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12 January 2006
Fears for ancient remains from underwater site in UK

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 Isle of Wight 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. "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," he added.
     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."

Source: Isle of Wight County Press (12 January 2006)

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