Friday, January 13, 2006


Fears for Ancient Remains Below Waves


Isle of Wight County Press
By Martin Neville
January 12, 2006

DIVERS face a desperate race against time to recover 8,000-year-old artefacts from the bottom of The Solent before they are lost forever.

The underwater site, off Bouldnor, is the only one yet discovered in Britain and dates from when the sea level was 12 metres lower than today, when the IW would have been much larger and The Solent was a dry coastal valley.

It remains because it was covered in silt and protected from erosion as the sea rose above it. Most Stone Age sites on land have lost all associated organic remains, having been exposed to weathering. However, underwater, the oxygen-free mud can preserve delicate objects for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, this is being eroded by the currents and is likely to be gone within two to three years. Radiocarbon dating has underlined the international significance of the ancient drowned landscape and given archaeologists further tantalising evidence of human occupation.

Tests have revealed material, thought to be the remains of a wooden structure, are around 300 years younger than the surrounding ancient oak trees, which have been dated from around 8,400 years ago.

Garry Momber, director of the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA), said the irregular nature of the timbers would suggest the remains were not those of a large tree.

"We know that because by this period the larger trees in the area were being killed by rising sea levels," he said."

"The remains are on an elevated piece of land with water either side of it. It's possible the area was developed because it was next to water with plentiful food nearby."

The dates have been very interesting because they demonstrate the timber structure is not contemporary with the oak forest, which remains on the floor of The Solent.

"If it is the remains of an occupation site, the structure would have been sturdier and more substantial than a wind break or tent-like shelter, as there are some sizeable timbers remaining."

Mr Momber said the evidence also showed how quickly sea levels can rise, in this case coming at the end of an ice age, when sea levels were rising much quicker than today.

The structure is also next to a pit filled with burnt flint that is believed to be an oven or hearth and archaeologists now hope the two can be linked with further tests.

But the rapid rate of erosion of the Bouldnor site means it is a race against time before it is gone forever.

Mr Momber said: "On land you may find indicators such as post holes that would testify to the remains of Middle Stone Age buildings but the time would be lost."

"We have protected the site as best we can with sandbags but it is quickly being eroded and there's no telling what still remains today.

"We hope to dive the site this year but, despite its importance, it's very difficult to get money to do it."


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