Tag Archives: Archaeology

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

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….

Mike Howe

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…

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The Trip to Skomer Island That Never Was

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

Last week I was supposed to be visiting Skomer Island for the day with a number of colleagues and friends to discuss management issues.  Skomer (Welsh: Ynys Sgomer) is an island off the coast of Pembrokeshire in southwestern Wales and you get to it by boat at the end of the road that passes our house.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

It is well known for its wildlife: a third of the world population of Manx Shearwaters nest on the island, and the Atlantic Puffin colony is the largest in southern Britain.  These birds spend the autumn and winter months at sea in the South Atlantic and return to Skomer each year to breed in dis-used rabbit burrows (rabbits were introduced to the island as a food source in the 14th century).  There are numerous archaeological remains on the island, from stone circles, standing stones and prehistoric houses.

Puffins on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire       Photo: Mike Alexander
Puffins on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire Photo: Mike Alexander

Unfortunately on the day of departure we were being battered by storm force south-westerly winds, and as a result the boat, the “Dale Princess”, was unable to make the crossing safely, so we couldn’t go.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

Fortunately my friend Mike Alexander, who gives me all these wonderful photographs to show to you, was the warden on the island from 1976 to 1986, and so he has given me more photos of Skomer to share.  I think you’ll agree it is a pretty lovely looking place.  I’ll wait for better weather and sea conditions and get over there later in the year.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

The Old Road to Nowhere

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

High up on the slopes of the Rhinogau (Rin-og-i), an isolated, rugged range of mountains forming much of the Harlech Dome in North Wales, lies a 19th century gold mining complex.  All that remains of the hard toil of the men and women of the time are some deep,cavernous mine shafts which drip with the rain from the mountains, a few ruined buildings and the old track that was used to transport the rock for processing.

Photo:  Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

Since all the industry left the hillside, nature has quietly taken over again, so that now the only sound you hear up there is the sighing of the wind and the throaty call of the raven in his craggy domain.  The noise and disruption of the past is long gone, along with all the stories of the people who worked this land in order to provide a living for their families.

The land is now cared for by the National Trust, and I have had the privilege to write the plan for its future conservation.  There’s plenty more to see at this place, and I’ll update you as I go.  I’ll be back there next week.

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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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