The island’s story…

Our island’s geological history tells us a fascinating ancient story…

Explore this story and timeline below and travel through 130 million years of geological time!

Wessex Floodplains 130 – 125,000,000 years BP

130 million years ago, the island was home to a huge floodplain, with forests and river channels. The river itself started in the West, flowing across southern England into Europe, creating a diverse range of habitats for all manner of creatures! It was a very seasonal environment, with a wet season bursting with life and a dry season seeing forest fires and few animals hanging on!

During this time, Dinosaurs roamed the lands and pterosaurs ruled the skies whilst small mammals and lizards hid in the shadows…

Greensand Seas: 120 – 105,000,000 years BP

Sea levels rise and the floodplains of southern England slip beneath the waves of a shallow coastal sea! The coastal seas now dominate our region depositing sands and clays that will in time become the Greensand groups!

Giant uncoiled ammonites cruise the surface waters, alongside ichthyosaurs, predatory fish, sharks and nautili! Pterosaurs swoop overhead, and the remains of plants and dinosaurs wash out to sea from nearby islands.

Chalk Oceans: 100 – 65,000,000 years BP

The sea level continues to rise. Land is so far away the only sediment building up is the microscopic remains of plankton raining down from the surface waters. Most of Europe lies beneath this open chalk sea.

Large predatory sharks and marine reptiles prowl the open waves, along with ammonites, nautili and shoals of fish. In the dark and very alien world of the chalk seafloor, sea urchins and sea sponges dominate the landscape.

Tropical shores: 50 – 38,000,000 years BP

The mesozoic world of dinosaurs, pterosaurs and the age of reptiles has ended with the KT extinction event! Its now the Palaeocene/Eocene epochs and mammals are now diversifying to dominate the planet. The Earth’s climate is very warm, with tropical rainforests blanketing the Earth from nearly pole to pole!

The Isle of Wight is beneath a shallow tropical sea surrounded by low-lying river deltas, home to lush wetlands and rainforests. A myriad of sharks, rays, fish and other exotic marine life such as sea turtles call these waters home. Early whales cruise the deeper waters offshore and the nearby wetlands are infested with crocodiles, turtles and ancient mammals.

The Wight Everglades: 34,000,000 years BP

Sea levels are falling. It’s the Late Eocene/early Oligocene epochs and the northern Isle of Wight is part of a low-lying sub-tropical coastal plain home to wetlands, swamps, rivers and lagoons, very similar to the modern Florida Everglades. The climate is still very warm but the world is beginning to cool down towards a more modern climate.

The wetlands are home alligators, turtles, fish, birds and a diverse array of bizarre mammals, including primates, hornless rhinoceroses, bear-dogs, ancient camel and horse relatives and Entelodonts a group of carnivorous pig-like predators the size of a bison.

Error 404 – Geology not found!: 30 – 1,000,000 years BP

It’s the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, but where are the rocks and fossils? The sediments laid down here during this time no longer exist, if they existed at all! Uplift is increasingly affecting our region as rocks are driven upwards, and eroded down by the elements, destroying or preventing any evidence of life here being preserved.

Evidence of this uplift and folding can be seen in the vertical Eocene strata at Alum and Whitecliff Bays, the rocks here have been folded 90º! The modern hills in our region are slowly taking shape.

Hominids, Handaxes and Hyenas: 400,000 years BP

Ice age Britain wasn’t always cold. 400,000 years ago the Isle of Wight is a warm balmy open woodland home to bizarre wildlife including lions, hyenas, forest elephants, rhinos, bison, deer and hippopotamus! Rivers deposit gravels and muds, preserving fossils of these strange species.

Homo heidelbergensis, ancestors of the Neanderthals, roam the landscape hunting and gathering. They produce iconic flint handaxes for butchering animals, artefacts that we often find on the island today! Fossils of these humans however have never been found here.

Homo heidelbergensis hunters spearing deer in the Solent River – 400,000 years bp.

Flint, fire and ice: 100,000 – 11,000 years BP

It’s the last ice age and the Isle of Wight is part of a vast freezing tundra landscape. Ice sheets are repeatedly expanding southwards, sometimes as far south as Wales! Bison, reindeer, wild horse and woolly mammoth roam the plains, alongside bears, lions, wolves and hyena! The English Channel and the Solent don’t exist, for the moment they are large river valleys.

Hardy Neanderthals hunt the herds and follow the rivers, producing flint tools. 45,000 years ago a new human species arrives, Homo sapiens! We are here, but not for long. 25,000 years ago the climate becomes too harsh to support most life, humans and wildlife are driven away.

The birth of an island: 11,000 – 2,000 years BP

12,000 years ago ice sheets retreat and sea levels rise! Modern forests and wildlife expand across the landscape. At first bands of Mesolithic hunters roam the warm forests, hunting deer, boar and wild cattle. The Isle of Wight is still part of mainland Britain!

6,000 years ago pioneering Neolithic farmers cross the English Channel from France in skin boats, bringing farming to the Isle of Wight. The Bronze Age Beaker People come soon after and construct ancient barrows across our landscape to honour the dead! Humans control the environment and are paving the way for our modern world.

5,000 years ago the Solent River is flooded by rising sea levels. Our modern island is finally born after 130 million years!