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Visualising the past in 3D: The River Arun

Archaeologists at Wessex Archaeology have completed a 3D animation that reveals a prehistoric landscape, now submerged under the English Channel, as it might have appeared 8000 years ago.
 
At the end of the last ice age the River Arun in West Sussex flowed a further 8 miles out. Archaeological survey has revealed the lay of the land, and what plants and trees grew there.
 
The complex evidence has been turned into a compelling animated tour showing how the landscape might have looked and how families made a living from the land and the sea. The tour is set in late summer. Archaeologists call this period the Mesolithic.
 
 

Seabed Prehistory

Thousands of years ago sea levels were much lower than they are today. Britain’s coastline would have been very different. People lived in areas that are now under the sea.
 
The Seabed Prehistory project was established to research ways of identifying evidence of prehistoric landscapes in and around aggregate dredging areas. This dredging provides many of the raw materials, such as gravel, needed for the buildings industry.
 
The project was designed to see if equipment that is commonly used by the offshore industry could also identify archaeological remains. It was an opportunity for archaeologists and the aggregate industry to work together to gain a better understanding of the archaeology under the seabed.
 
The results of this project will inform future proposals for new aggregate dredging licences.
 

Landscape and Plants

Everything that you see in the visualisation is based upon archaeological evidence. The picture is built up with data collected as part of the project, or inferred from other research. Geophysical survey identified the different geological layers in the study area, revealing the shape of the land.
 
Vibrocores were used to gather evidence from the buried landscape. Vibrocores are tubes that are pushed into the seabed. The column of sediment that is caught within the tube contains layers of ancient soils.
 
We were able to identify a layer of sediment dating to the Mesolithic period. This deposit corresponds with a geological layer found in the geophysical survey. This helped us check our model of the landscape.
 
Trapped with those layers were seeds and pollen from the trees and plants that grew at the time. Microscopic animals that live in shells were also found. Particular species are only found in certain habitats. By mapping where individual species are found, we can plot particular habitats and so build up a detailed picture of the landscape.
 

People and Animals

Although no human or animal remains have been found here, we know from other research that people often hunted and gathered in such landscapes. The objects used by the family are based on finds from elsewhere. All of the animals are also known to have lived in Britain at this time.
 
We had long debates about the people’s clothes. None survive from this long ago. Eventually we opted for garments made from animal skin and furs.
 

See the video on YouTube or blip.tv

 

Credits

The Seabed Prehistory project was funded by the Minerals Industry Research Organisation (MIRO) through the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF).
 
The project was managed by Stuart Leather, with environmental analysis by Mike Allen, Rob Scaife and Chris Stevens, geophysics by Paul Baggaley, core sampling by Jesse Ransley, and turned into 3D by Tom Goskar, Karen Nichols and Chris Stevens.
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