Maritime archaeology in the Solent

 Posted on 22 Aug 2005

The archaeology of the Solent and Wight areas spans thousands of years, from the campsites of prehistoric hunters to the warships of World War II. These waters not only contain some 800 recorded archaeological sites but also the remains of submerged settlements, worked flint tools, animal bones and underwater wooden structures dating back thousands of years.

Exploring and understanding the underwater world is a challenge requiring the skill and enthusiasm of many different people and, following a joint initiative of Hampshire County Council and the then Isle of Wight County Council, the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology was launched in 1991. The Trust has three main objectives: To discover the range of underwater and intertidal sites still surviving and learn more of their condition; To avoid unnecessary destruction of sites by increasing knowledge of and concern for maritime archaeology; To enable everyone to enjoy the wonders of maritime archaeology through displays, lectures, seminars, publications and the Internet.

With the support of the Solent Protection Society and other sponsors, the Trust is carrying out studies in the local area ranging from the Mixon Rocks in the east to the Needles Protected Wreck Site in the west. In addition to specific sites being investigated, the Trust is also underway with a strategic survey of the Solent. Acoustic investigative methods offer non-destructive survey techniques for the maritime archaeologist and enable areas of seabed to be mapped in a relatively short time. To this effect, for its Solent survey, the Trust has been collaborating with the High Resolution Seismology Group, University of Southampton. Any anomalies revealed by geophysical surveys are then ground truthed by divers, many of whom are volunteers, employing techniques such as probing into the seabed, underwater photography and detailed survey.

One particularly important Solent site currently under investigation is the underwater cliff located off Bouldnor. Here the remains of a submerged landscape form a platform along the foot of the cliff which runs over a kilometre in length and varies from a few metres to over 20m wide. This platform is between 9m and 10m below Ordnance Datum, consisting of peat inlaid with ancient timber including tree stumps with associated root systems reaching into the clay below. Knowledge of the pace and scale of erosion is important if we wish to learn anything from this submerged landscape before it is completely gone. This has become particularly pertinent with the discovery of worked flints along the south of the site. Further work on this challenging site will take the form of excavations and coring to determine the extent of the site and to ascertain the threat from erosion.

The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology is most grateful for the support received from the Solent Protection Society. (Further details about the Trust can be obtained from Brian Sparks or Garry Momber (023 8059 3052 or email <a href=”” data-mce-href=””></a>)

Brian Sparks, Director, The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology