National Geographic News
Ancient forest revealed by storms.

Recent storms that battered the coast of Wales stripped away sand to reveal an ancient forest dating to the Bronze Age, 6,000 years ago.

Photograph by Keith Morris, LNP

Simon Worrall

for National Geographic

Published February 26, 2014

Storms lashing the British coast last month revealed a strange new sight off the west coast of Wales, near the village of Borth: the stumps of hundreds of tree trunks, rising out of the sand, like broken teeth.

Could this be part of Cantre'r Gwaelod, a mythical kingdom believed to have disappeared beneath the waves thousands of years ago? Has Wales's very own Atlantis been found? (Related: "Lost Lands Found by Scientists.")

It's like an episode of Game of Thrones: a mysterious, submerged forest; an ancient kingdom that was home to a priestess and her magic well.

Composed mostly of oak and pine, the forest is believed to date from the Bronze Age. It was buried under a peat bog 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, then inundated by rising sea levels until this winter's violent storms stripped away the covering of peat and sand. The high level of alkaline and lack of oxygen in the peat has preserved the wood in an almost pristine state.

Map of the United Kingdom locating the submerged forest near the village of Borth, along with other places where ancient sites were uncovered by recent storms.
NG STAFF

A walkway made of sticks and branches was also discovered. It's 3,000 to 4,000 years old and was built, it is believed, to cope with rising sea levels back then. "The site around Borth is one where if there is a bad storm and it gets battered, you know there's a good chance something will be uncovered," says Deanna Groom, Maritime Officer of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, who helped find the site.

The submerged forest at Borth was not the only ancient site to have been uncovered by recent storms. Another submerged forest appeared at Mount's Bay, Cornwall. An ichthyosaur skeleton was discovered on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and East Devon. At Happisburgh, Norfolk, footprints discovered in storm-exposed rocks are believed to be the earliest evidence of humans outside Africa, dating back 850,000 years. (See "Oldest Human Footprints Found Outside of Africa.")

But it's the mythical kingdom of Cantre'r Gwaelod that has captured people's imaginations. Also known as the Lowland Hundred, the kingdom was first mentioned in the Black Book of Carmarthen, the earliest surviving manuscript written in Welsh, created around 1250 A.D. The kingdom was believed to have been flooded when a maiden named Mererid allowed a well in her care to overflow.

In another version, Cantre'r Gwaelod was ruled by a lord named Gwyddno Garanhir and protected by a seawall known as Sarn Badrig (Saint Patrick's causeway) and a series of sluice gates. Two princes of the realm oversaw the sluice gates. One of them, Seithenyn, was a notorious drunkard who one night forgot to close the sluice gates, flooding the kingdom. (The church bells of Cantre'r Gwaelod were said to ring out in times of danger, a detail that gave rise to the popular 18th-century folk song, The Bells of Aberdovey.)

There is no scientific evidence for any of this. Signs of physical habitation have never been found near Borth. Sarn Badrig is actually a reef formed by the remains of a glacial moraine. But in a land that has given the world many folk tales and myths, facts have never been allowed to stand in the way of a good legend. And who knows, perhaps one day Cantre'r Gwaelod really will rise from the sea.

Simon Worrall curates Book Talk. Follow him on Twitter or at simonworrallauthor.com.

29 comments
Allison Britt
Allison Britt

If no one lived there, who built the walkway of sticks to "to cope with rising sea levels back then"?

robbie butler
robbie butler

plus  thats part of the land brodge that stuck ireland to england

robbie butler
robbie butler

the irish once owned the  top cornere of wales and probaly that land mass where that forest is   they   owneded  like   england owns nothren ireland

Margaret Casserly
Margaret Casserly

Indeed, myths and legends usually have a basis in some facts - as well as being colorful

Diana Mann
Diana Mann

"Myth" seems to have historical and physical evidence.  I will be ecstatic when Camelot will be located!!!

Lorretta Rollinson
Lorretta Rollinson

so , about 8,000 years after the end of the Ice -age  , sea levels were rising ..why?

Betty Bailey
Betty Bailey

There has to be some truth to legends or they wouldn't become legends, eh?  To some people a bog, to others there may be a wee bit of magic in the possibilities...:)

Heather Macadam
Heather Macadam

Bran is watching from the mountains and whispering the Welsh myths back to life. Magick is in our world and it is in the form of nature. Thanks for reminding us about how much of our world is still invisible.

Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

There is also an ancient forest under the Great Lakes lake Huron. It is a popular diving location. They have also found large stones lined up under Lake Huron. Many believe it is the remains of an ancient American Indian settlement. Who Knows?! There are many things being found under water all over the world recently.

anne boad
anne boad

Often saw this at low tide as a boy. Cool that more is uncovered now.

CLINTON A.
CLINTON A.

This has happened on the beaches in Oregon and Washington state before.

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

This isn't so 'strange'. 

   This is not an unusual sight as there are ancient trees and drowned woodlands that emerge all along the south coast at low tide. The one at Winchelsea in East Sussex is especially impressive and you can walk amongst the old trunks and branches that were submerged some 6000 years ago. When broken the wood looks and smells as if it were alive yesterday - in fact I have some in my shed which I soaked in fresh water to remove the salt and tiny worms and then preserved with car antifreeze. It looks like it grew last year.

   The world's sea levels rose some 450 feet at the end of the last glacial period of this Ice Age. That's when the English Channel formed and Britain was separated from Europe. Our ancestors here in the UK populated Britain by walking across the present Channel and the Great North Plain which now lies under the North Sea having also been submerged some 6000 years ago.  

Nik Reynolds
Nik Reynolds

Regards the saw, most likely to be associated with sampling for dating during the 1960's/80's.  The site is close to Aberystwyth University and is also a renown area for geologists and biologists.

Nik Reynolds
Nik Reynolds

They are generally uncovered, but not to the extent.  I used to go on holiday and we'd visit the petrified forest.  Usually at Yns Llas though.  Very impressive.

G Pigdish
G Pigdish

This must not be the first time this forrest has been uncovered. The photos in the link to the Guardian news story has pictures of stumps that were clearly cut with a saw which is not a bronze age tool.

Glory Dey
Glory Dey

Absolutely amazing, when I first read the heading I immediately thought of "Game of Thrones"! Our planet has many such secrets buried with time we will unravel more ancient mysteries!!


Nik Reynolds
Nik Reynolds

I like the note "Signs of physical habitation have never been found near Borth".  The beach front prom is a bit shabby these days, but possibly not quite as bad as no signs of physical habitation!

Ricardo Arietti
Ricardo Arietti

Maybe this will lead to the new reality tv series : The Bog Loggers

annie branwen
annie branwen

Too bad they can't use some of the wood (like for furiture )before it returns to the sea.

Simon Worrall
Simon Worrall

@Glory Dey You might be amused to know that one of my Tweets has been Favourited by King Joffrey and the Game of Thrones twitter feed! Lady Sensa Stark tweeted: "Oh! How magical, ser! What a beautiful tale. You have a rare gift with a quill!"

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