4,000 year-old Deer antlers found off Welsh coast

A dear friend of ours pointed us to a discovery made during the Spring this year of a set of 4,000 year-old Red Deer antlers on a beach in Borth, Ceredigion in Wales. Recent storms have revealed a whole new section of the Sunken Lands in Cardigan Bay. From 5,000 year-old trees whose stumps have been preserved by the peat, to parts of a wattle walkway made of branches, sticks or logs that must have enabled people to cross the wet ground easily. Now a huge set of antlers, identified as belonging to a Red Deer, have been found found under 1 metre of water.

There’s an ancient folk tale about Cantre’r Gwaelod, or the Sunken Hundred, which was once a fertile land and township before it was lost beneath waves. It is believed that the land extended nearly 20 miles west of Cardigan Bay, but Cantre’r Gwaelod was lost to floods when, apparently, Mererid, the priestess of a fairy well had neglected her duties, resulting in the well overflowing.

Discovering the Deer Skull and Antlers

Researchers from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David are examining the red deer remains, discovered on a beach in Borth, Ceredigion.  When the skull was first seen, it was reported to the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth which alerted Dr Martin Bates, of UWTSD’s school of school of archaeology, history and anthropology. Dr Ros Coard, from the university, said:

The individual was certainly in the prime of his life showing full development of the large antlers.


The people who found it photographed the area where it was spotted and this was used by the team who manually searched the water at low tide until the skull was found under 1m (3.2ft) of water.

Remnants of an Ancient Forest

After further analysis, the antlers measured out to be about four feet wide. They are believed to have belonged to a giant stag which roamed that forest during the Bronze Age. Over time, the forest became bare after strong tides pushed their way onto the Cardigan Bay coastline. Back in 2014, storms once again revealed oak stumps that were about shin-high, along with yew trees and other treasures. Peat had also been found in the area before it was washed away by the rain and waves from the shore.

The stumps too were once part of a forest that had actually covered the whole area; first the forest turned into a peat bog and eventually it was all finally covered over by water. The most interesting thing is that the peat and skull were well preserved, most likely due to the peat bog. Peat, especially, is deprived of oxygen, resulting in a higher alkaline level. This lack of oxygen means microbes which cause decay can’t grow; in effect the alkali pickles everything it touches and helps preserve what’s around it.

As the two walkers made their way down the beach, they found something cutting through a channel at the site of where the fossil forest used to be. These were the antlers of the adult, large red deer covered by the incoming tide. Thankfully, scientists were able to discover their exact location as photos were taken at the time of discovery. The experts were then able to lift the antlers carefully from the seabed where they had been covered by a few inches of water.

Antlers are a ‘Wonderful Discovery’

This discovery comes from a channel cut through an area which in the 1960s turned up bones of a large auroch, an extinct form of large wild cattle that once lived in Europe. The forest and peat deposits either side of this channel date to between about 6,000 and 4,000 years ago – the time of the last hunter gatherers and the earliest farmers in Britain. Dr Bates said:

This is a wonderful discovery that really brings the forest and its environs to light.

Although the exact age of the skull has yet to be confirmed, it’s probable that the channel within which the find was made is contemporary with the forest and so an age in excess of 4,000 years old is likely.

Dr Coard, a faunal specialist at UWTSD, added:

Although the antlers and partial skull still have to undergo full analysis, the antlers can be said to come from a very large, mature male red deer.

The skull and antlers will now form part of the investigation into the forest to try and shed a light on how and why it died all those centuries ago.