Britain’s Lost City of Atlantis is being pulled into the sea for the second time by a tide of sand which threatens to bury its secrets forever, experts warned today.
The city of Dunwich, Suffolk, was a bustling medieval metropolis until thousands of homes fell into the North Sea following a series of huge storms 700 years ago.
Historians rediscovered the lost community in 2008 and mapped 70 per cent of the underwater city including the remains of streets, walls, churches and homes.
However, diving expeditions have now revealed that Dunwich is slowly being buried underneath a tide of sand – meaning its treasures will be lost forever.
Prof David Sear, who led the expeditions, is now trying to raise funds to fully map and explore the city before it sinks underneath the sea bed for the last time.
Prof Sear, of the University of Southampton, said: ”We have to act soon because we know a lot of the remains we found are being quickly buried.
”Rates of sand deposition are accelerating fast and just as the early remains are buried under two metres of sand it is likely the rest of the remains will be buried soon too.
”It is sad because we lost Dunwich once before and if it goes under the sand again there will be almost no way of finding out more about the city.
”It is important we discover out as much information while we still can and it will teach future generations about coastal erosion and coastal change.
”Dunwich has often been referred to as Britain’s Lost City of Atlantis because it is the largest of the 150 lost settlements in the North Sea.
”It was a major trading port and the biggest in the east of England.”
In the year 1,000AD the East Anglian capital of Dunwich was a thriving port which rivalled London as a centre of trade and merchant shipping.
The city peaked between the 11th and 13th centuries as trade in wool, grain, furs and fish brought fleets of military and royal ships to its harbour.
However, in 1287 a great storm flooded a quarter of Dunwich and pulled many of its 5,000 residents’ homes into the sea.
Four hundred houses, two churches, shops and windmills tumbled into the ocean in 1328 and despite efforts to build a pier to stop the onslaught the city was all but lost by 1750.
The last remnants of its medieval might, All Saints’ Church, fell into the sea in 1919 and modern-day Dunwich now consists of a 200-population cliff-top hamlet.
Dunwich was first mapped in 2008 and in June 2010 a team used underwater Didson sonar equipment created by the US military to locate two lost churches.
However, because of the murky water off the Suffolk coast it is very difficult for historians to investigate the remains of more buildings without expensive sonar equipment.
And they fear many of Dunwich’s secrets will never be revealed after a project to map the remaining 30 per cent was postponed in January this year due to lack of funding.
John Prior, 57, chairman of trustees at Dunwich Museum, believes it would be very ”disappointing” if work mapping the underwater city is stopped.
He said: ”Dunwich is a site of important historical significance as it was one of the largest towns in England in the Middle Ages.
”It can teach us many things about coastal erosion and environmental change in the future.
”Also Dunwich still has that slight air of mystery because until recently we thought it had all disappeared.
”For a long time we thought nothing was left but in the last few years we have been getting some idea of which buildings remain under the water.
”But the worry is that this sort of site will sadly deteriorate over time and we will never get back any information we lose.”
Prof Sear and his team are currently trying to raise money and grants to continue their exploration of the underwater city.
It can cost up to £40,000 a time to hire boats, sonar equipment and teams to carry out surveying work.