A 6000 year old submerged forest that reappears from time to time

Although it is rarely seen, the remnants of a past forested landscape, where there is now sea and beach, is a very interesting feature and teaches us about past sea level rise and our recent glacial history, and makes sense of some of the archaeological remains we find around our coastline in West Wales.

At the end of the last glaciation the sea level was much lower than it is today because so much water was still locked up in the ice sheets to the north of Britain.  As the climate warmed forests became established on land that had been tundra for thousands of years, and this forest extended far out beyond where sea level is today.  Gradually as temperatures rose, the sea ice to the south of the arctic circle melted and sea levels rose, submerging much of the coastal forests.

In some places this action was very rapid and sand covered and then preserved the remains.  After heavy storms and at very low tides, peat or the stumps of these forest trees may be seen at places along the Welsh coast, particularly, in Pembrokeshire, at Newgale and Freshwater West.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander – The remains of a Scots pine trunk on the beach

The remains of animals and Mesolithic tools have been found in these deposits.  These include an Auroch, which is an ancient cow and is the ancestor of all modern cows, a pig, a roe deer, a red deer antler and a brown bear jaw.

At Lydstep Haven, a pair of broken flint microliths were found by the neck vertebrae of a pig.  This pig may have been injured, but not caught by its Mesolithic hunters and subsequently died in the forest.  A tree trunk fell on its remains, preserving it, and the microliths in situ.  This find has been dated to about 6000 BC.

Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales ) noted the uncovered submerged forest, during his tour of Wales in AD 1188.

‘We then passed over Newgale sands at which place a very remarkable circumstance occurred.  The sandy shores of south Wales laid bare by the extraordinary violence of a storm, the surface of the earth, which had been covered for many ages, reappeared, and discovered the trunk of trees cut off, standing in the very sea itself, the strokes of the hatchet appearing as if made only yesterday.  The soil was very black and the wood-like ebony.  This looked like a grove cut down, perhaps at the time of the deluge, or not long after.’

We cannot be sure whether the marks he saw were made by a stone axe.  It is certainly possible, since stone axes were in use before the forests were submerged between about 6000 and 5000 BC.

He made these observations 800 years ago and similar observations are the basis for medieval traditions about the Cantref Gwaelodd – ‘the lost lands of Wales.’

This is what the beautiful coastline looks like today….

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

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24 thoughts on “A 6000 year old submerged forest that reappears from time to time”

  1. Now it’s time for me to travel with your blog 🙂 I’ve never been to Wales, so thanks for the beautiful images!

    1. Thank you LuAnn. Even though the exposure of the petrified forest is reasonably frequent at very low tides or after storm events like the ones we’ve just had, it seems to have made the recent news in some parts of the US and I’ve had droves of visitors to this post. But the fossil forest certainly tells us a lot about how much the landscape that we think we know has changed in the past, and will change in the future

  2. This is fascinating stuff & should help us understand that the climate has changed over the millennia & if we continue to warm the climate even more ice will melt & further raise sea levels. I didn’t realise the impact these changes have had on the Welsh coast but was more aware of the places like Dogger Bank out in the North Sea (Robert MacFarlane’s book the “Old Ways” describes a walk he took out into the North Sea on an ancient pathway that still survives. Not a walk for the inexperienced). I have had holidays near Lydstep, some years ago now, but was not aware of the information you posted here.

    1. Thanks Ash it’s all interesting stuff. I hadn’t heard of Robert MacFarlane’s book, I shall look it up it sounds fascinating. As you know the climate change deniers point to these periods of sea level change with warming and cooling throughout history as evidence that the current phenomenon is purely natural. Of course it’s the rate of change that is unprecedented and you’re right, sea levels are set to rise extremely quickly, and storm events like the one that exposed the petrified forest will/have become more frequent

      1. The Old Ways published by Hamish Hamilton. It may now also be out in paperback. The ancient pathway is called the Broomway off the Essex coast. When I read about it I was blown away. (The book covers many other “old” ways in Britain & abroad).

  3. I looked at these while listening to Pwl Deri. I am mesmired by your music Mike. I come often hear to lend my ear 🙂 My compliments to other Mike for amazing photos – that B/W is a corker 🙂

    1. It is Anneli, all the sand gets washed away by the stormy sea to reveal these ancient tree stumps which in turn show us how much sea levels have fluctuated in the past

  4. Reblogged this on Mike Howe – Music Through Heart and Hands and commented:

    Something strange is happening, this relatively old post of mine has gone viral today, I think because news of recent storms in Wales revealing the petrified forest on the coast has reached the USA and searches are sending people to my site, which I suppose is nice. So I thought I’d re-blog to make it even easier for everyone 😉 Old news has become new news again….

  5. Wow, how interesting! I did not know that remains of these old forests can be found at the coast of Wales. It must be a stunning view (as the picture(s) show) and interesting find, when they emerge from the sea.

    Much love and a happy Easter weekend to you, Mike!

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