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Lost at sea! Expedition to find lost prehistoric settlement

Published: Fri 6 Apr 2018
Lost at sea! Expedition to find lost prehistoric settlement

Marine experts join archaeologists in an expedition to find the lost prehistoric settlement of the Brown Bank

A two-year marine expedition to search for prehistoric, submerged settlements around the area of the Brown Bank within the southern North Sea will be launched on April 10th.

Teams from the University of Bradford, Ghent University and Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) will join forces to carry out detailed geophysical surveys of the area, before extracting sediment cores that can be examined for evidence of human activity.

The project complements the Bradford-led “Lost Frontiers” project, in which archaeologists are mapping the prehistoric North Sea landscape known as Doggerland, and is funded by the European Research Council (ERC).

Until sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age, between 8-10,000 years ago, this area of land connected Great Britain to Scandinavia and the continent. The Lost Frontiers team has identified plains, hills, marshlands and river valleys across thousands of kilometres – but despite this, evidence of human activity has remained elusive.

Archaeologists have long suspected that the southern North Sea plain – right in the heart of Doggerland – may have been home to thousands of people. Chance finds by trawlers and fishermen over many decades support this theory.

A concentration of archaeological material, including bone, stone and human remains, have been found within the area around the Brown Bank, an elongated, 30 kilometres long sand ridge roughly 100 km due east from Great Yarmouth and 80 km west of the Dutch coast. The quantities of material suggest a prehistoric settlement may be close by.

Professor Vincent Gaffney, from the University of Bradford, said: “If it is possible to undertake fieldwork that can locate prehistoric settlement on the Brown Bank this would be a major event. Until now the majority of Doggerland has been terra incognita in archaeological terms. If we can begin to locate settlement across the, currently, empty map of the Doggerland, we would open a new chapter in archaeological exploration”.

Recent studies by researchers at Ghent University have narrowed the search further. They have identified river systems running across the southern North Sea at the end of the last Ice Age. Using this information, they have pinpointed a particular area in the Brown Bank where they believe there was once a large lake, at the edge of which could once have been a settlement.

Dr. David Garcia Moreno from Ghent University said: “Confirmation of the location of a prehistoric lake near the Brown Bank and the characterization of the fluvial system associated with it would be a breakthrough. Such a discovery would have vast implications in our understanding of the palaeogeographic evolution of northwestern Europe since the last Ice Age”.  

In the first phase of the project, the teams from Belgium and Britain will start to explore the area using the Belgian research vessel RV Belgica. They will carry out geophysical surveys around the Bank to provide detailed mapping of the area. The results of this work will be used to identify promising areas for examination.

In the second phase, the team will extract sediment cores from these targets and analyse them to determine the environment of the landscape underlying the Brown Bank and to understand its potential for human settlement prior to inundation by the North Sea.

Dr. Tine Missiaen from Flanders Marine Institute said: “Submerged landscapes and human settlement in the North Sea did not stop at borders. International collaboration is indispensable to unravel this unique episode in Europe’s prehistory. Only the integrated use of novel state-of-the-art techniques will allow us to map and reconstruct these drowned landscapes and settlements with unprecedented detail.”

Follow the action on twitter@BrownBank2018

Pic: RV Belgica

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