Monday, 26 May 2014

Welcome to Doggerland!

If we were to sample the Dogger Bank SAC a few thousand years ago, we would be better off doing it by foot than on a ship. At that time, the area was dry land and formed a larger landmass which connected Great Britain to Europe known as Doggerland.

Map showing hypothetical extent of Doggerland (c. 8,000 BCE), which provided a land bridge between Great Britain and continental Europe (© Max Naylor)
The landscape would have looked very different from the extensive mass of water we see today; mammoths would be roaming through the tundra, and we might have encountered some humans running after lions with stone spears!

After the last Ice Age, around 8000 BCE, the north-facing coastal area of Doggerland had a coastline of lagoons, saltmarshes, mudflats, and beaches, and inland streams and rivers and marshes, and sometimes lakes. The archaeologists studying the site think that this was probably a rich habitat with human habitation and may have been the richest hunting, fowling and fishing ground in Europe in the Mesolithic period!

The Dogger Bank itself, an upland area of Doggerland, is believed to have remained as an island until at least 5000 BCE. After the end of the final glacial period of the last ice age, rising sea levels gradually reduced it to low-lying islands before its final abandonment, perhaps following a megatsunami caused by the Storegga slide – a submarine landslide off the coast of Norway. Nowadays the shallowest tip of Dogger Bank is below 20 meters of water. It is still a very rich fishing ground mainly for flat fish and sandeel.

A piece of peat with holes made by bivalves retrieved from the Dogger Bank seabed (A. Cunha, JNCC)

Some fishing vessels operating in the area today still occasionally drag up remains of mammoth, lion and other land animals, and even small numbers of prehistoric tools and weapons. This prompted the team to be on the look out for any suspicious objects while going through the benthic samples retrieved from the seafloor, in the hope of finding some interesting archaeology.

Fragments of peat retrieved from the Dogger Bank seabed (A. Cunha, JNCC)

Until now we haven’t been that lucky, although we have been finding little fragments of what we think could be pieces of peat, charcoal and even fossilized trees (although no one on board is an archaeologist!). Maybe we are being too creative but it is exciting to think that we are actually floating over such an amazing place.

Unidentified fragments, possibly charcoal pieces... (A. Cunha, JNCC)