Following my previous post about my adventures and misadventures in the world of DNA testing I received numerous e-mails asking if I knew any more details about the old land surface which now lies beneath the North Sea. Well yes, a bit, so here goes.
Now known as Doggerland this flooded area was once a wide plain which stretched from the present day coast of Great Britain across to what is now the coast of Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and France. During the last Ice age which lasted until approximately 10,000 years ago, vast quantities of water were tied up in the great ice caps which dominated the northern hemisphere and sea levels were correspondingly far lower than they are today. As the ice began to retreat at the onset of the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, human populations began to follow game as they migrated north, recolonizing the tundra-like land. The earliest hunter-gatherers followed the coast north and settled in what would become present day Ireland and Scotland. Later a second group migrated north and followed the river which had developed to drain this new land and settled on what is now the floor of the North Sea. At that time the area was drained by a great river system which comprised the present day Thames, Meuse, Scheldt, Rhine and Seine. These came together in the area of the present southern North Sea and cascaded over the chalk ridge in a mighty waterfall, the remnants of which can be seen at the white cliffs at Dover and, across the channel, outside Boulogne before running south to empty into the Atlantic Ocean to the west of present day Britanny.
After several thousand years of slowly rising water levels due to receding ice caps it is thought that Doggerland was finally overwhelmed around 8200 years ago. At that time a megatsunami swept the area as the Storegga Slide off the coast of Norway inundated much of the land. Following this the escape of the melt water sea which was Lake Agassiz in North America caused the sea level to rise catastrophically. The higher area which we know today as the Dogger bank remained as a large offshore island for a further thousand years or so before it too succumbed to the rising waters.
In recent years mapping and exploration by the oil and gas industries has led to a great increase in our understanding of this area. Maps like the one reproduced above have recreated this world where the ancestors of many north Europeans, myself included, once lived and hunted such exotica as lions, bison and mammoth. Human bones and even the evidence of camp fires and wooden structures have been recovered from the sea bed off southern England and the Netherlands from this first European homeland.
Our ancestors coped well with extreme climate change and rising sea levels. Hopefully we will be as successful.