“Welsh Atlantis” emerges after storms strip beach of sand

Rob Waugh
Traces of human habitation from 5,000 years ago have been revealed by storms

Sunken traces of human settlement from 5,000 years ago have emerged from the sea off the coast of Wales - and the forest paths and campfires have been likened to a “Welsh Atlantis”.

Traces of the forest off the coast of Borth have been visible at high and low tide for decades, and known about since the early 20th Century, but recent winter storms have stripped the beach of sand and revealed tantalising clues about the ancient people who lived there.

Camp fires and even what appear similar to wooden walkways have emerged - recalling local legends of the “sunken kingdom” of Cantre'r Gwaelod, made famous in the poem, “Boddi Maes Gwyddno”, a sunken land whose bells are supposedly audible from the shore.

“Over the past year, floods cleared off very large areas of sand from the beach,” says Dr Martin Bates of the University of Wales Trinity St David..

“It has opened our eyes to what’s really out there. We’re now seeing the area exactly as it was 5,000 years ago.”

Previous to the storms and floods of the past two years, the “occasional tree stump” could be seen at low tide. Now a whole forest has emerged - complete with footprints and other traces of human habitation from millennia ago.

                               [4,000 year old tomb with chariots emerges]

“We found the remains of burnt stone pebbles on the beach,” says Dr Bates. “Five thousand years ago, heating up water in containers was quite difficult, so humans would heat up stones instead and drop them into water. It’s clear evidence that there were humans down there.”

The team have had to race against time to investigatte the remains before the sea rises to cover them again.

Similar remains have emerged from the sea all around Britain in places as far flung as Jersey and Cornwall, due to the recent spate of bad weather, Bateman says.

“We’re now seeing the remains of a forest, a metre to a metre and a half thick,” says Dr Bates. “It’ss been know about, and periodically exposed before, but it’’s always been just the odd tree stump. We’ve now seen footprints, clear evidence of humans. Maybe they were bringing cattle or other animals through. There are other signs - a piece of what appears to be wooden trackway, although we’re now not sure about that.”

“What we’re seeing now wouldn’t appear unless something was happening. We’re seeing these things because destruction is taking place - floods and coastal erosion. The downside is that people are losing their houses and their land - and we’ve got to be sensitive about that.”

Bates is reluctant to make a link between the current weather patterns and climate change - “i’m not a climate scientist”, he says - but says, “In hindsight, we’ll probably see that it was caused by climate change.”

The exposed land, part of a large forest around a river, was itself swamped by a period of rising sea levels 5,000 years ago, he says.

“What happened in Borth 5,000 years ago would have been quite dramatic to the people living there,” he says. “The sea level leapt massively all of a sudden, and washed over flood plains, and over forests that had grown around river systems. People would have seen all these trees dying off - and quite quickly. It was the same story around Cornwall and Orkney.”

Another period of dramatic change in sea levels was all it took to unearth the forest from the sea at Borth.

“The current storminess, and the sheer scale of the removal of sand is what allows us to make these observations,” he says. “It’s only been when hundreds of metres of beach have been stripped of sand that we could  see that there was a river channel cutting through the forest - suddenly, we could look at it and see it in that sense.”

Section in main forest area at Ynyslas showing transition from estuarine silts into peat with tree rooted into peat
Animal footprints at Borth
Weather which has stripped the beach of sand has revealed footprints and other traces