Ferocious weather is putting UK maritime history at risk

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Stormy weather has had an impact on the whole of the UK in recent months but Southampton-based charity, the Maritime Archaeology Trust, is concerned that the damage to our local heritage could be irreparable.

The Trust says that although many sites of historical interest have been impacted by high winds, strong tides and rain, sites of coastal and underwater archaeological significance could literally be being destroyed by the battering storms.

Lying in ever changing environments, the Solent’s historic coastal landscapes, shipwrecks and submerged settlements are continually affected by weather, and erosion. The charity aims to research, record and protect these clues to our past and fund raises to undertake exploratory and reparatory dives but, in these adverse conditions, monitoring these sites is high risk for archaeology dive teams.

Of particular concern is the long term survival of ancient land surfaces underlying the saltmarshes and mudflats around Lymington and Keyhaven which, despite sea defence strategies, are eroding rapidly. The shrinking mudflats have produced a long history of archaeological finds that give insights into our ancestors’ lives, such as worked flint tools discovered by archaeologists and oyster dredgers that date to a time when the Isle of Wight was joined to the mainland.

Furthermore, directly across the Solent at Bouldnor Cliff on the north shores of the Isle of Wight more evidence of our past has been eroded and recorded. Bouldnor Cliff has revealed a unique 8,000 year old, Middle Stone Age landscape – now drowned by the Solent – that holds clues to the lives of our prehistoric ancestors. The Maritime Archaeology Trust has been monitoring both sites for over ten years and has discovered evidence showing it was an area that saw some of the earliest settlers in the British Isles, enjoying cooking, hunting and boat building. More research and excavation is needed to find further evidence but, once proven beyond doubt, the Solent would be confirmed as the oldest boat-building site in the world.

Excavating the Solent’s many secrets, however, is effectively a race against time as the charity struggles against the weather and a lack of government funding.

Gary Momber, Director of the Trust said:

“Although a handful of shipwrecks are protected by law against damage by humans, we sadly can’t control the weather. With these types of submerged landscapes, erosion can be close to a metre a year and the recent storms will only exacerbate this situation.

“Land underwater is unique in that it can actually preserve delicate man-made materials – that is until it is exposed to harsh seas. This is a land that fell fowl of climate change 8,000 years ago and can give an insight into those changes. I would like to see us learn from events in the past rather than just sit by and watch these unique sites get washed away.”

“I’m very concerned at the moment that recent weather could be destroying sites of archaeological significance or washing away precious artefacts. Because of this, we archaeologists need to work harder and faster than ever.”

The charity is launching a fundraising campaign to support a programme of archaeology dive teams to visit the Solent’s underwater archaeological sites during 2014. These sites are not protected with government funding so the charity needs donations to make this happen.

With their new fundraising campaign they hope to engage schools, colleges and sponsors to help fund the project and get people involved in maritime history. They also will provide an opportunity for involving trainee archaeologists, students and volunteers.

Contributing Source : Maritime Archaeology Trust

 

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