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Doggerland’s End

07 Jul

The trawler scuttled along. The Colinda dragged its nets along the sea floor, forty kilometers off the coast of Norfolk, scraping catch out of the ocean. Pilgrim Lockwood must have been tired. He was the boat’s skipper, they had fished all night. I can see fingers stained nicotine-yellow from cigarettes working the winches and hauls. His nails were short and black with grease. The nets were heavy and the boat would have groaned and shuddered as they started to rise. Pilgrim methodically shepherded them along, plucking out his catch. Mixed in with the nets was mud, deep black and rank. It looked like peat. It came up in chunks. I can see Pilgrim’s hands, reaching for a shovel, knocking the evil-smelling chunks from the deck. Perhaps he stopped to ask what moss was doing out in the middle of the North Sea. Perhaps not, he had fished here before and would have seen it already.

Something hard and yellow skittered out across the deck. Pilgrim stopped knocking the peat aside and reached down. His hands found the object and brought it into the light. It was part of deer’s antler, encased in the mud. It had been carved at some point into an elegant barbed point. Flecks of peat still stuck to the ivory-like bone. Perhaps he looked up then, across the water, and wondered what he had found.

***

Today, we worry about rising sea levels. I’m personally fascinated by looking at projected coastlines, seeing what cities will survive and what islands will disappear. But on the flip side of that I also love looking at maps of the world as it once was. During the last ice age the sea level was up to one hundred and twenty meters lower than it is now. Great expanses of land existed where today there is nothing but water.

What Pilgrim Lockwood had found was archaeological remains from an area known as Doggerland. At its greatest extent, Doggerland would have stretched across the North Sea, forming a highway of hunter-gatherer societies, meandering rivers, harsh tundra, and rolling hills.

The people who lived there would have probably been a hearty mix of cultures. Unfortunately, the very fact that this “British Atlantis” is now underwater makes archaeological study extremely difficult. Since the 30’s, we’ve had more luck bringing up artifacts, but not much. Mammoth tusks, harpoon points, and flints have all emerged from the dense sea mud, but most of our knowledge is still guesswork and extrapolation.

We do know that this land must have been a dynamic place to live. Climate change would turn this area from a long stretch of glaciers into fertile plains and swampland. As sea levels continued to rise, the plains and hills would have eventually been turned into tide pools and estuaries. Still the rising tides would not recede, eventually turning the Dogger Hills into the Dogger Islands and, by 6000 BC, the submerged Dogger Bank. People would have needed to adapt, changing from nomadic hunter-gatherers into islanders and sailors. It would been a steady gradual pressure, changing cultures by generations. However, the final end of the Dogger Islands culture was probably much more abrupt.

An immense landslide happened in Norway, sending a tsunami rocketing across the North Sea. It is known as the Storegga Slide and evidence of it still scars the coast of Scotland and Denmark. The low-lying islands of Doggerland would have been especially vulnerable. This was likely the end of a strong Dogger culture. Survivors would have fled as the islands. The remains of their culture were swallowed by the ocean. Houses, graves, fires, and tools, submerged. Sinking into the ocean mud, lost, half-preserved under the waves.

Sources: National Geographic, Weninger et al (2008), NextNature.net, Accuweather.com, Geochemistry.usask.caWikipedia

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