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Tuesday 3 March 2020

Lydstep submerged forest -- the pig and the footsteps

The wild boar skeleton found by AL Leach was over 6,000 years old.

Exposure of the submerged forest on Lydstep beach in 2010.  The surface of the peat is compacted, with multiple impressions of human feet -- both adults and children.  

I haven't drawn attention to this before.  Long ago AL Leach recorded the remains of a pig (wild boar) skeleton beneath a fallen branch in the Lydstep submerged forest, with Mesolithic "bladelets" showing that the animal had been shot by a hunter before it died.  This is a very interesting paper, which follows up on Leach's original observations and also reports on a new exposure of peat with abundant human footprints impressed on its upper surface, together with the hoofprints of a red deer.

Mesolithic human and animal footprints at Lydstep Haven, Pembrokeshire, 2010: the environmental context.   by Ken Murphy, Astrid E. Caseldine, Louise Barker, Susan Fielding, Steve Burrow and Sarah Carlsen.  Archaeologia Cambrensis 163 (2014), 23–41

In 2010, winter storms stripped sand off parts of the beach at Lydstep Haven revealing intertidal peats, on the surface of which were impressed human and animal footprints. This is not the first time that the peats have been exposed. In 1917, a pig skeleton associated with late Mesolithic flint implements was found in the peats. The skeleton was subsequently radiocarbon dated to 4345–3950 cal. BC. The favoured interpretation is that the pig escaped after being shot by Mesolithic hunters only to die of its wounds. At the time of the pig’s death the local environment was one of alder carr and open swamp with hazel scrub and mixed deciduous woodland in the hinterland. The human footprints were of adults and children, and the animal footprints, where recognisable, were made by red deer. It was not possible to establish a direct link between the pig skeleton and the footprints, but the recording of the footprints and subsequent analyses reported on here demonstrates the changing environment in the late Mesolithic, and the nature of the environment when animals and humans were exploiting resources offered by coastal wetlands.

The nine-year old girl is standing close to some of the childrens' footprints.

Radiocarbon dating of the skeleton showed it to be around 6,200 years old.  Radiocarbon dating of the peat beds showed that they were formed between 6,200 and 5,200 years ago.    The peat bed varied in thickness across the exposure, with a maximum thickness of c 1.5 m.  Pollen analyses of peat and sediment samples from 6 boreholes shows a "forested wetland" consistent with studies in other submerged forest localities.  There are signs of a rising water table, although there is nothing to suggest either a marine transgression or regression in the borehole records.

In five of the six boreholes the peat was underlain by what the authors refer to as "loess" -- described in the report as a greyish brown sandy silt.  This sounds as if it may be substantially different from the "grey or blue clay" found beneath the peat in other sites.  Unfortunately the authors do not appear to have been very interested in the characteristics or interpretation of this underlying deposit!

Exposures of the Lydstep submerged peat beds in 2014.  Here the peat is very thin, the the grey clay is prominently exposed.  Photo: Pembs Coastal Photography



Buried in the text is this short note:

Following storms in early 2014, sand was once again stripped from the peat, but site visits failed to reveal detail not visible in 2010. The same storms stripped sand off Manorbier beach, 3 kilometres to the west of Lydstep, revealing pockets of peat with human and animal footprints.

We can safely assume that the submerged forest is to be found (by chance, when conditions are right) in every embayment round the Pembrokeshire coast.

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