Bouldnor Cliff

Bouldnor Cliff is a submerged prehistoric settlement site in the Solent. The site dates from the Mesolithic era and is in approximately 11 metres (12 yd) of water just offshore of the village of Bouldnor on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom. The preservation of organic materials from this era that do not normally survive on dry land has made Bouldnor important to the understanding of Mesolithic Britain, and the BBC Radio 4's Making History programme described it "probably Europe's most important Mesolithic site" albeit concealed under water.

The site was first discovered by divers from the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (now the Maritime Archaeology Trust) in 1999, when a lobster was observed discarding worked flint tools from its burrow on the seabed.[1][2] Since then, several years of fieldwork have revealed that Bouldnor was a settlement site about 8,000 years ago, at a time when lower sea levels meant that the Solent was just a river valley. The work done so far has already revealed that the technology of Mesolithic settlers was probably 2,000 years ahead of what had previously been believed.[3]

Bouldnor Cliff
Bouldnor Battery overlooking the Solent. Bouldnor Cliff lies under the water in front of the cliffs.
Bouldnor Cliff is located in the United Kingdom
Bouldnor Cliff
Shown within the United Kingdom
LocationBouldnor, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom
Coordinates50°42′49″N 01°27′50″W / 50.71361°N 1.46389°WCoordinates: 50°42′49″N 01°27′50″W / 50.71361°N 1.46389°W
Site notes

Site formation

Investigations suggest that during the Mesolithic era, between 8000 and 4000 BC, the western Solent was a sheltered river basin, rich in woodland and fed by a river at Lymington and drained by the Western Yar at Freshwater.[4] As sea levels rose, the Solent eventually flooded and the settlement area was swamped. The rising waters deposited silt and mud onto the original land surface, covering and preserving it.[1]


Fishermen had reported recovering stone tools from the seabed of the Solent since the 1960s, but it was not until 1987 that the submerged remains of an ancient forest were discovered at Bouldnor. Later radiocarbon dating of pollen revealed this to be approximately 8,000 years old.[5] Subsequently, regular dives revealed a submerged cliff east of Yarmouth with large quantities of peat that dated to a similar period.[5]

The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology began mapping the cliff face and selected four main sites of interest (named BC 1–4). It was while diving in 11 metres (12 yd) of water on BC 2 in 1999, that divers noticed a burrowing lobster discarding worked flints from its burrow. The lobster had burrowed through thick mud deposits that had formed since the Solent flooded, and into the original surface of the cliff when the Solent was dry.[5]

Since 1999, divers have excavated at Bouldnor every year. Further discoveries were made at BC 2 and BC 4, and a later a new site was discovered nearby (BC 5).[6] The dangerous diving conditions in the fast flowing waters of the Solent make archaeological investigation particularly difficult and archaeologists have used several new techniques to make analysis of the sea bed easier. This has included 'box sampling' – collecting large areas of sea bed in metal tins to raise them to the surface and more thoroughly excavate their contents on dry land.[3]


Archaeologists have discovered large quantities of burnt flints, mounds of timbers and pits dug into the ground. Wood from this era does not normally preserve well in land environments, so the quantity of wood found at Bouldnor makes the site of international importance.[7]

Under a large mound of worked timbers at BC 5, archaeologists discovered large areas of burnt clay, burnt flint and charcoal, which has been interpreted as the floor of a living space.[7] Other timbers show signs of having been extensively worked on. Some split oak suggests that particularly large structures, or possibly boats, were being constructed at the site.[7] Another timber shows signs of having been fashioned as a type of conduit, which is not something that has ever been seen in Mesolithic archaeology before.[8] Some of the worked timbers indicate technological skills that had previously only been associated with the Neolithic era, 2000 years later than Bouldnor.[9]

Burnt hazelnuts and oak charcoal have also been found at BC 5.[6] Like the wood, these types of organic material do not normally survive well in dry, land based, environments.[1] A pit dug into the clay at BC 5 had been filled with burnt clay nodules, charcoal and burnt stones, which had been covered with a large piece of wood. Examining the pit walls revealed that the pit had probably been filled with hot stones on several occasions.[7] Other trenches have revealed chipped wood flakes, flint knapping flakes and even wound fibres that appear to have been used as string.[10] Many of the finds suggest evidence of small scale industry as well as settlement.[4]

The work done at Bouldnor is exhibited in the Maritime Archaeology Trust's Sunken Secrets exhibition at Fort Victoria on the Isle of Wight.[11]

International trade

Research published in 2015 has identified wheat DNA at the site. As this wheat is of a type not native to Britain, it suggests the possibility of trade with Europe much earlier than had previously been supposed by archaeologists.[12] This claim was questioned and it was suggested that the wheat DNA was too pristine and probably represents contamination.[13][14] However, the original authors published a response to this contested point.[15]


  1. ^ a b c "Fight on to save Stone Age Atlantis". BBC. 8 August 2007. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
  2. ^ British Archaeology, p. 31
  3. ^ a b "Diving into the Past", Isle of Wight County Press, p. 14, 16 September 2011
  4. ^ a b Momber, Tomalin, Scaife, Satchell & Gillespie, preface p. 10
  5. ^ a b c British Archaeology, p. 32
  6. ^ a b British Archaeology, p. 33
  7. ^ a b c d British Archaeology, p. 34
  8. ^ "Making History". Southampton. 10 May 2011. Event occurs at 3pm – 3.30pm. BBC. Radio 4. Missing or empty |series= (help)
  9. ^ "Bouldnor Cliff". Maritime Archaeology Trust. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  10. ^ Momber, Tomalin, Scaife, Satchell & Gillespie, p. 81
  11. ^ "Sunken Secrets – Current Exhibitions". Archived from the original on 27 April 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  12. ^ Balter, Michael. "DNA recovered from underwater British site may rewrite history of farming in Europe". Science. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  13. ^ "Ancient DNA dispute raises questions about wheat trade in prehistoric Britain". Nature News & Comment. Retrieved 5 November 2015.
  14. ^ Weiß, Clemens L.; Dannemann, Michael; Prüfer, Kay; Burbano, Hernán A. (3 November 2015). "Contesting the presence of wheat in the British Isles 8,000 years ago by assessing ancient DNA authenticity from low-coverage data". eLife. 4: e10005. doi:10.7554/eLife.10005. ISSN 2050-084X. PMC 4629168. PMID 26525598.
  15. ^ "Thermal age, cytosine deamination and the veracity of 8,000 year old wheat DNA from sediments". bioRxiv 032060.


  • G. Momber, D. Tomalin, R. Scaife, J. Satchell & J. Gillespie (2011). Mesolthic occupation at Bouldnor Cliff and the submerged prehistoric landscapes of the Solent. The Council for British Archaeology. ISBN 978-1-902771-84-7.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  • Momber. G, Satchell, J. & Gillespie, J. (2011). "Bouldnor Cliff". British Archaeology. York: Council for British Archaeology (November – December 2011): 30–35. ISSN 1357-4442.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)

External links

Archaeology Discover Centre

The Archaeology Discover Centre (formerly Sunken Secrets and the Underwater Archaeology Centre) is a museum located in Fort Victoria on the Isle of Wight, England.

The museum is run by archaeologists based on the Isle of Wight. It is housed in five of the fort's former casemates. Since it was opened in 1990 the museum has been used to display exhibits recovered from several local shipwrecks and the submerged landscapes of the Solent. These include the wrecks of HMS Pomone, HMS Invincible, the Yarmouth Roads Wreck and Bouldnor Cliff. The museum also houses an exhibition about the history of Fort Victoria itself.

Like most attractions in the fort the museum only operates from Easter to autumn, during which time it opens daily and occasionally holds activity and community events.


Bouldnor is a hamlet near Yarmouth on the west coast of the Isle of Wight in southern England. It is the location of Bouldnor Battery, a gun battery emplacement.

Bouldnor is located on the A3054 road, and public transport is provided by buses on Southern Vectis route 7.

There is currently some oil exploration being done in Bouldnor.Bouldnor was the site of a brickmaking enterprise.The Current Lord of The manor of Bouldnor is David, Lord Prosser of Bouldnor, holder of the Feudal Title.

A soapbox derby was held in Bouldnor in 2005. It was a big success, so the event was repeated in 2006, though moved to Newport and renamed the Isle of Wight Soapbox Derby Challenge.

Bouldnor Formation

The Bouldnor Formation is a geological formation in the Hampshire Basin of southern England. It is the youngest formation of the Solent Group and was deposited during the uppermost Eocene and lower Oligocene.


Hampshire (, (listen); postal abbreviation Hants.) is a county on the southern coast of England. The county town is the city of Winchester. Its two largest cities, Southampton and Portsmouth, are administered separately as unitary authorities; the rest of the county is governed by Hampshire County Council.

First settled about 14,000 years ago, Hampshire's history dates to Roman Britain, when its chief town was Winchester. When the Romans left Britain, the area was infiltrated by tribes from Scandinavia and mainland Europe, principally in the river valleys. The county was recorded in the 11th century Domesday Book, divided into 44 hundreds. From the 12th century, the ports grew in importance, fuelled by trade with the continent, wool and cloth manufacture in the county, and the fishing industry, and a shipbuilding industry was established. By the 16th century, the population of Southampton had outstripped that of Winchester. By the mid-19th century, with the county's population at 219,210 (double that at the beginning of the century) in more than 86,000 dwellings, agriculture was the principal industry and 10 per cent of the county was still forest. Hampshire played a crucial military role in both World Wars. The Isle of Wight left the county to form its own in 1974.

The county's geography is varied, with upland to 286 metres (938 ft) and mostly south-flowing rivers. There are areas of downland and marsh, and two national parks: the New Forest, and part of the South Downs, which together cover 45 per cent of Hampshire.

Hampshire is one of the most affluent counties in the country, with an unemployment rate lower than the national average, and its economy derived from major companies, maritime, agriculture and tourism. Tourist attractions include many seaside resorts, the national parks and the Southampton Boat Show. The county is known as the home of writers Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, the childhood home of Florence Nightingale and the birthplace of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

History of the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is rich in historical and archaeological sites, from prehistoric fossil beds with dinosaur remains, to dwellings and artefacts dating back to the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman periods.

List of archaeological sites by continent and age

This list of archaeological sites is sorted by continent and then by the age of the site. For one sorted by country, see the list of archaeological sites by country.

Maritime Archaeology Trust

The Maritime Archaeology Trust (formerly the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology) is a charitable trust that researches and excavates maritime archaeology and heritage in Great Britain. Historically, their core activities were focused around Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and the Solent, but now they work in other parts of the country and on international projects.

Maritime archaeology

Maritime archaeology (also known as marine archaeology) is a discipline within archaeology as a whole that specifically studies human interaction with the sea, lakes and rivers through the study of associated physical remains, be they vessels, shore-side facilities, port-related structures, cargoes, human remains and submerged landscapes. A specialty within maritime archaeology is nautical archaeology, which studies ship construction and use.As with archaeology as a whole, maritime archaeology can be practised within the historical, industrial, or prehistoric periods. An associated discipline, and again one that lies within archaeology itself, is underwater archaeology, which studies the past through any submerged remains be they of maritime interest or not. An example from the prehistoric era would be the remains of submerged settlements or deposits now lying under water despite having been dry land when sea levels were lower. The study of submerged aircraft lost in lakes, rivers or in the sea is an example from the historical, industrial or modern era. Many specialist sub-disciplines within the broader maritime and underwater archaeological categories have emerged in recent years.Maritime archaeological sites often result from shipwrecks or sometimes seismic activity, and thus represent a moment in time rather than a slow deposition of material accumulated over a period of years, as is the case with port-related structures (such as piers, wharves, docks and jetties) where objects are lost or thrown off structures over extended periods of time. This fact has led to shipwrecks often being described in the media and in popular accounts as 'time capsules'.

Archaeological material in the sea or in other underwater environments is typically subject to different factors than artifacts on land. However, as with terrestrial archaeology, what survives to be investigated by modern archaeologists can often be a tiny fraction of the material originally deposited. A feature of maritime archaeology is that despite all the material that is lost, there are occasional rare examples of substantial survival, from which a great deal can be learned, due to the difficulties often experienced in accessing the sites.

There are those in the archaeology community who see maritime archaeology as a separate discipline with its own concerns (such as shipwrecks) and requiring the specialized skills of the underwater archaeologist. Others value an integrated approach, stressing that nautical activity has economic and social links to communities on land and that archaeology is archaeology no matter where the study is conducted. All that is required is the mastering of skills specific to the environment in which the work occurs.

Prehistoric Britain

Several species of humans have intermittently occupied Britain for almost a million years. The Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD is conventionally regarded as the end of Prehistoric Britain and the start of recorded history in the island, although some historical information is available from before then.

The earliest evidence of human occupation around 900,000 years ago is at Happisburgh on the Norfolk coast, with stone tools and footprints probably made by Homo antecessor. The oldest human fossils, around 500,000 years old, are of Homo heidelbergensis at Boxgrove in Sussex. Until this time Britain was permanently connected to the Continent by a chalk ridge between south-east England and northern France called the Weald-Artois Anticline, but during the Anglian Glaciation around 425,000 years ago a megaflood broke through the ridge, creating the English Channel, and after that Britain became an island when sea levels rose during interglacials. Fossils of very early Neanderthals dating to around 400,000 years ago have been found at Swanscombe in Kent, and of classic Neanderthals about 225,000 years old at Pontnewydd in Wales. Britain was unoccupied by humans between 180,000 and 60,000 years ago, when Neanderthals returned. By 40,000 years ago they had become extinct and modern humans had reached Britain. But even their occupations were brief and intermittent due to a climate which swung between low temperatures with a tundra habitat and severe ice ages which made Britain uninhabitable for long periods. The last of these, the Younger Dryas, ended around 11,700 years ago, and since then Britain has been continuously occupied.

Britain and Ireland were then joined to the Continent, but rising sea levels cut the land bridge between Britain and Ireland by around 11,000 years ago. A large plain between Britain and Continental Europe, known as Doggerland, persisted much longer, probably until around 5600 BC. By around 4000 BC, the island was populated by people with a Neolithic culture. However, no written language of the pre-Roman inhabitants of Britain has survived; therefore, the history, culture and way of life of pre-Roman Britain are known mainly through archaeological finds. Although the main evidence for the period is archaeological, available genetic evidence is increasing, and views of British prehistory are evolving accordingly. Toponyms and the like constitute a small amount of linguistic evidence, from river and hill names, which is covered in the article about pre-Celtic Britain and the Celtic invasion.

The first significant written record of Britain and its inhabitants was made by the Greek navigator Pytheas, who explored the coastal region of Britain around 325 BC. However, there may be some additional information on Britain in the "Ora Maritima", a text which is now lost but which is incorporated in the writing of the later author Avienus. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that ancient Britons were involved in extensive maritime trade and cultural links with the rest of Europe from the Neolithic onwards, especially by exporting tin that was in abundant supply. Julius Caesar also wrote of Britain in about 50 BC after his two military expeditions to the island in 55 and 54 BC. The invasion during 54 BC is thought to be an attempt to conquer at least the southeast of Britain (it failed).Located at the fringes of Europe, Britain received European technological and cultural achievements much later than Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region did during prehistory. The story of ancient Britain is traditionally seen as one of successive waves of invasion from the continent, with each bringing different cultures and technologies. More recent archaeological theories have questioned this migrationist interpretation and argue for a more complex relationship between Britain and the Continent. Many of the changes in British society demonstrated in the archaeological record are now suggested to be the effects of the native inhabitants adopting foreign customs rather than being subsumed by an invading population.

Vincent Gaffney

Vincent Gaffney is a British archaeologist and the Anniversary Chair in Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bradford.

Gaffney has directed research projects around the world. Most recently, he has become known for his work on Doggerland, a submerged landmass that existed in the North Sea in the early Holocene. Other recent work includes the Anglo-Austrian “Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project", The Curious Travellers Project, the Adriatic islands Project, and the pit alignment at Warren Fields He was Co-PI on the EPSRC GG-TOP Gravity Gradient Project. Other fieldwork has included analysis of Roman villas on the Berkshire Downs (UK), survey at Roman Wroxeter, Diocletian's Palace, the Cetina Valley in Croatia, Forum Novum and Cyrene, Libya.

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