DIVING almost blind in the Solent’s murky waters, the team of maritime detectives could just make out the shape of a wooden plank protruding from the muddy seabed.
While it might have been dismissed as underwater junk by the untrained eye, the archaeologists soon realised they had discovered a vital clue to a lost civilisation.
The timber was not isolated. In fact they found another 23 pieces of all shapes and sizes intersecting throughout the underwater cliff off Bouldnor, on the north coast of the Isle of Wight.
They are now convinced the timber is evidence of a huge wooden structure built about 8,000 years ago by our Mesolithic ancestors.
Garry Momber has been excavating the 1km-long site for more than a decade and believes it is the most significant find to date.
“We were in shock,” the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA) director told the Daily Echo. “This is more comprehensive than anything I thought we would ever find and I’m sure there is an awful lot more to be uncovered.”
Thanks to the protection of the sea, and the absence of oxygen-related erosion, Bouldnor Cliff has been preserved as a remarkable time capsule.
Hundreds of ancient artefacts, including flint, charcoal, string, hazelnuts and the remains of a log boat, have been retrieved from the site since excavations began in 1998.
However, Mr Momber said the latest discovery, made two months ago, would help rewrite the history books, as it was further proof the inhabitants had settled permanently on the banks of the Solent.
“Each piece of timber has very clear and distinct cut marks, so we know they have been worked on,” he said.
“It’s an elaborate framework and the timber appears to be linked. It could be a collapsed structure, or perhaps a platform built close to the waterway.”
He added: “This really pushes forward our understanding of the area because it shows they were well established and capable of craftsmanship.”
This summer’s three-day dive cost £3,600, a sum covered by donations and support from the National Oceanography Centre.
But as erosion steadily sweeps away the site, it is a race against time before the ancient artefacts are lost to Mother Nature.
Mr Momber today calls on local and national businesses to support the Trust so that it can launch a full-scale excavation next year.
“This really is of national and international significance – there is nothing else like it in the UK,” he said.
“The race is on to save what we can now. If we don’t act now, these findings could be lost forever.”