The name “Atlantis” is often bestowed upon any inhabited island that disappears under rising seas and has not been located since. Ravenser Odd has been called Yorkshire’s Atlantis – the medieval port town was on an island at the mouth of the Humber estuary that disappeared in 1362 and has never been found. That may change soon as archeologists believe they’ve pinpointed its location and are just waiting for calmer and warmer seas to confirm it.
"We have maps to work out where it might have been, but it's been very hard to pin down. We're hoping the walls and larger masonry may have survived.”
University of Hull professor of sedimentology Dr. Daniel Parsons and researcher Dr. Steve Simmons told the Yorkshire Post recently their belief that the key to finding Ravenser Odd and differentiating it from other ruins in the Humber estuary is the remains of a seawall that worked well until the sandbanks it was built on shifted and major storms and floods forced it to be abandoned before it disappeared.
That sandbank gave the port its name -- Ravenser comes from the Old Norse Hrafn's Eyr or 'Raven's tongue' which refers to the shape of the lost sandbank promontory – but its fame came from the town founded in the mid-13th century which, by 1299, had more than 1000 houses, a busy marketplace, wharves, warehouses, a court, a prison, a chapel, two mills, a tannery, an annual fair and visits from more than 100 merchant ships a year. That didn’t spare it from the perfect storm of storms, flooding and sandbank shifting that sank it under the North Sea in 1362 where it has been seemingly lost forever.
If the name Ravenser Odd sounds familiar, you’re probably a Shakespeare fan – the Bard mentioned it eight times in various works, most likely because it was the biggest port in Yorkshire at the time.
"People had assumed it was way out to sea, as the shape of the peninsula now is very different to how it was in the 13th century. This document showed a stone ledge to the east of Spurn which I believe could be the walls of a dock or quay.”
Mathison is a Ravenser Odd scholar with a book on the Yorkshire Atlantis, but he was frustrated in his search until finding a document from 1892 for sale on Ebay detailing “sub-marine” remains at Spurn – a narrow sand tidal island that reaches into the North Sea and forms the north bank of the mouth of the Humber Estuary. In 2013 and 2015 he located the stone ledge with the document and an echo sounder. He’s convinced this is part of Ravenser Odd.
"The ridge was most likely rock armour to protect the port, as it was under threat from erosion way before it was abandoned. The bulk of the town's buildings were on a shingle bank called The Old Den, to the west side of Spurn, and some brickwork from them has been found in the past. The town curved around like a fish hook and the wharves were at the other end."
To make the hunt for the Yorkshire Atlantis seemingly easier, the waters at the spot are only six meters (19.6 feet) deep. Of course, if it were that easy, Ravenser Odd would have been found long ago -- Mathison says the currents are treacherous and the visibility is poor. That hasn’t stopped the University of Hull from purchasing new scanning equipment and funding the dive. All that’s left is to jump in.
It may not be THE Atlantis, but finding the Yorkshire Atlantis is still a significant achievement.