The Solent formed when a low lying land mass that once joined Britain to the European continent was drowned by a rise in sea level resulting from the end of the last Ice Age. At a later stage the Isle of Wight was severed from the mainland, and as a result the Solent as we know it today was formed by the drowning of the low lying land between. The reason for this severance is believed to stem from the continuing erosion and breaching of a chalk ridge that extended from the Isle of Wight to the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorset. This theory was first made after studies of the similarities of the chalk stacks that extend out into the sea at Old Harry Rocks, on the Isle of Purbeck and at the Needles. These chalk remains are positioned so as they may have at one time been connected.
The land that was drowned is believed to have been a mixture of wetland and woodland, and contained a network of ancient river systems, including the River Solent, running along the main course of the existing Solent. The creeks and harbours along the coast, such as those around Chichester Harbour, are believed to be the upper reaches of these ancient river systems.
At the Underwater Archaeology Centre at Fort Victoria on the Isle of Wight you can learn about the fascinating local maritime heritage and hear about the unfortunate ships that have been claimed by the treacherous seas around the Island. You can also learn about the work of maritime archaeologists and the Lost Land that has been discovered beneath the Solent. The Centre has become an educational hub for the community, schools and dive groups. Within the Exhibition, the work of the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology is displayed to help teach people about the maritime history of the area.