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Perranporth Gill Juleff

This is the first time archaeologists, historians and geologists have worked together to survey the coast to analyse when and how it was mined

Mining history of iconic cliff-scape at Perranporth set to be studied for the first time

Experts are studying the little-known mining history of the vulnerable cliffs overlooking the beach at Perranporth to show if the search for tin and copper in the area began in medieval or even prehistoric times.

Thousands of visitors enjoy the town’s beautiful beach, but many don’t realise that many of the caves in the cliffs are man-made. The coast was used for mining rather than leisure in the past, with the solid rock being tunnelled through by miners. Evidence of mining along the coast has eroded.

This is the first time archaeologists, historians and geologists have worked together to survey the coast to analyse when and how it was mined. They hope to discover the number of mines and their age, as well as more information about the recent history of the mines

The stunning landscape, home to Poldark author Winston Graham and the story of St Piran, is under threat because of erosion caused by the increased severity of winter storms. The survey of the landscape will help people learn more about the mining heritage of Perranporth and will be a permanent record of the coast before it changes forever.

The research will  lead to new walking trails, visitor information and exhibitions.

University of Exeter archaeologist Dr Gillian Juleff, who grew up in the area, initiated the multi-disciplinary research project, called Time and Tide, in collaboration with Perranzabuloe Museum, Perranzabuloe Parish Council, Dr Nicola Whyte at the Department of Humanities at the University’s Penryn campus and Dr Kate Moore from the Camborne School of Mines. It was launched with a special Heritage on the Beach day at Perranporth on Sunday (24th Sept), funded by an award from the University of Exeter Annual Fund. University students from both the Exeter and Penryn campuses ran a public survey to gather data on people’s perceptions of the cliff-scape, their awareness of the mining history and how they use the beach. The public were also able to join pop-up talks on the beach on mining, geology, archaeological survey and local history.

Dr Juleff, who was inspired to become an archaeometallurgist in part because of her mining roots in Cornwall said: “There is so much we don’t know about the mining history of the beach. People assume the caves and features visible in the cliffs are natural, but they are not. The mining heritage of Perranporth beach is a huge asset but it is also under threat from coastal erosion. Being brought up in the parish, like everyone, I took it for granted, but in recent years and after seeing the archaeology of mining and metals across the world I’ve come to realise what we have on our own doorstep.

“What we want to do is to find ways to tell people about the mining heritage on this coastline. This could mean new walking trails, exhibitions, displays and information online. This information could also carry important safety messages about the cliffs, so we can let people know that they can be dangerous. Carrying out an integrated survey of the cliffs that includes oral histories from the local community as well as geology, archaeology and environmental sciences will also allow us to monitor the impact of climate change. We don’t know how much of the cliff has been lost, but we do know that the mines would have gone underground beneath the beach. We’re working with the Parish Council so that we generate information that will help them safeguard the environment and with the local museum to help promote the heritage to the tens of thousands of visitors that come to Perranporth every year.”

Date: 25 September 2017

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