‘Reconstruction’ begins of stone age lands lost to North Sea

Scientists to create 3D map of submerged Mesolithic landscape of Doggerland

Lost at the bottom of the North Sea virtually eight millennia ago, a vast land area between England and southern Scandinavia which was home to thousands of stone age settlers is about to be rediscovered.

Marine experts, scientists and archaeologists have spent the past 15 years meticulously mapping thousands of kilometres under water in the hope of unearthing lost tribes of prehistoric Britain.

On Wednesday a crew of British and Belgian scientists set off on their journey across the North Sea to reconstruct the ancient Mesolithic landscape hidden beneath the waves for 7,500 years. The region was submerged when thousands of cubic miles of sub-Arctic ice started to melting and sea levels began to rise.

The ancient country, known as Doggerland, which could once have had great plains with rich clays, formed an important land bridge between Britain and northern Europe. It was long believed to have been hit by catastrophic flooding.

Using seabed mapping data the team plans to produce a 3D chart uncovering the rivers, lakes, mounds and coastlines of the country. Specialist survey ships will take core sediment samples from selected areas to extract millions of fragments of DNA from the buried plants and animals.

Prof Vincent Gaffney, from the University of Bradford’s school of archaeological and forensic sciences, said:” If this is successful it will be the first time anybody will have produced such evidence for settlements in the deep waters of the North Sea. This will be a real first. That would be new knowledge of what is really a lost continent .”

Brown Bank
Brown Bank place

Bradford scientists will join Belgian experts onboard RV Belgica for the 11 -day expedition in the Brown Bank area of the southern North Sea.

Gaffney said they were praying for stable climate and good fortune.” We can’t stroll those fields looking for pottery or stone fragments, we can’t dig. We’re going to drop’ grabs ‘, or do very small-scale dredges, to see if we can find these stones or tools, to give us a clue as to what is there. We are talking about an area that is the size of a modern European country. And we are all familiar with almost nothing about it.

” We’ve been preparing for this for a long time and are now on the edge of achieving it. This is the first real chance we’ve had. We don’t know if we will succeed … We are so close- we just need a tiny bit of luck to get to the right spot .”

Until sea levels rose at the end of the last ice age, between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, an area of land connected Britain to Scandinavia and the continent.

In previous studies funded by the European Research Council, the Lost Frontiers team mapped the Doggerland region, which is about the size of Holland. The squad could identify the location of river valleys, marshlands, mounds and even white cliffs, but was unable to find evidence of human activity.

Gaffney said his focus was on the period between 11,000 BCE and 5,000 BCE, the middle stone age, in what was ” the last great period of the hunter gatherer “.

He added:” Vast parts of the North Sea were dry land and inhabited. Then sea levels rose, and pretty much everything about the world changed in this period. The most pleasant places to live would have been on the great plains- which are currently being out at sea. This is where they would have wanted to be , not in the hills. But it’s all been lost .”

North Sea fishing crews have discovered archaeological artefacts in their nets. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Images

Archaeological determines made by fishermen over the past century indicate there was a sand ridge east of Great Yarmouth, known as the Brown Bank, which could have been the place of a settlement.

Gaffney said the project hoped to reveal, for the first time, the culture and lifestyle of the prehistoric Britons who flourished there for 6,000 years.

The team plans to recover ancient pollen, plant and animal DNA, and use high-definition survey techniques to accurately reveal what the landscape looked like.

” It’s a needle in a haystack when you’re dropping a 1 metre bucket into a scenery the size of Holland ,” Gaffney said.

It is understood the ancient civilisation originally encompassed about 260,000 sq km( 100,000 sq miles ). However, after the ice age aimed coastal zones became increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic flooding and entire civilisations would have been lost.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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