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Will the secrets of Doggerland - once Norfolk’s ‘neighbour’ - be revealed by North Sea discovery?

PUBLISHED: 14:01 15 November 2018 | UPDATED: 18:24 15 November 2018

An artist's impression of what Doggerland could have loooked like in the Mesolithic period, which tool place between 9000BCE and 6000BCE. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY

An artist's impression of what Doggerland could have loooked like in the Mesolithic period, which tool place between 9000BCE and 6000BCE. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY

Archant

Although Norfolk is well and truly a coastal county today, it was once a much different story.

A researcher studying one of the core samples which were brought up from the seabed of the North Sea. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGYA researcher studying one of the core samples which were brought up from the seabed of the North Sea. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY

And now archaeologists working for Swedish energy firm Vattenfall have found new evidence in the North Sea they hope will uncover the secrets of ‘Doggerland’, the submerged landscape which connected the British Isles to the continent, but flooded more than 8,000 years ago.

A set of ‘cores’ were recently extracted from the seabed as part of the developer’s surveys for its Norfolk Boreas offshore windfarm, and research into them is expected to answer questions about the environment where our ancestors lived.

Wessex Archaeology, which provided expertise for Channel 4’s Time Team programme is conducting the research.

They say the core samples - the most extensive ever recovered from the southern North Sea - provide an almost unbroken record of pre-historic environmental change from the end of the last Ice Age through to the flooding of Doggerland.

An artist's impression of what Doggerland, off East Anglia, could have loooked like in the Mesolithic period, which tool place between 9000BCE and 6000BCE. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGYAn artist's impression of what Doggerland, off East Anglia, could have loooked like in the Mesolithic period, which tool place between 9000BCE and 6000BCE. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY

Dr Claire Mellett, principal marine geoarchaeologist, said: “We have been extremely fortunate to recover what we believe is a unique sequence of sediments which offer an environmental record over a period of nearly 3,500 years.

“There are so many insights that the collected material can give us. We will be able to reveal how the landscape may have looked, how it changed as the climate warmed and sea-levels rose after the last ice age, and – crucially – how this changed the relationship between prehistoric communities and their environment.”

The research will also shed light on how quickly our ancestors would have needed to adapt to the changing coastline, as rising sea levels flooded the North Sea through the English Channel and cut off the British Isles from the European mainland.

Graham Davey, Vattenfall’s Boreas windfarm project manager, said: “Important finds like these are exceptionally rare. Most fascinating is trying to understand what the data can tell us about how warming over 10,000 years ago affected the landscape and the seascape in the North Sea, and what impacts we might expect from global warming now.”

An artist's impression of what a flood plain area of Doggerland could have looked like. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGYAn artist's impression of what a flood plain area of Doggerland could have looked like. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY

Historic England, the public body which advises on coastal and marine development projects, is advising Vattenfall as the research continues.

Doggerland: A lost realm of humans and animals

Doggerland once encompassed a vast area, extending to modern-day Denmark and north beyond the Faroe Islands.

Archaeologists already have some understanding of its environment. During the last ice age - about 18,000 years ago - the majority of Britain was covered by ice but, as the climate warmed, Doggerland offered an increasingly attractive environment for human settlement. Temperate grassland replaced the frozen tundra and big game animals such as mammoth, aurochs and red deer attracted hunters to the region.

A close-up of one of the core samples which were brought up from the seabed of the North Sea. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGYA close-up of one of the core samples which were brought up from the seabed of the North Sea. Image: WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY

As global climate continued to warm, sea levels rose and Doggerland became a land of rivers and inlets, archipelagos, lagoons, wetlands and marshes. As woodlands and other flora flourished so did the range of mammals; fish and birds supported Mesolithic communities and populated some of the richest hunting and fishing grounds in Europe.

The area’s archeology has been studied since the early 20th century, and fishing vessels have also made finds there, dragging up remains of mammoth, lion and other animals, as well as a few prehistoric tools and weapons.

The skull of a wooly mamoth, which was discovered in the North Sea in 1999, in the area then known as Doggerland. Image: OGMIOS/CREATIVE COMMONSThe skull of a wooly mamoth, which was discovered in the North Sea in 1999, in the area then known as Doggerland. Image: OGMIOS/CREATIVE COMMONS

An image of the area known as Doggerland which connected the British Isles and the European continent. Norway has been excluded from the map. Image: MAX NAYLOR/CREATIVE COMMONSAn image of the area known as Doggerland which connected the British Isles and the European continent. Norway has been excluded from the map. Image: MAX NAYLOR/CREATIVE COMMONS

Landscape features, part of Doggerland off present-day Norfolk, which were mapped by a North Sea Palaeolandscapes Project. Image: GAFFERSMIDDLE/CREATIVE COMMONSLandscape features, part of Doggerland off present-day Norfolk, which were mapped by a North Sea Palaeolandscapes Project. Image: GAFFERSMIDDLE/CREATIVE COMMONS

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