by Frank Howie
Valentine’s Day Storms that wreaked havoc across the Duchy have uncovered an archeological treasure off the Cornish coast.
Large trunks of oak, beech and pine in peat beds have been exposed near Penzance in Mount’s Bay.
Although the ‘submerged forests’ of Mount’s Bay have been known for centuries they are rarely uncovered to the extent now seen at low tide on the beaches at Wherry Town and Chyandour.
Geologists have used radiocarbon dating on timber from the peat beds in Mount’s Bay and it is thought that extensive forests extended across the bay between 4000 and 6000 years ago.
It was around this time in human history that hunter gatherers were giving way to early farming communities.
Submerged forests are evidence of the changes in the bay as sea level has risen since the end of the last glaciation.
On the north coast forest beds have also been exposed on Portreath beach and in Daymer Bay.
The forest bed at Wherry Town on the west side of Penzance has not been exposed to this extent for 40 years or more.
The storms have revealed two to five metre trunks of pine and oak as well as the remains of hazel thickets with well-preserved cob nuts and acorns washed out by streams running across the beach.
At Chyandour to the east of Penzance rooted stumps are exposed in situ in peaty soils and massive trunks have been washed out onto the rocky foreshore.
These forests were growing four or five thousand years when climate was slightly warmer than today.
They were not flooded at the end of the last ice age which happened around 12,000 years ago.’
‘At Daymer Bay, north Cornwall, as well as several rooted tree stumps, Neolithic shell middens and fossil soils containing snails, some now rare or extinct in Cornwall are exposed.
This is an important exposure and research is underway on what it tells us about the climate and environment of the recent past in Cornwall.
‘The storms have washed away parts of this exposure although it is expected that tidal movements will again cover the deposit with sand over the next few months’.
These sites are all very fragile and it is likely that any further storms and trampling by interested onlookers may damage the deposits.
It is expected that a number of these ancient forests have been exposed around our coast and it would very useful if people can send photographs of what they see and report locations to me on 01736 331007 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great care is essential when visiting these sites; do not take risks under overhanging cliffs, during bad weather and, as these sites are intertidal, check tide times to avoid being cut off.