Updated date:

Exploring the Stone Age Culture Beneath the Sea in Doggerland

Linda Crampton has an honors degree in biology. She has taught high school biology, chemistry, and science as well as middle school science.

Human Culture Beneath the North Sea

Up until around 8,000 years ago, a low-lying land mass connected Britain to Europe in the area now occupied by the North Sea. The land is buried deep beneath the ocean today. Tantalizing evidence suggests that a rich culture once existed in the area, which has been named Doggerland.

The University of Bradford is currently involved in a two-year project to explore the remains of Doggerland, which has sometimes been called “Britain’s Atlantis”. Scientists from Belgium and the Netherlands are also involved in the exploration. The investigation might reveal significant information about a culture that is believed to have been an important part of European history.

Dogger Bank (located underneath the red outline) exists today and was at one time surrounded by Doggerland.

Dogger Bank (located underneath the red outline) exists today and was at one time surrounded by Doggerland.

The North Sea is part of the Atlantic Ocean. It's a large body of water that separates Britain from mainland Europe. It's located north of the narrow English Channel (which is located to the south of England) and south of the Norwegian Sea (which is located to the north of Scotland).

Dogger Bank and Doggerland

Doggerland is named after Dogger Bank, which is a shoal (an accumulation of sediment) rising above the floor of the North Sea. More specifically, the shoal in the North Sea is believed to be a moraine. Moraines are created by rock debris transported by a glacier. Dogger Bank is located within the area once occupied by Doggerland and is in relatively shallow water. It's named after the dogger, a type of seventeenth-century fishing vessel from the Netherlands. Today the bank is known as a good site for fishing.

Around 18,000 years ago, glaciers that had formed during the preceding ice age started to melt and the frozen tundra of Doggerland began to soften as the climate warmed. The warmer temperatures and an increasing quantity of plant and animal life in the area likely attracted humans.

During Doggerland's heyday, the landscape is believed to have consisted of low hills, valleys, plains, and marshland and to have been rich in wildlife. A flourishing Mesolithic culture is thought to have existed there. The Mesolithic period existed between the time of the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age) periods. It's sometimes known as the Middle Stone Age. In Europe, it's said to have existed from around 15,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Cores taken from the ocean floor where Doggerland once existed contain peat deposits. Peat forms only in certain land habitats, such as bogs and moors. Human and animal bones (including those of mammoths) as well as ancient bone and stool tools have also been found in the sea floor. Some of the discoveries have been made by fishermen dragging weighted nets over the bottom of the ocean.

The study of the area is interesting not only because it may tell us about its inhabitants and the lives of ancient people but also because it may give us information about early settlements in the regions bordering Doggerland.

Doggerland approximately as it existed at the start of the Holocene Epoch

Doggerland approximately as it existed at the start of the Holocene Epoch

The University of Bradford link in the "References" section below has a map showing the size of Doggerland at different periods of time. It indicates that at one time the United Kingdom was part of mainland Europe. The Holocene Epoch mentioned in the map above began around 11,700 years ago. In earlier times, Doggerland was bigger than shown in the map.

The Fate of Doggerland

The climate in Doggerland continued to warm and sea levels rose as ice melted. The sea engulfed parts of the land. By 8,000 years ago, the area had been reduced to a marshy island (or perhaps islands). Then a major event occurred that likely covered what was still visible in the area. A huge, underwater landslide occurred off the coast of Norway. The event is known as the Storegga slide. The landslide is thought to have generated a tsunami, which covered Doggerland and killed the people who lived there.

Though the landslide is an accepted fact and the idea of the tsunami seems plausible to multiple researchers, there is disagreement about how many people lived in what could still be seen of Doggerland. The land was past its prime. At least one researcher suspects that although people may have visited the remaining islands in boats in order to fish, their communities had probably moved to the mainland of Britain and Europe by that time.

The idea of ancient people travelling to and from an island in a boat is not as unrealistic as it may sound. It has been discovered that some Mesolithic people—and perhaps people from an even earlier culture—built and travelled in boats.

It (Doggerland) would have been a heartland of human occupation and central to the process of re-settlement and colonisation of north Western Europe during the Mesolithic and the Neolithic.

— University of Bradford

Europe's Lost Frontiers Project

As the University of Bradford website says, the undersea Doggerland habitat can't be explored conventionally. This has meant that up to now relevant discoveries have been accidental. The Europe's Lost Frontiers project is attempting to use the best of modern technology and the most recent advances in the technology to explore the area. The techniques should be useful in exploring other drowned landscapes in the world.

Seismic Mapping

The researchers have discovered that seismic mapping performed by the petroleum industry and a wind farm project on Dogger Bank can be very useful for mapping the buried land. In some areas, the layout of the ancient land hasn't been destroyed. The land has been submerged in the ocean and covered by sediment, but it still exists. Seismic mapping has shown the existence of river valleys, lakes, coastlines, hills, and other landforms.

Environmental Analysis

The researchers will perform target coring and then analyze the contents of the cores. They will examine and date items such as pollen grains, plant and insect remains, and remains of other creatures. They hope to discover information such as the density of grazing animals and ways in which the people may have altered their landscape.

DNA Analysis

The scientists say that the cool environment at the bottom of the ocean should be a great environment for preserving ancient DNA. Cores obtained from the area will be analyzed for the presence of the chemical. The chemical will then be sequenced using the latest techniques. DNA sequencing involves an analysis of its structure.

DNA studies can be extremely useful in identifying organisms. It's vital and sometimes difficult to avoid contaminating ancient samples with modern DNA, however. Our cells and the cells of other creatures contain the chemical. This has caused some researchers' claims that a DNA sample comes from the distant past to be doubted. The doubt is not due to dishonesty on the part of the researchers but due to the likelihood of accidental contamination.

Computer Simulation

The data obtained in the above processes can be used in complex computer modelling programs that simulate real ecological conditions. The scientists in the Europe's Lost Frontiers project will use the latest techniques as well as innovative ones to get the most detailed and accurate models possible.

Technology used by the petroleum industry and in relation to the proposed wind farm on Dogger Bank is proving very useful for scientists exploring Doggerland. At the same time, the fact that various industries find the North Sea attractive is a little worrying. It would be a shame if evidence of the ancient world was destroyed before we found it.

The Brown Bank Sand Ridge

The chance discoveries over the years indicate that the submerged Doggerland contains interesting and important evidence of humans and their lives. As Professor Vincent Gaffney from the University of Bradford has said, however, examining specific places in the North Sea to look for more evidence is a bit like "searching for a needle in a haystack". The researchers don't explore the seabed randomly and go to areas where discoveries related to the presence of humans have been made. There is still luck involved in the investigation, however. The North Sea is a big place.

The scientists are currently focusing on an area known as Brown Bank. The bank is a sand ridge about thirty kilometres in length that is located to the east of Great Yarmouth. Items previously found by fisherman in the area suggest that a prehistoric settlement once existed there. Exploring the region might be fruitful.

In 2019, University of Bradford researchers associated with the Lost Frontiers project investigated the Brown Bank area in a research vessel. They travelled with Belgian scientists in a ship named the RV Belgica. This vessel explores the North Sea and other areas. The Lost Frontiers investigation found evidence of a fossilized forest at the bottom of the ocean. The evidence included the roots of trees, snails that lived on land, and peat. The scientists also found pieces of flint tools.

Lost Frontiers has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Both accounts are interesting and are frequently updated with reports about the latest activities related to their research. At the moment, the group's focus is on Doggerland, though they also explore other areas.

A Great Source of Information from Amateurs

Scientists interested in Doggerland are being helped by citizen explorers. In 2012, material was dredged from the ocean bottom thirteen kilometres off the coast of the Netherlands. The sediment was then placed on an existing beach. The experimental project was designed to protect the coastal area of the country from a rise in sea level. A happy "side effect" of the experiment is that evidence of a stone age culture has become accessible. The wide and productive area of sand is known as the Zandmotor or the sand engine.

Beachcombers are discovering some very interesting items from Doggerland in the beach sediments and are giving them to scientists. Fragments of human skeletons, tools, and animal remains have been found. Their original location isn't precisely known, which means that scientists are missing some context for the discoveries. Since the material that was dredged came from a limited region, the researchers do know something about the original location of the items, however.

The items that have been discovered come from multiple time periods. Some come from the Mesolithic culture and are associated with so-called "modern" humans, but others come from the Paleolithic and are associated with Neanderthals. One interesting discovery is a Neanderthal flint tool with a knob of tar at the end. The knob probably acted as a handle. Neanderthals knew how to change birch bark into tar.

Neanderthals appear to have explored part of Doggerland while it was icy but accessible in at least some places. Shorter after the Neanderthals disappeared, the area is thought to have become too cold for human habitation. Once the area warmed sufficiently at a later date, modern humans arrived.

A Fascinating Endeavour

Scientists from other institutions besides the University of Bradford are exploring Doggerland. I hope they find more evidence of human existence and discover more about life in the area. The exploration techniques that they are developing may be helpful in other investigations, but it would be wonderful if there were more benefits to the research than this. Learning about our past is a fascinating endeavour.

References

  • Information about Doggerland from Wessex Archaeology
  • Prehistoric North Sea 'Atlantis" hit by tsunami from the BBC
  • Hunting for DNA in Doggerland from Wired
  • Reconstruction of stone age lands lost to North Sea from The Guardian
  • Information about the Europe's Lost Frontiers project and the exploration of Doggerland from the University of Bradford
  • Documents and press releases from the Lost Frontiers project (When this article was last updated, a January 2020 document about discoveries made as a result of the dredging project in the Netherlands was available on the Lost Frontiers site.)
  • Europe's lost frontier (an abstract of the document mentioned above) from the Science magazine

© 2019 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 22, 2020:

I agree, Peggy. There is still much that is unknown about the deep ocean. It's fascinating to think about what may be hidden there in relation to human life in the past.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 22, 2020:

Given the nature of tectonic shifts of land masses over time, it is not surprising to know that some areas that were once populated now lie under the sea. This is interesting information about Doggerland, Linda. Who knows what else might be discovered in time? We seem to know more about space than what lies in the depths of our seas.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 29, 2020:

Thank you for the comment, Denise. I think Doggerland is fascinating, too. I hope researchers learn more about it.

Blessings to you as well.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 29, 2020:

This is so fascinating. I didn't know this existed but it makes sense that a land bridge would have been there at one time. I feel I learned something new today.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 25, 2019:

Thank you very much for the visit and comment, Jana.

Jana Louise Smit from South Africa on July 25, 2019:

Excellent article on the topic of Doggerland. Thank you for this informative hub. I really enjoyed it.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 26, 2019:

I'd love to learn more about the people that lived in Doggerland. Like you, I hope the search for information continues. I appreciate your visit, Kathi.

Kathi from Saugatuck Michigan on June 26, 2019:

So fascinating, Linda, with modern technology, I hope they continue the search to discover the ways of these ancient people, maybe even find the missing link. Having been discovered by accident, is no accident, all was meant to be.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 16, 2019:

I appreciate your comment a great deal, Jackie. I don't think your second paragraph is silly at all. I think that remembering the past is important. The nature of time is an interesting topic to think about.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 16, 2019:

Another winner, Linda!

"Britain's Atlantis" leaves much for the imagination and lets such a tragedy turn to fascination. I am sure many are working on a way to start uncovering the land of these people.

Silly, I am sure but I can imagine doing this will somehow bring them back at least spiritually, getting to know who they were. Perhaps making it all a little less sad.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 11, 2019:

I appreciate your comment, Eman.

Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on June 11, 2019:

Thanks, Linda for this interesting article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 06, 2019:

Thank you very much, Nithya. I appreciate your kindness.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 06, 2019:

I found reading about the Stone Age Culture Beneath the Sea in Doggerland fascinating. I am amazed at what can be hidden in the sea, I do hope they could come across interesting finds about the evidence of human existence. Brilliant article as always, interesting and informative.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 04, 2019:

Thanks for commenting, Mary. I think the investigation is intriguing. There may be much for us to discover on the ocean floor.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 04, 2019:

This is really interesting Linda. It's new knowledge for me, too.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 03, 2019:

Hi, Devika. The topic is a very interesting one to explore. Hopefully we will soon know more about Doggerland.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 03, 2019:

Hi, Vin. There are so many possibilities. Exploring the distant past is fascinating! I hope significant discoveries are made. The explorers have a difficult task, though.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 03, 2019:

A fascinating research on Exploring the Stone Age Culture Beneath the Sea in Doggerland.

Vin Chauhun from Durban on June 03, 2019:

WoW!!! Fascinating article. I have a sneaky suspicion, that if they find human remains, there is a good chance the haplotypes would be from Old Europe, not so much the R1. I wouldn't be surprised if Doggerland was flooded in previous warming periods. Maybe several times in the last two million years. Even more tantalizing,there could be Neanderthal speciemens on the sea floor. Earlier hominids possibly?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 02, 2019:

Hi, Heidi. I’m fascinated by lost cultures, too. It’s very interesting to discover how humans lived in the past. I hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on June 02, 2019:

I am eternally fascinated by these lost cultures. Always wonder if we'll be one of them someday. :)

I watch a lot of history documentaries on this sort of thing. Will definitely be on watch for more about this exploration and research.

As always, thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 02, 2019:

Thanks, Genna. I hope some significant “needles” are found. The investigation is very interesting.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 02, 2019:

Yes, a European trip around that time sounds a bit risky. Best wishes to you and the country.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on June 02, 2019:

I wonder what secrets of our past these explorers of the future will reveal as they search for that proverbial needle in a haystack. What an interesting article, Linda, thank you.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 01, 2019:

Thanks, Linda. We live in uncertain times. We wait to see who will be Prime Minister and how Brexit will work out. Hopefully, in time, we will be able to look back and see how it all worked out in the end. We would like to get away in the autumn, but with Brexit currently planned for 31st October and chaos predicted if the UK leaves with no deal, maybe a trip away is not such a good idea then.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2019:

Hi, Liz. I appreciate your visit. Since I'm British as well as Canadian, I've been following the news about Brexit. I haven't lived in the UK for a long time, though, so it's hard to appreciate all the details. I hope everything turns out for the best.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 01, 2019:

This is a fascinating article. Some in the UK might not like to be reminded about our historical and literal link to Europe. I had not heard of Doggerland before. Thanks for the update on this interesting research.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2019:

Thank you, Mel. I live even closer to an ocean inlet. This does make me wonder about the future!

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on June 01, 2019:

You are extremely skillful at coming up with topics that I have never heard of, and probably a lot of other people as well. Alas, I fear that with rising sea levels my home will someday be another Doggerland, as I am only about five miles from the ocean. Great article!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2019:

Hi, Red. I wonder about that, too. The ocean is an interesting place that may hold some important secrets.

Red Fernan from Philippines on June 01, 2019:

I enjoyed reading this. I wonder what other ancient secrets the sea has buried.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2019:

Thanks, Bill. The information fuels my imagination, too. Archaeology is a fascinating subject.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2019:

Hi, Pamela. I appreciate your visit. I like to learn about the past, too. It's very interesting to think about the world that once existed. I'll investigate the show that you mention.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2019:

Thank you for the comment and for sharing the ariticle, Maren.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2019:

Hi, Bill. Yes, the situation is very thought provoking. Some of today's world might experience the same fate as Doggerland. Thank you for the visit.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 01, 2019:

How is it that I didn't know this? Fascinating, Linda! Thanks for information which will fuel my imagination for the rest of the day.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 01, 2019:

I think the results of this research will be fascinating. I like to learn of things that happened thousands of years ago. I have been watching "One Strange Rock" on Netflix, which is very interesting.

I enjoyed this well-written article and learned so much Linda. Thank you.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on June 01, 2019:

This is fascinating. I am sharing with my partner, a geologist.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on June 01, 2019:

Very interesting article, Linda. I was not familiar with Doggerland. Hopefully researchers are able to find more information about the human settlements that were there. It does make one wonder, as Flourish mentioned, what areas humans occupy today will vanish due to Global warming in the future. Thanks for the education.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 31, 2019:

Hi, Flourish. You've raised some good points. It's interesting to think about what might be left from our lives in the distant future.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 31, 2019:

How fascinating that all this existed and we had no idea but for accidental discovery. It does make me wonder whether many years from now they’ll know we were here. With all the melting, significant land areas could find themselves underwater with a large event like the tsunami referenced.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 31, 2019:

Thank you very much, John. I'm hoping that new discoveries are made soon. I've going to follow the news about the latest expedition carefully.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on May 31, 2019:

This was extremely interesting Linda. I look forward to hearing about more evidence of human habitation and other future discoveries in this area. Thank you for sharing.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 31, 2019:

Hi, Stan. I think the prehistoric period is fascinating as well. The new investigation techniques are interesting. I hope we discover more about the distant past before the evidence disappears.

Stanley Johnston on May 31, 2019:

Interesting. Don't know much about prehistoric periods but I find it all fascinating. Seems to be more and more discoveries about the remote past going on these days.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 31, 2019:

Thank you very much for commenting, Zia. I appreciate your visit. I love learning about lost worlds, too.

Zia Uddin from UK on May 31, 2019:

Hope the ancient world is still there with lots of artifacts. Best of luck to the uni of Bradford with their project because I love learning about lost worlds. Thanks for posting on Doggerland, something I never even heard of.

Related Articles