Submerged Palaeo-Arun and Solent Rivers: Reconstruction of Prehistoric Landscapes

Sanjeev Gupta, Jenny Collier, Andy Palmer-Felgate, Julie Dickinson, Kerry Bushe, Stuart Humber, 2008

Data copyright © Dr Sanjeev Gupta unless otherwise stated

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Primary contact

Dr Sanjeev Gupta
Department of Earth Science and Engineering
Imperial College London
RSM Building
Prince Consort Road
Tel: 020 75946527

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Sanjeev Gupta, Jenny Collier, Andy Palmer-Felgate, Julie Dickinson, Kerry Bushe, Stuart Humber (2008) Submerged Palaeo-Arun and Solent Rivers: Reconstruction of Prehistoric Landscapes [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

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Project background and methodology

The Solent and West Sussex rivers contain some of the world's most important early Palaeolithic archaeology. The dense concentration of palaeolithic artefacts within sediments of the Solent and its tributaries indicate that south coast river systems were corridors for human migration and favoured habitats for early (including pre-Anglian) human populations. The earliest hominid fossils from the British Isles were recovered from a Pleistocene raised beach at Boxgrove, West Sussex. The platform on which these deposits rest extends into the English Channel and would have been exposed during phases of low sealevel to form a continuous land connection with the European mainland. During cold stages, it is likely that this newly exposed land would have been colonised periodically by rich grasslands supporting a diverse mammalian megafauna including humans. The exposed English Channel shelf would have been a favoured route to the north and the river valleys, preferred occupation sites. As well as potentially preserving rich archaeological information, shelf valley systems also record the interaction of sea-level fluctuations and climatically-controlled variation in sediment input from river catchments. Such factors provide the environmental and palaeogeographical context needed to establish models of early human dispersal, demography, adaptation and ecology

The aim of the project was to reconstruct the palaeo-geomorphology of submerged and buried landscapes of the palaeo-Arun river valley on the northern English Channel shelf using regional high resolution marine surveying, seismic sequence stratigraphy and sedimentological analysis. The specific objectives were to:

  • Map the location and distribution of the incised shelf valley of the Arun River
  • Determine the morphology of the Arun palaeovalley
  • Determine the internal seismic stratigraphy of the Arun palaeovalley
  • Determine the facies architecture of the valley
  • Map the distribution of seismic units in the valley

The area of investigation focussed on the inner shelf off the south coast of Sussex, south of the town of Littlehampton, in the eastern English Channel.The study area encompasses the entire offshore extent of the Arun Palaeovalley system from the coastline to the deeper submarine valley known as the Northern Palaeovalley as depicted on BGS sheet 50N 02W (Wight - Sea Bed Sediments & Quaternary)

For clarity and to reflect the breadth of technical skills required to complete the work, the programme was split into two distinct sub-projects:

  • Project 1 (ALSF Project Number 3543) focussed on the acquisition and interpretation of new marine geophysical data utilising the JREI-funded high-resolution sonar equipment pool. Specifically, we collected, processed and interpreted geophysical swath bathymetry data from the underfilled distal section of the Arun system and sub-bottom profiling data from the entire region.
  • Project 2 (ALSF Project Number 3277) focussed on the analysis and interpretation of existing dataset of analogue boomer seismic and vibrocores collected for commercial exploration for aggregate resources in the study area. These data were provided by our aggregate industry collaborators from Hansen Marine Ltd, United Marine Dredging, and RMC Aggregates.

The results of the two sub-projects were integrated throughout the course of the programme.

The digital archive

The digital archive currently contains the final integrated project report:

  • Gupta,S., Collier,J., Palmer-Felgate,A., Dickinson,J., Bushe,K. and Humber,S. 2004: Submerged Palaeo-Arun River: Reconstruction of Prehistoric Landscapes and Evaluation of Archaeological Resource Potential. Integrated Projects 1 and 2. Final Project Report for English Heritage

The report is split into six chapters:

Chapter 1 provides the rationale and background to the study, and sets out the aims and objectives, together with detailing briefly the work carried out. Chapter 1 also provides details on the geological and environmental setting of the study area, together with the archaeological context.

Chapter 2 is focussed on data and information management. The project has required the integration of large datasets both acquired from industry, or acquired by the project. A significant task has been to build a GIS to efficiently manage these complex datasets. We believe this chapter will provide English Heritage managers with an excellent overview of the chief components and tasks involved with data management for a major marine archaeology assessment project.

Chapter 3 is concerned firstly with the acquisition and processing of the multibeam swath bathymetry data and sidescan sonar data. The second part of the chapter describes in some details the results and interpretation of these datasets.

Chapter 4 describes the details of the acquisition and processing of the multichannel boomer seismic data. The processes involved in the complex processing are detailed and preliminary interpretations are drawn.

Chapter 5 presents the results and interpretation of the analysis of the seismic stratigraphy and sedimentology of the Arun palaeovalley system. The entire offshore Arun system is discussed and the chapter makes use of both the data acquired by the project and the data donated by industrial collaborators. A synthesis of the evolution of the palaeo-Arun valley system is developed.

Chapter 6 provides an assessment of the potential for archaeological resources in the study area. An evaluation is made of the success and future potential of the geophysical techniques we have utilised in our study. Recommendations for future studies are offered.

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