Searching for the people of Doggerland

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This hammerstone was recently found off the coast of Norfolk. CREDIT: University of Bradford

Around 8,150 years ago, a sudden shift in the seabed created the Storegga tsunami in the North Sea. With all known evidence pointing towards this event greatly affecting, but not completely inundating, Doggerland (the strip of land that once connected Britain to continental Europe – see CA 367), the search is now on for evidence of human occupation. While it is thought that there must have been significant Mesolithic groups living here during the period, without knowing just how populated the area was likely to be it cannot be determined how catastrophic the tsunami may have been.

As part of the ‘Europe’s Lost Frontiers’ project, researchers from the University of Bradford have been analysing the evolution of Doggerland, tracing its gradual inundation. At the end of the last Ice Age, c.11,700 years ago, Doggerland probably stretched all the way from Yorkshire to Denmark, but by 9000 cal BC the North Sea had begun to flood in, creating an archipelago that predominately included ‘Dogger Island’ (an upland area in the northern reaches of Doggerland) and Dogger Bank off the eastern coast of Great Britain. By the time of the Storegga tsunami, this landmass had shrunk even more, greatly reducing the size of both areas to shallow sandbanks. (More information on this process, along with the full impact of the tsunami, was recently published in Antiquity journal:

Evidence for occupation of this region during the Mesolithic is scarce. Occasional chance finds of animal bones and artefacts have been dredged up by fishermen in the North Sea, most frequently in an area known as the Brown Bank off the coast of Belgium. But earlier this year, the most direct evidence for Doggerland’s occupation was discovered just off the coast of Norfolk: a man-made tool known as a hammerstone. The University of Bradford team is now hoping that more evidence of human activity will be discovered soon as work continues in this area.

As Professor Vincent Gaffney, one of the leaders on the project, said: ‘Although many thousands of people must have lived on these drowned lands, the extreme nature of working in the North Sea means that archaeologists have never been able to locate a single human settlement in the vast landscape. Work at Bradford is changing how we understand this mysterious land beneath the sea and how it eventually ended.’

This news article appears in issue 371 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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