Europe’s Lost World

1 min read

Bryony Coles gave the name ‘Doggerland’ to the drowned landscape beneath the North Sea in her 1998 paper in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society summing up all that was then known about the archaeology of an area better known for oil rigs and fishing. It is thanks in part to oil exploration and aggregates prospecting that we have a far richer picture ten years on, because the authors of this present volume have been able to reuse a mass of seismic data generated for mapping mineral deposits to reconstruct an area of lost Mesolithic landscape at least as big as the UK, stretching, at its maximum extent, beyond the Low Countries, Germany and Denmark to Sweden and the Baltic coast.

The core of the book is a detailed description of the character of Doggerland, including its valleys, hills, rivers and plains, its wildlife and its vegetation. A review of the evidence for Mesolithic lifestyles from sites such as the Severn estuary and the Isle of Wight’s Bouldner Cliff all points to the conclusion that Doggerland’s watery, marshy landscape was the perfect environment for hunter-gatherer communities, replete with such seasonal food resources as wildfowl, fish, shellfish and tuberous roots.

A final, more discursive chapter moves from mythical accounts of catastrophic drowning — from Noah’s flood to the Epic of Gilgamesh and Plato’s Atlantis myth — before warning that our complacency about Britain as a safe place, immune from such extreme events, is about to be rudely shattered. Global warming will either transform Britain and Ireland into an almost unrecognisable archipelago of hundreds of large and small islands or (as featured in the Hollywood blockbuster, The Day After Tomorrow) the Gulf Stream will switch off and the UK will freeze under ice sheets and glaciers. The fate of the people of the North Sea is a significant warning for our own future, the authors argue, if we don’t meet the challenges of mankind’s ‘inconsiderate and unrestrained actions’.

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