Maritime Archaeology Updates

Diving Deeper with the Maritime Archaeology Trust

Tag: diving (page 2 of 2)

Bouldnor Cliff Day One: 14/06/16

The MAT Bouldnor Cliff dive team 2016

Just off the Isle of Wight is the site of Bouldnor Cliff. Bouldnor Cliff was a Mesolithic settlement, dating to 8,000 years ago. The finds from this site include worked timber and flints, and show that the inhabitants were using technology that was 2,000 years more advanced than expected in a site of this age!

The Mesolithic site is about eleven metres below the surface, and is part of the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation. Sadly, the tides of the Solent are eroding the site. More material is constantly being exposed, and subsequently is being threatened. The Maritime Archaeology Trust is working hard to monitor the site’s condition, and to recover material that is coming under threat.

The MAT is carrying out dives to create a record of the site, to document any changes that are taking place, and any exposed material. It is important to make frequent records of the site, and the plan is to use photogrammetry to create a 3D model. Divers first make a ‘pre-disturbance survey’, in order to ensure that the site is properly catalogued before making and changes or disturbing anything. Once the researchers are confident that there is a good record of the site and its contents, they are able to examine and rescue artefacts, and bring them to the surface for further study. These can be compared with the plan, in order to make note of where the artefacts were find, and piece together the site: a bit like putting together a big puzzle.

The divers set up a baseline at the site, in order to carry out the recording. A photographic survey was undertaken, to record the newly exposed features and document the site in its current condition, before any further work.

The first thing seen by the divers as they approached the site was some newly exposed timber, protruding from the bank. This timber was not visible last year, and has been revealed by the erosion. It appeared to have been worked, and looks like it may even be the remains of a platform. Later dives will aim to further study these timbers, and rescue them.

A later dive revealed a fellow archaeologist digging at Bouldnor Cliff: a lobster, with a collection of worked flints outside his burrow. Lobsters are frequent visitors to the site, and often turn up flints such as these. With the lobster’s help, the next dive recovered five small worked flints, and they were brought to the surface and inspected for the first time in 8,000 years.

The first day was a grand success, with four dives in total. The last of these dives included two new visitors; volunteers from Egypt who had come to see the site and assist in the photogrammetry. They were very impressed with what they saw, and can’t wait to return to the site and continue their study. The work at Bouldnor Cliff will continue, to ensure that the site is safe, any threatened material is recovered, and that we learn everything we can from this exciting site.

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Garry Momber talks Bouldnor Cliff
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Bouldnor Cliff #3 – Sunken Secrets

This is the last video before we go out diving!

This time Garry is visiting the Sunken Secrets Museum on the Isle of Wight. He shows us various pieces of timber, flint and string that has taught us a lot about the people living here during the mesolithic era. The findings are proving to be highly important, because they show the people were way more advanced than previously thought, by as much as 2000 years.

 

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Bouldnor Cliff #2 – past findings and discoveries

Our second video is out!

This time Sara Rich shows us some timber from earlier Bouldnor excavations and tells us what we can learn from them.

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Bouldnor Cliff #1 Where and what is it?

Take a look at our latest video!

Garry is on the Isle of Wight discussing what we find at Bouldnor Cliff. He shows us what the submerged forests look like and what we can learn about England in the mesolithic era, emphasising the importance of this site.

We are doing our best to retrieve as much as we can before it all erodes away.

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Underwater Survey and Excavation – Bouldnor Cliff

Excavating a 8000 year old boatyard?

Bouldnor Cliff is a 8000 year old site of human occupation that is now submerged 11 metres under the Solent on the Isle Of Wight. It is thought this site was on a lakeside originally – before the last Ice Age ended and sea levels rose. Bouldnor is teaching us a lot about wood working, for example how they built various huts, tools and canoes. String, wood, bone, foodstuff, ancient DNA of dog, auroch and wheat, the oldest boat building site in the world, as well as flint tools have all survived.

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Why is Bouldnor Cliff so special?

In 1999, whilst out diving, MAT discovered what we know as Bouldnor Cliff by the Isle of Wight. This used to be a highly populated area of land. Ever since the discovery there have been ongoing excavations and investigations to uncover the complex life of the people living on this piece of land during the mesolithic era, about 8000 years ago.

Bouldnor Cliff Excavation

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Identifying a Catalina

Consolidated_PBY-5A_Catalina_in_flight_c1942

In February we were contacted by a member of the public who’d recently enjoyed a trip to the Caribbean. Whilst there, he’d been diving off the island of St Lucia and visited the wreck of an aircraft. It was, he said, just inside a reef in shallow water but difficult to access as the waves break over the reef in windy weather.

He only had the one opportunity to visit and even then, could not explore the whole aircraft. With no information available from the team who guided him to the wreck, he was curious as to what it may be and, on his return to England, contacted us to see if we’d be able to help.

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Images courtesy of Alan Foster

His photos illustrate some of the difficulties in maritime archaeology – namely visibility and recording. Not only had the diver been unable to reach the rear of the aircraft, but they hadn’t even been able to see it. Additionally, it is very difficult for someone viewing the photographs later to gauge the scale of the wreck – which is exactly why scale rulers are so important in archaeological recording (not that we would expect a diver on a pleasure dive to take scales with them purely for our benefit!).

The query was sent through to the Trust’s military history expert, Stephen Fisher. At first it looked like a hopeless task as it was barely possible to work out what any part of the front of the aircraft the photographs were looking at, but Stephen was struck by a solitary feature, visible in the bottom left photograph. This strake reminded Stephen of a similar feature he had seen on the nose of the Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat, a famous aircraft from the period of the Second World War.

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Working on this hypothesis, it didn’t take long to match up the other seemingly random features with the Catalina.

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Right hand photo by Aleksandr Markin [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

With the type of plane now known, it made identifying the actual plane a lot easier. The book BusNos!: Disposition of World War II USN, USMC and USCG Aircraft Listed by Bureau Number by Douglas Campbell lists two possible candidates:

  • Aircraft 2400 Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina (Naval Patrol Squadron 31) based at San Juan, Puerto Rico, reported as having ‘water looped during landing and sank 30-Apr-42 at St Lucia’.
  • Aircraft 7249, Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina (Naval Patrol Squadron 92) ‘force-landed after engine failure and drifted onto reef and sank 14-May-42 St Lucia.’

There were only minor differences between the 5 and 5A and because of the sheer number of individual variations, even between planes of the same model (such as the forward gun position), it wouldn’t be easy to tell one from the other based on the images. The description of Aircraft 7249 sinking on a reef obviously suggests it may be that one.

The diver has passed all of this information to his contacts in St Lucia. Further research and dives to identify this aircraft can now at least focus on two specific aircraft and look for clues as to which it may be.

With thanks to Alan Foster.

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