The submerged landscapes in the western Solent were investigated in 2012 as part of the international Arch-Manche project. This is supported by the European Regional Development Fund within the Interreg IVa framework and includes the partners CReAAH from northern France, the University of Ghent, Belgium and Deltares from the Netherlands. The purpose of the research was to sample and characterise deposits from around the Western Solent that could help inform our understanding of sea level and coastal change. Sites that were inspected, recorded and sampled extended from Hurst Spit in the west, Bouldnor Cliff to the south and Tanners Hard, just outside Lymington Harbour.
A lull in the windy weather during June enabled peat samples to be recovered from the west side of Hurst spit. The samples were collected from a submerged stratified deposit and as such can provide dating and environmental material. The sample was collected from a deposit 7.6 metres below Ordnance Datum and it has become exposed because the protective shingle of the Spit has moved further east. This old land surface was protected by the creation of Hurst Spit and as such will help date its formation.
At Tanners Hard a submerged peat-capped cliff lying 4 metres below OD was surveyed in 2000. The cliff was in the order of 2 metres high with vertical sections exposed in places. A further basal peat deposit protruded from the foot of the cliff. Samples collected in 2000 dated the lower peat to 5290-4940 cal BC (2 sigma) and the upper peat to 4470-4240 cal BC (2 sigma). The site was revisited in June and July 2012 to record any changes to the submerged cliff. Erosion of the upper cliff surface was extensive demonstrating cliff retreat of up to 2 metres and reduction in the angle of repose from around 85 degrees to around 40 degrees. The 2000 survey area was extended a further 25 metres to the west for ongoing monitoring purposes.
At Bouldnor Cliff a series of erosion surveys were conducted along a 500-metre stretch of submerged cliff. Further evidence of human activity was discovered at both BCII and BCV. The finds provide tangible evidence of human occupation on a site that was to be lost to coastal change as the sea rose over 8 millennia ago. At BCV more worked Mesolithic timbers have become exposed.
During the 2012 season, the HWTMA were pleased to have two international maritime archaeologists joih them for a week: Nayden Prahov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridsky” in Bulgaria and Jeoren Vermeersch from Flanders Heritage Agency, Belgium. Read their summary of the week with the HWTMA below.
As a young scholar with research interests in the field of underwater archaeology I have been impressed by the methodology and the results of the research projects in the Western Solent, Southern England, conducted by the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA), under the leadership of Garry Momber.
Led by the need and the demand for training of young Bulgarian underwater archaeologists, the director of the Bulgarian Center for Underwater Archaeology Mrs. Hristina Angelova asked Mr. Momber to accept a Bulgarian archaeologist as a volunteer and a student in his team. Mr Momber kindly agreed and extended an invitation giving me the chance to take part in a week of underwater archaeological field survey in June 2012. The Digital Institute for Archaeology at the University of Arkansas’ Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) supported this undertaking covering my travel expenses.
In order to prepare for the project I was sent and reviewed publications about the results of the previous field work, as well as a detailed Archaeological Project Plan and a Diving Operations Plan.
The field survey included work at different sites – shipwreck, submerged Mesolithic site (Bouldnor Cliff II) and Submerged Ancient landscapes (Bouldnor Cliff) plus various underwater activities including field reconnaissance surveys, artifact recovery (flint debitage- cores and flakes), graphical documentation of submerged landscapes (seafloor, cliff, shipwrecks and a Mesolithic forest), taking of cores and samples (peat and sediment deposits, organic material), small scale excavations and other supportive activities. The atmospheric and sea conditions were challenging – rain, wind and waves, low water temperature, strong currents, low visibility.
Being new members of the team and diving for the first time at these sites and in such conditions, me and the young underwater archaeologist Mr. Jeroen Vermeersch from Onroerend Erfgoed - Flemish Heritage Institute, received special attention, instructions and detailed explanations of the tasks by the team and the project director Garry Momber. All our questions were carefully and thoroughly answered.
During the field project Jeroen and I took on a range of underwater tasks at different sites and we took maximum advantage of our training and participation. Despite being new to the site our work was appreciated and its results made a real contribution to the project.
The working days normally ended on land, in the harbour pub of Lymington town, where the results of the days were discussed, the documentation and the collected materials revised, and report working sheets were filled. At the end of the project all the field drawings of the site BCII were collated in a single plan, which was a rewarding result.
Probably the most valuable part of my participation was the communication with the team. It consisted of scholars from HWTMA and volunteers – divers with remarkable experience. They were all well organized, working in perfect coordination, conducting multiple tasks despite the hard sea conditions, being always friendly, helpful and supportive to each other. Mr Momber was organizing the work, always serious and at the same time smiling, with his sense of humour creating positive mood and attitude.
At the end of this exciting and moving week I wished to meet, work and dive with the team again. Maybe one day on a Bulgarian underwater site. A good goal to work for.
Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridsky”, Bulgaria
In the week of the 11th of June I was privileged to join the HWTMA on their underwater research in the Solent. There were many reasons why I wanted to dive with them on archaeological sites. Not only do I need to get a certain amount of dives in, in order to keep my HSE dive qualification up to date to be able to dive in Dutch and Belgian waters, also it is very interesting to share experiences among researchers. Since the HWTMA has quite some experience in this area and in the past worked with the Flemish Heritage Agency, it was a logical decision to ask Mr Momber if I could join him and his team during one week in June.
The Solent is rich of sites such as shipwrecks and sites dating to the Mesolithic. The latter ones are quite unique and show very good preservation in situ. On the other hand due to the constant erosion processes these sites are under clear threat and need to be looked at and monitored on regular basis.
The extra work experience was very important for me since our agency in Flanders only has a few people who do archaeological research in the North Sea area. Gaining extra knowledge and experience therefore is essential in order to keep the learning curve going up. In this way the HWTMA was an ideal institution to work with, since they already gained so much experience in the field.
Together with another volunteer, Mr Nayden Prahov who is an underwater archaeologist from Bulgaria, we were instructed to execute certain tasks on both shipwrecks and on prehistoric sites. The different diving conditions (such as the strong current in the Solent) were sometimes a challenge to us. Thanks to the good guidance of the team we were able to execute the tasks during the course of the week and thereby contributed to the work of the Trust.
Apart from the dive experience it was a good thing that afterwards there was enough time to socialize as well. The debriefing occurred in the local pub of the harbour and in the evening there was time to chitchat and to drink some Belgian beer or be treated with a terrific good Bulgarian meal.
The contacts that were laid with the archaeologists from the UK and Bulgaria and the enthusiastic volunteers certainly helped to make the week a huge success and the training and experience gained will hopefully be put into practice in Belgian waters too.