Channel: an expert explores an “former ghost town” under water
The English Channel is a notoriously difficult place to dive. With powerful tides and extremely cold waters, the conditions are far from ideal. For inexperienced divers, both can pose significant risks, so careful preparation is crucial. But once these difficulties are overcome, the seabed becomes a gold mine for archaeologists.
From the Mary Rose and HMS Invincible discovered off Hampshire, to HMS Stirling Castle at Goodwin Sands, to the 74 German ships scuttled at Scapa Flow, thousands of wrecks lie just off our shores.
Not only are there shipwrecks, but ancient settlements also lie on the bottom of the English Channel.
National Geographic’s Albert Lin ducked below the surface to take a look at a unique find just off the Isle of Wight.
The site dates back around 8,000 years, when the UK was still connected by land to the European continent.
Around this time, melting glaciers were beginning to fill in the lowlands to form what would become the English Channel, likely driving the colony’s inhabitants to higher ground.
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Archaeologists have discovered an underwater shipyard.
Wooden structures were seen on the seabed.
The English Channel itself, however, was formed by one of the largest tsunamis on record.
Landslides in Norway, known as the Storegga Slides, triggered a tsunami when seas landlocked in the Norwegian trench erupted.
The water devastated ancient Britain, sending water about 40km inland and turning the marshy planes of the English Channel into a full sea, making Britain an island nation.
The site was first identified when divers, carrying out a routine survey in 1999, spotted a lobster cleaning its burrow on the seabed.
To their surprise, the animal was removing dozens of worked flint pieces, which ultimately turned out to be the first sign of the implantation.
Some parts of the seabed are eroding by around 50 cm each year.
Archaeologists then spotted an arrangement of hewn timbers, believed to be a shipyard.
The Maritime Archaeological Trust used state-of-the-art technology to record the structures and discovered a platform of several layers of timber, resting on wooden foundations.
Diving into the site for the 2019 documentary ‘Lost Cities with Albert Lin’, he said: “There’s a kind of structure to it. It looks like layers of wood.
“I just got out of the silt. It feels like sitting in an old ghost town, but underwater.
He added: “You go down that line and out of the darkness comes the ancient past.”
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One of the wooden structures discovered on the seabed.
Marine archaeologist and director of the Maritime Archaeological Trust, Garry Momber, explained how the wood was so well preserved.
Looking at a piece of wood that was dug from the seabed, he said, “Well, what happened with that was that when the sea level rose above it, it took it. covered in silt, and it took all the oxygen out, and just preserved in some sort of anaerobic environment without oxygen.
“And it would have remained there for several thousand years. But recently the old landscape has eroded, so that’s how we found it.
The structures, Mr Momber said, are “of international significance”.
He said, “It’s 8,000 years old. You don’t get them every day.
Garry Momber has been exploring the Channel bed for nearly 30 years.
“It would have been next to a stream and we know it was a bit of a wetland so it could have been a platform but we don’t know yet because there’s nothing else like it. that in the country.”
LiveScience reported in 2007 that two hearths (former ovens) had been brought to the surface, hanging from the edge of an underwater cliff.
Mr Momber told the publication at the time: ‘We now have unequivocal evidence of human activity at the site.
“There were people here who were actively making stuff and were pretty industrious.”
The people who lived on the site at the time were way ahead of their time in terms of the work they were doing.
Mr Momber told the BBC in 2012 that parts of the site would have been used for building boats, others for fishing and collecting reeds and hunting game in another part.
He said: “You actually have all these activities that have strong parallels to the modern high street, but they’ve all been consolidated a bit. We found a put with burnt flints, and evidence that they were working with wood, using technology that was 2,000 years ahead of its time.
The work to discover the last secrets of the seabed, however, proves more difficult.
Mr Momber told the BBC that the site, the only one of its kind in the UK, is currently eroding by around 50cm (20 inches) each year.
Many wooden artefacts from the site are stored at the British Ocean Sediment Core Research Facility, operated by the National Oceanography Centre.