In 1931 a British fishing trawler named the Colinda was working in the waters of the North Sea. As the nets were pulled on board, the captain noticed several large clumps. They were pieces of peat. It wasn’t uncommon to bring up peat-like material from the seabed in the region, and little was thought of it. This time, however, as the captain scowled and tried to free the muddy plant matter from the net, he noticed something interesting.

It was a long, thin blade painstakingly carved from a piece of antler. The captain kept the artefact and gave it to the ship’s owner when he came ashore.

The artefact, now thought to be a harpoon tip or a fish spear, has subsequently been dated. It’s age? 4,000 to 10,000 years.

Since this early discovery, archaeologists have found a wide range of artefacts beneath the waves of the North Sea. Modern knowledge of geology, the topography of the seafloor, and the history of sea-level rise at the end of the last ice age has brought scientists and archaeologists to the conclusion that, at the end of the last ice age, there was a broad plain of tundra stretching from the eastern shores of England to the west coast of southern Norway. Archaeologists call this plain Doggerland (check out this reconstruction of its geography).

Doggerland is thought to have supported a relatively large human population. Hunters enjoyed a relatively lush landscape of lakes and estuaries rich in fish, shellfish, and waterfowl.

Despite these rich resources, Doggerland was also a land in flux. Archaeologists and geologists have evidence that the level of the sea rose by one to two metres per century. It’s likely that villages would have been moved every generation to keep pace with the rapidly rising waters.

By 5,000 years ago, Doggerland had been reduced to a small collection of low-lying islands in the middle of the North Sea. Around this time, the archaeological record of human habitation suddenly stops.

It is commonly thought that the islands were abandoned once they became too low and wet for continuous human habitation. But a new, competing theory has recently emerged.

This year, a team from Imperial College London released the results of a computer model recreating a large tsunami that is thought to have originated in Norway and crossed the North Sea to the coast of England. Although previous teams had modelled the tsunami, none had included the islands making up Doggerland at that time.

The results of the study? A metre high tsunami would have inundated the remaining islands right about the time at which they seem to have been abandoned.

Could the tsunami have wiped out the remaining human population on the low-lying islands of Doggerland? We may never know for sure, but such a major event would certainly have had a major affect on those living in the region.

Regardless of the effects of the tsunami, by 4,000 years ago not a trace of Doggerland remained above the waves.


Further reading:

Reconstructing the Culture of Doggerland

Reconstructing the Landscape of Doggerland