Borth Antlers now confirmed as Bronze Age


Last month, a set of magnificent red deer antlers were first spotted on the beach at Borth, West Wales by visitors, Julien Culham and Sharon Davies-Culham.  Rather than attempting to remove the skull from the beach, they reported it to the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth who in turn alerted Dr Martin Bates from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) who’s been doing research work in Borth for many years.

Since then, the story of the antlers has moved on apace with initial investigation of the deposits in which the antlers were recovered.  Dr Bates has had confirmation of the first radiocarbon date from the remains of the skull attached to the antlers.

The deer is now known to have lived and died somewhere between 1200 and 1000 BC - the middle part of the Bronze Age.  

“This is a far more exciting date than we were expecting,” said Dr Bates of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

“I had thought that it would be in excess of 4000, or even 6000, years old but this is considerably younger than any of us anticipated. What this date tells us is that dryland persisted in this place at least until the Bronze Age, which means that the flooding here was therefore more recent than previously thought. The antlers have therefore totally changed our understanding of what happened to this landscape in the past”. 

The sands and silts in which the antlers were found have also been subject to initial examination and it is now clear that the environment in which they were found was one of saltmarsh and tidal channels.  

Dr John Whittaker of the Natural History Museum in London said: “The microfossils that are present in the sands only survive in saltmarsh conditions so I have no doubt that the remains of this beast came to rest in a small gully perhaps cutting through a grassy saltmarsh”.

However, one of the issues that still puzzles the team is how and why the deer died.  

This was an animal in its prime so did he die through natural causes such as disease or a broken leg, or were other agencies at work?  

“Human activity in the Bronze Age is well attested to in the surrounding area and human footprints in the peat, alongside burnt stone, indicate activity in the local vicinity,” continues Dr Bates.  

“There are no tell-tale marks on the remains to suggest the animal had been hunted though, or even perished in a rutt, so it will probably continue to be a mystery,” he adds.

The remains have now become part of another UWTSD project, entitled Layers in the Landscape.  This project is funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation and brings together science, humanities and the arts in response to thousands of years’ worth of flooding in Cardigan Bay with the antlers being a central part of this new story.  

Erin Kavanagh, the Project’s Co-ordinator says: “We believe that this Imperial stag was alive in the middle of the time span we are examining, between the demise of the forest and the birth of the beach. How might we therefore imagine the changes he saw that are now lost to us – and what other wonders may there still be, held in secret by the sea…?”

Dr Martin Bates will be further exploring the relationship between humans and their environment in Swansea this Friday as he takes part in the marine-themed Coleridge in Wales Festival at the Prince of Wales Dock.

The festival - which is jointly hosted by UWTSD and the City and County of Swansea - sees a band of artists, performers and storytellers travel the length and breadth of Wales, following in the footsteps of world-renowned poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge set off on a tour of Wales back in 1794, with dreams of founding a fairer society and discovered enduring inspiration in the unique Welsh landscape which went on to fuel some of his most important works.  

Festival highlights include a replica medieval sailing ship which will be berthed at the Prince of Wales Dock, themed around Coleridge’s epic and mysterious seafaring poem, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Throughout SA1 there will also be live music, school and public tours of the ship, poetry readings, seminars and, for extra visual spectacle, a large block of ice will be installed close to the ship to act as a conversation piece around climate change. During the event, Dr Martin Bates will also present an interactive talk on humans and climate change in the past. He will be using fossils and archaeological artefacts and will invite the audience to participate in a question and answer session. 

Further Information

  1. For more information please contact Sian-Elin Davies, Senior PR and Communications Officer, on 01267 676908 / / 07449 998476