Archaeologists identify area likely to yield evidence of settlements under North Sea
‘Hammerstone’ find takes scientists step closer to major discovery, says professor
University of Bradford archaeologists believe they may have pinpointed the location of human settlements dating back to 6150BC beneath the North Sea after retrieving a ‘hammerstone’ from beneath the waves.
The revelation follows a number of “chance” finds of faunal remains and artefacts dredged up by fishermen working in an area known as the Brown Bank in the Southern North Sea and the first ever ‘discovery by prospection’ of a man-made tool - known as a hammerstone - found off the coast of Norfolk.
The finds were made on a stretch of land which once formed a peninsula at the edge of Europe but which was gradually lost to rising sea levels.
Prof Vince Gaffney, 50th Anniversary Chair in the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences at the University of Bradford described the hammerstone discovery as a "major find", adding they were confident more artefacts could be found.
The drowning of the lands around Britain - known as Doggerland - was not entirely a gentle affair. The coasts of Doggerland were hit by a tsunami caused by a massive shift in the sea bed known as the Storegga Slide. Three great waves slammed into the coasts of all the countries around the North Sea, 8,150 years ago. Although not the end of Doggerland, the event must have been catastrophic for the people living on the coast, says Prof Vince Gaffney.
“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.”
Using data provided by energy groups, a Bradford research team, funded by the European Research Council and working with the Flemish Marine Institute, has explored areas that might hold evidence of human settlements.
These include areas where a number of ‘chance’ finds of faunal remains and artefacts have been dredged up by fishermen working in an area known as the Brown Bank in the southern North Sea and the channel of a river that flowed in the lands beneath the sea called the ‘Southern River’.
Earlier this year, archaeologists recovered the first ever ‘discovery by prospection’ of a man-made tool - known as a hammerstone - found off the coast of Norfolk.
Prof Gaffney said there were strong environmental lessons to be learned: “Doggerland was lost to prehistoric climate change, but modern, anthropogenic climate change may help us find out so much more about this previously inaccessible landscape. So far, we have been going on ‘chance finds’ brought up by fishermen, to tell us that the area now under the North Sea was settled. Now we have a methodology to investigate this previously inaccessible landscape.”
He added: “It was climate change that finally killed Doggerland and, as the North Sea is developed as part of Britain’s massive green energy plan, there is an opportunity to work with developers to discover yet more about what may be one of the largest and best preserved prehistoric landscapes in the world, and also to support researchers elsewhere in the world as the coastal plains of many countries are developed as part of society’s response to modern climate change.”
Dr Richard Bates, from the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews, said: “Although now well known, the Storegga tsunami event has not received the attention it deserves when it comes to understanding the impact on society. In the challenging years ahead, understanding human impact from natural hazards is going to become increasingly important.”