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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Mysteries of the Solent deep unearthed

A World War II landing craft turning up in the Solent and an abandoned wooden boat from the 1850s are just some of the mysteries uncovered by the maritime archaeology team after a two year project investigating the mysteries of part of the Solent seabed and New Forest coast.

The team made detailed surveys of archaeological sites; explored wrecks on the sea bed; trained and worked with volunteers; created online educational resources and made boxes to loan to schools, packed full of games and activities.

The project started in 2009 following a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund with support from the National Park Authority, English Heritage, ExxonMobil, Hampshire County Council and The Crown Estate’s Marine Community Fund.

A large part of the project was to bring together all existing maritime information. Now for the first time in the New Forest there is one database that draws together all existing information on archaeological finds on the coast and seabed.

When not at their desks the officers working on this project could be found diving on the seabed exploring wrecks, giving talks or going into schools. In two years members of the project did 37 talks to over 1,300 people, ran 25 school workshops speaking to over 1,200 pupils and attended over 40 events.

James Brown, the New Forest National Park Authority’s Maritime Archaeology Education & Outreach Officer, said: ‘This was such an interesting project to get involved in. It had so many parts to it that no two days were ever the same. The whole team including all the volunteers worked hard to gather all this information in the project time-frame.

‘Our greatest achievement was the amount of volunteer days people gave us. We were aiming for 240 days but people were so enthusiastic that we had more than 500. It just shows how much people wanted to get involved. We now have a bank of trained volunteers who are interested in getting involved in future National Park work.’

Volunteer Emily Brewer said of her time volunteering; ‘Taking part in this project was an amazing opportunity. I was thinking about studying archaeology at university next year and now after volunteering I know I have made the right choice. I not only got to learn new archaeology fieldwork skills but I got to meet new people who made it a great experience. I had fun working on the project and loved getting my hands dirty.’

Even though the research element of the project has come to an end there are still a number of ways people can learn about the New Forest coast. For those who have sea-legs there is an underwater trail of shipwrecks in the Solent marked by yellow buoys. By going to the website or scanning the ‘QR’ code on the buoy you can learn about the history of the wreck and how it came to be there, as well as see videos of what it looks like underwater today. For those who like diving, there is also an opportunity to explore the wreck with local diving schools.

If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land a dvd called ‘Shipwrecks of the western Solent’ takes you on a virtual journey through some of the history on the Solent seabed. The dvd is available from the Authority’s online shop Forest Store. The underwater heritage trail and the dvd have been awarded a ‘certificate of merit’ by the Nautical Archaeology Society.

To keep the legacy of the project alive a number of resources have been designed for young people. There are boxes of resources available for schools in the New Forest to borrow that are full of activities, games and costumes. For rainy days and school holidays children can play an online shipwreck game or download colouring sheets.

‘Mysteries of the sea are not always easy to solve,’ said James. ‘Sometimes we are left with more questions than answers. We have been left with two challenging finds; a wooden boat dating back to1850-1900 which we are trying to put a name to so we can learn its story, and a World War II landing craft. The serial number on the craft matches with two vessels involved with the embarkation of soldiers on D-Day. Records show that one was scrapped in America and the other went down off the coast of Normandy, so it’s a mystery how one ended up at the bottom of the Solent.’

For more information about the project visit or to buy the dvd visit the online store go to

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