimover Survey
  • EDV2756 - Broadbeam Survey
  • EDV4293 - ADU Assessment, Moorsand
  • EDV6587 - Archaeological Assessment of Land between Bolt Heat and Bolt Tail

Date Last Edited:Mar 24 2020 2:12PM