Investigations in 2010

Fieldwork Investigations

Fieldwork during 2010 focused on the recovery of strategic samples in order to resolve inter-related parts of the buried worked timbers. In addition, the development of a functional monitoring system was continued. This valuable work is being supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Atlas of the 2 Seas project and the COST programme through the SPLASH-COS project.

The week of fieldwork was undertaken by a team of professional divers and volunteers. With the help of three boats and a team of 12, the work concentrated on and between the locations at BCII and BCV.  The positioning of monitoring pins every 25m along a 400m stretch between the two sites was one of the key tasks begun in 2010. The system is made up of labelled monitoring pins allowing divers to locate positions underwater while acting as reference points to monitor cliff erosion. The pins were marked with small fishing floats to facilitate location in the future.  Neap tides, when the tidal range is lowest, were used to maximize working time underwater which was forever being curtailed by relentless tidal changes. This was particularly restricting when it came to checking the monitoring pins which necessitated the divers swimming back and forth against the moving water.

The work on BCV was focused on an area where previous excavations have revealed worked wood. The area was planned in 1:20 and a couple of monolith box samples were recovered. Further pieces of worked wood were identified and rescued for laser scanning by the University of Birmingham. The work on the area of BCII focused on collecting samples and recovering surface finds of flints.

The dive team was supported by an eight person shore-side team made up of HWTMA employees and experienced volunteers who processed all the samples recovered by the divers on a daily basis. Volunteers began the week identifying and sorting through lithic samples recovered by the divers.  Once 'box' samples began to be recovered from the site, their excavation could begin. This involved careful analysis of the sediments and how they related to one another. Once the different layers within the samples had been excavated these were then wet-sieved;  wet-sieving revealed the contents of the layers so that the volunteers could then sort out the different contents from each other for expert analysis of the environmental and anthropogenic settings of this site.

Further Analysis

In 2010, with support from the Leverhulme Trust via the University of York, English Heritage and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) further processing, analysis and recording of artefacts recovered in 2009 took place. The finds were kept in the BOSCORF (British Ocean Sediment Core Research Facility) cold store at the NOC and the results of the processing integrated into the HWTMA dataset. Details of the analysis also contributed to the Bouldnor Cliff publication: Submerged Mesolithic landscapes of the Solent, published as a Council for British Archaeology Monograph in 2011.

The most significant finding that emerged from the analysis was the use of technologies on some of the worked wood that are 2,000 years ahead of anything else seen in the UK to date. The largest piece of timber recovered so far measured 0.94m long by 0.41m wide and provided a radiocarbon date of 6240-6000 cal BC (Beta 249735). It had been tangentially split from a large slow grown oak tree. This method employs wedges to cut a plank towards the edge of a tree so the grain runs almost parallel along its width. The technique can be used to create a flat plank. Once this is removed from a large oak bole, around three quarters of the tree's circumference would be available for further conversion or fashioning. Another indicative factor was the relative angles of the medullary rays, which were almost parallel. This suggested the timber had been converted from the edge of a large tree in the order of 1.5m to 2m wide. The length of such a plank may well have been over 10m long.

This presents the possibility of creating a large, deep log boat or dugout canoe with the rest of the tree. If not the remains of a log boat, this tangentially split timber could have been part of a monumental building. Prehistoric timbers using these conversion techniques have been found elsewhere, although not until the Neolithic period over 2,000 years later. The timber was associated with many other pieces of trimmed and flattened wood. Some were surveyed and recovered while others remain beneath the old land surface. The true function of this exceptional site can only be resolved by further investigation which must be done before it is lost completely.

The work at Bouldnor Cliff continues to recover unprecedented material from the Mesolithic submerged forest, yet limited funds only enable us to pick at the surface. The submerged landscape has a one kilometre long exposed face that is continually eroding. Previous research has shown that between 0.1m to 0.5m of perfectly preserved landscape and covering sediments disappear along its length each year. This equates to between 100 and 500 square metres. With it goes the priceless archaeological record. The HWTMA has only been able to investigate a few square metres in detail but this alone has revealed a wealth of 8,000 year old immaculately preserved material that is second to none in the UK. The HWTMA continues to seek funding as it endeavours to rescue this unique and irreplaceable archaeology for the nation.

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