Submerged Boat Building Site Discovery Dates Back to Stone Age

The Maritime Archaeological Trust has discovered a new 8,000-year-old structure next to what is believed to be the oldest boat building site in the world on the Isle of Wight.

“This new discovery is particularly important as the wooden platform is part of a site that doubles the amount of worked wood found in the U.K. from a period that lasted 5,500 years,” said Maritime Archaeological Trust Director Garry Momber. 

The site lies east of Yarmouth, and the platform is the most intact, wooden Middle Stone Age structure ever found in the U.K. The site is now 11 m below sea level, but during the period of human activity on the site, it was dry land with lush vegetation. It was at a time before the North Sea was fully formed and the Isle of Wight was still connected to mainland Europe.

The site was first discovered in 2005 and contains an arrangement of trimmed timbers that could be platforms, walkways or collapsed structures. These were difficult to interpret until the Maritime Archaeological Trust used state-of-the-art photogrammetry techniques to record the remains, which make up a cohesive platform consisting of split timbers several layers thick, resting on horizontally laid round-wood foundations. This material, coupled with advanced woodworking skills and finely crafted tools, suggests a European, Neolithic (New Stone Age) influence.

“The site contains a wealth of evidence for technological skills that were not thought to have been developed for a further couple of thousand years, such as advanced woodworking. This site shows the value of marine archaeology for understanding the development of civilization,” Momber said. “Being underwater, there are no regulations that can protect it. Therefore, it is down to our charity, with the help of our donors, to save it before it is lost forever.”

As the Solent evolves, sections of the ancient land surface are being eroded by up to half a meter per year, and the archaeological evidence is disappearing.

The Maritime Archaeological Trust is working with the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) to record and study, reconstruct and display the collection of timbers. Many of the wooden artifacts are being stored in the British Ocean Sediment Core Research facility (BOSCORF), operated by the National Oceanography Centre.

As with sediment cores, ancient wood will degrade more quickly if it is not kept in a dark, wet and cold setting. While being kept cold, dark and wet, the aim is to remove salt from within wood cells of the timber, allowing it to be analyzed and recorded. This is important because archaeological information, such as cut marks or engravings, are most often found on the surface of the wood and are lost quickly when timber degrades. Once the timbers have been recorded and have desalinated, the wood can be conserved for display.

Leave a Reply