Stone Age village found under sea

By Martin Neville

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Stone Age village found under sea

Garry Momber with some worked timber discovered in the excavation.

 A STONE Age settlement under The Solent is in danger of being lost forever.

In a desperate race against time, marine archaeologists say the remains of a submerged mesolithic community found at Bouldnor Cliff, off Yarmouth, could be lost to the sea if money is not found soon to continue vital excavation work.

Garry Momber, director of The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology, has been excavating the site for more than a decade and believes the latest finds this summer are the most significant to date.

"This is more comprehensive than anything I thought we would ever find and I’m sure there is a lot more to be uncovered," he said.

"This really is of national and international significance — there is nothing else like it in the UK and the race is on to save what we can now. If we don’t act now, these findings could be lost forever."

Mr Momber said this summer’s three-day dive cost £3,600, a sum covered by donations and grants.

"But as the erosion steadily sweeps away the site, it is a race against time before the ancient artefacts are lost to Mother Nature," he said.

"We are appealing to local and national businesses to support the trust so that it can launch a rescue excavation next year."

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

Mr Momber said the latest discovery could help rewrite the history books as it was further proof the inhabitants were well established on the banks of The Solent.

Garry Momber, director of The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology, answers questions about the find.

Q. When was the Bouldnor Cliff site discovered?

A. Archaeologists originally found Mesolithic flint tools within a 1km stretch of seabed over a decade ago. This was the first time such pieces were found in their original location underwater around the British coast. Ten years on, continued searching has recently resulted in much more startling finds.

Q. What was discovered this summer?

A. Elements of a substantial wooden structure built about 8,000 years ago by our Mesolithic ancestors. Some of the recovered timbers have very clear, distinct and sophisticated cut marks, so we know they have been worked on by humans capable of craftsmanship. These could be part of a collapsed structure, or perhaps a platform built close to a waterway.

Q. How significant is the find?

A. Additional finds, including charcoal and burnt flints, suggest this site could be one of the oldest boat-building sites in the world. Fewer than 100 pieces of worked timber from the Mesolithic age have ever been found in the UK. The latest discovery could help rewrite history books as it is further proof that Bouldnor Cliff inhabitants were well established on the banks of The Solent. This is a time when Britain was being separated from Europe by sea level rise and a period we know little about.

Q. The site has been protected for thousands of years, why is it being eroded now?

A. Our research has shown that at the time, 8,100 years ago, the Solent valley was a wetland or freshwater lagoon. It was only comparatively recently in geological terms, that The Solent broke through to cut off the Island from the mainland. It is these latest changes are causing the once-protected site to erode today.


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