‘Incredibly rare piece of history’: Ancient anchor found off the Suffolk coast during survey works for an offshore wind farm could date from ROMAN times, archaeologist claims

  • An anchor has been discovered during survey works for an offshore wind farm
  • The 15 stone artefact is thought to be between 1,600 and 2,000 years old
  • Archaeologists claim it could be from an ancient Roman merchant vessel
  • If confirmed, it would provide material evidence of Roman seafaring and trading

An anchor discovered during survey works for an offshore wind farm could date from Roman times or the late Iron Age, an archaeologist has claimed.

The 15 stone (100 kg) wrought iron anchor, which is over two metres (6′ 6″) long, was found at the bottom of the southern North Sea, off the Suffolk coast, in 2018.

This was during marine seabed survey works prior to construction of ScottishPower Renewables’ East Anglia ONE offshore wind farm. 

The artefact is thought to be somewhere between 1,600 to 2,000 years old, and could provide material evidence of ancient Romans’ seafaring and trading.

Brandon Mason from Maritime Archaeology Ltd described the anchor as ‘an incredibly rare piece of history’.

‘If this date is confirmed, it would be hard to overstate its significance,’ he said. 

‘We only know about three pre-Viking anchors from northern European waters outside the Mediterranean region and only two actually survived.

‘We believe this find could be the oldest and one of the largest surviving examples, giving us hard evidence of the incredible amount of activity that must have been going on in the waters in Roman times, but that we know relatively little about.’

The 15 stone (100 kg) wrought iron anchor, which is over two metres (6′ 6″) long, was found at the bottom of the southern North Sea in 2018

After its discovery, the anchor was protected by an exclusion zone and strictly monitored using remote underwater technology.

Last year, it was raised more than 140 feet by the Glomar Wave accommodation vessel around 25 miles off the coast of Suffolk before being taken to shore.

Several features on the anchor are comparable with those used on ships from the Imperial Roman period. 

It is believed to have come from one of the larger Roman merchant ships of the Classis Britannica fleet, that weighed between 500 and 600 tonnes.

Classis Britannica was the regional fleet of the Roman province of Britannia and the first navy of Britain.

It operated from the mid-first century to the mid-third century and employed merchant vessels to transport food, troops, horses and war machinery such as catapults and rams.

So far, very little physical maritime evidence of the fleet has been discovered.

The Romans used 10 regional fleets to cover different areas, and the Classis Britannica was the British equivalent. 

It was created from the 900 ships built for the Claudian invasion in the year 43 AD and staffed by about 7,000 personnel.

After the occupation of Britain, the role of the navy was to provide coastal support to land forces and control the waters around the Roman province of Britannia.

For example, the Classis would have scouted the coastline and resupplied the advancing legions as they pressed further north into tribal territories, establishing forts and temporary encampments during Agricola’s campaign into Caledonia (Scotland).

In the final years of Roman rule, the fleet was devoted almost entirely to protecting the Eastern and Southern coasts against Frankish pirates, and Saxon raids against coastal settlements. 

The anchor is currently undergoing detailed imaging and analysis to better pinpoint its age and provenance.

Conservation works are being carried out by Maritime Archaeology Ltd, Mary Rose Archaeological Services and Historic England.

It will then go on permanent display in conjunction with Colchester and Ipswich Museums in 2025.

Mr Mason added: ‘Everything points to this being a Roman anchor of almost 2,000 years old, which is an incredibly rare piece of history.

‘It’s an absolute privilege to bring the anchor to the surface and to share its story with people not just across the East of England, but right around the world.’

Stuart Churchley, Historic England marine planning archaeological officer, said: ‘The discovery of such a potentially significant anchor of this date, among the vast seafloor expanse of the southern North Sea, is testament to the careful and methodical steps taken by the East Anglia ONE project.

‘This area of the North Sea has been mapped and investigated in a way not completed before.’

The anchor is the latest in a series of historical finds during work on the wind farm.

These include a missing German submarine from the First World War and numerous artefacts from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Medieval periods.

Other finds include a prehistoric monument dating back more than 4,000 years, complete with a rare Neolithic wooden trackway and platform and an ancient wild cattle skull radiocarbon-dated to around 6,000 years ago.

Ross Ovens, ScottishPower Renewables’ managing director – East Anglia Hub – said: ‘Our East Anglia ONE wind farm has proven to be an archaeological treasure trove – both onshore and offshore – and this latest find shows that it just keeps giving.’ 


The anchor is believed to have come from one of the larger Roman merchant ships of the Classis Britannica fleet, that weighed between 500 and 600 tonnes. Left: A Roman naval bireme depicted in a relief from the Temple of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste, Italy, which was built c. 120 BC. Right: Graphic showing fleet of ancient Roman warships (stock image)

A 4,000-year-old wooden trackway that forms the centrepiece of a Neolithic henge (pictured) was unearthed at a ScottishPower Renewables site near Woodbridge, Suffolk in 2018

How England spent almost half a millennium under Roman rule

55BC – Julius Caesar crossed the channel with around 10,000 soldiers. They landed at a Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet and were met by a force of Britons. Caesar was forced to withdraw.

54BC – Caesar crossed the channel again in his second attempt to conquer Britain. He came with with 27,000 infantry and cavalry and landed at Deal but were unopposed. They marched inland and after hard battles they defeated the Britons and key tribal leaders surrendered.

However, later that year, Caesar was forced to return to Gaul to deal with problems there and the Romans left.

54BC – 43BC – Although there were no Romans present in Britain during these years, their influence increased due to trade links.

43AD – A Roman force of 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent and took the south east. The emperor Claudius appointed Plautius as Governor of Britain and returned to Rome.

47AD – Londinium (London) was founded and Britain was declared part of the Roman empire. Networks of roads were built across the country.

50AD – Romans arrived in the southwest and made their mark in the form of a wooden fort on a hill near the river Exe.  A town was created at the site of the fort decades later and names Isca. 

When Romans let and Saxons ruled, all ex-Roman towns were called a ‘ceaster’. this was called ‘Exe ceaster’ and a merger of this eventually gave rise to Exeter.   

75 – 77AD – Romans defeated the last resistant tribes, making all Britain Roman. Many Britons started adopting Roman customs and law.

122AD – Emperor Hadrian ordered that a wall be built between England and Scotland to keep Scottish tribes out.

312AD – Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal throughout the Roman empire.

228AD – The Romans were being attacked by barbarian tribes and soldiers stationed in the country started to be recalled to Rome.

410AD – All Romans were recalled to Rome and Emperor Honorious told Britons they no longer had a connection to Rome.

Source: History on the net

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