Evidence uncovered by a Northumberland dig of the catastrophic event which helped cut Britain off from the Continent thousands of years ago has triggered an “emergency” grant of £70,000 to continue the excavations.
The archaeological investigation of a Bronze Age burial mound on the cliff side at Druridge Bay was due to end tomorrow.
But dig leader Dr Clive Waddington of Archaeological Research Services Ltd, backed by community volunteers, has revealed a layer of up to a metre deep of material deposited by a tsunami.
It is believed that this could have been part of an upheaval which made Britain an island, and could be of huge significance to researchers.
In what is known as the Storegga Slide, a huge section of the Norwegian coastal shelf collapsed, causing a tidal wave in the North Sea basin more than 8,000 years ago.
Dr Waddington believes that the tsunami layer at Druridge Bay shows that the tidal wave surged south along what is now the North East coast.
“It would have been a truly catastrophic event, with this huge wave carrying sediment dragged from the sea bed,” he said.
“The material, including huge blocks of stone, has been thrown up on to the coast which must have taken a great deal of energy. It would have extended several miles inland and would have had people running for the hills big-time.
“The extension to the dig will allow us to investigate when the tsunami took place, the direction of the wave and its power. It will document and flesh out the consequences of the Storegga Slide which contributed to Britain becoming an island and is a big part of our national history.”
Since the start of last month, the community dig has been investigating the 16-metre wide burial cairn, which is eroding into the sea.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded £285,000 to finance the Rescued From the Sea project at Low Hauxley, and has now quickly sanctioned the extra £70,000 which will allow another three weeks of work.
More volunteers are needed and people are asked to call 0191 284 6884.
The project is being run by Northumberland Wildlife Trust and spokesman Steve Lowe said: “The discoveries made on the site are most significant in terms of telling us about the event linked to the point at which Britain became an island. We are very pleased that the HLF has pulled out all the stops and granted the extra funding in such a short space of time.”
The extension will also enable exploration of the earlier level beneath the tsunami layer where evidence is emerging of possible human activity after the Ice Age.
“This would be very significant in documenting early human presence in the area,” said Dr Waddington.
After the tsunami a new ground level formed and the dig has uncovered more than 10,000 flints which show that the area was well used by Stone Age people. “It looks like this is a place to which people are repeatedly returning,” said Dr Waddington.
The excavation has also shown that stone slabs from two Bronze Age grave chambers have been later used by the occupants of an Iron Age roundhouse identified on the site. “They have used the stone to make themselves a nice patio outside their house,” said Dr Waddington.