Storms uncover 10,000-year-old forest on Isle of Man coast

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  • by Mike Wade

The storms that have lashed the Isle of Man have done a lot of damage to the coastline, and the sand dunes of the northern beaches have been badly hit by the powerful waves.

However, damage to the low-lying sand cliffs at Cranstal, Bride, has revealed an archaeologist’s dream.

An area of prehistoric forest has been uncovered after a large section of shingle and sand was washed away, and the remains can offer a tangible glimpse into the island’s natural landscape before the sea levels rose and shaped the coastline as we know it today.

Lying scattered in the soft clay and sand, surrounded by the rocks and debris left by the onslaught of the past month, large timbers, root systems and perfectly preserved tree stumps, which are estimated at more than 10,000 years old can be clearly seen.

The ancient forest floor is easily identifiable as a black level piece of ground, jutting out from the sand cliff and stretching out towards the oncoming tide.

The area is currently being investigated by Andrew Johnson, curator of field archaeology at Manx National Heritage, and, while the area is already known to him and has been looked at before, he was amazed at the size of the area uncovered and of the quality of the timber left on the ground.

‘Every now and then you get so much material removed, you actually get some of the old geology,’ he said, examining one of the many stumps jutting out of the ground.

‘The clay, sand and layers of peat may only be a few thousand years old, but buried within that we’ve actually got the remains of a bit of woodland.

‘This thing here is actually the stump of a tree. You can see its roots, going off into the background.’

Such finds aren’t unknown in the island, and such wood is often referred to as ‘bog oak’, as it is usually found in the wet inland areas of the island, such as the Ballaugh Curraghs.

However, it is the location of this particular forest that is proving interesting to Andrew.

‘What we think has happened is that this woodland, thousands of years ago, has gradually been encroached upon by a developing marsh, and that has slowly poisoned the trees, waterlogged them, so that they fall down,’ he said.

‘But to see this in relation to the very edge of the island, with the Irish Sea to the left is very interesting if we are trying to understand the old environment of the island after the Ice Age.

‘It’s possible that what we’re seeing here is a woodland that has been replaced by a bog, and then that bog has been inundated by the Irish Sea as it has found its new level after the end of the Ice Age.’

‘What we need to do really is to try to relate these deposits here with deposits in the cliff where we’ve found pottery and worked flint that’s about 4,000 to 5000 years old. We’re possibly looking at a forest that might be at least 10,000 years old.’

The area may possibly hold more treasures, as there may be evidence of human and animal activity exposed. However, the big challenge now is to try to record as much information uncovered as possible before the storms return and destroy the fragile remains forever.




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