Deep sea research off Norfolk sheds new light on our ancestors

An artist's impression of what Doggerland could have looked like in the Mesolithic period

An artist's impression of what Doggerland might have looked like in the Mesolithic period, which tool place between 9,000 and 6,000BC. - Credit: Wessex Archaeology

World leading research off our region's coast is unlocking secrets hidden beneath the waves for thousands of years.

Scientists have spent 15 years mapping the seabed, where a strip of land linked Norfolk to the continent before disaster struck more than 8,000 years ago.

New research they have published suggests the lost landscape known as Doggerland may have survived for longer than was previously thought, giving our ancestors time to become farmers.

Storegga tsunami in North Sea

How the Storegga tsunami hit the North Sea thousands of years ago - Credit: M Muru

The Storegga tsunami, a massive underwater landslip in around 6,150 BC, sent giant waves crashing inland.

While the scale of the devastation lies hidden under the sea, it has always been believed the tidal wave submerged Doggerland - the land bridge across what is now the southern North Sea.

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But research by scientists from the UK and Estonia reveals it may not be the case. After studying seabed samples taken from The Wash, one of which was found to contain sediments from the tsunami, they now believe parts of the landscape may have survived.

How Doggerland vanished beneath the waves

North Sea coastline reconstructions for 10,000, 9,000, 8,200 and 7,000 years ago showing how it disappeared beneath the waves. - Credit: M Muru/University of Bradford

Doggerland could have lived on for centuries longer as a group of islands until being swallowed by rising sea levels caused by climate change. As their inhabitants migrated inland, they brought farming to our shores.

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Norfolk's coastline around The Wash would also have stretched several kilometres further out to sea - a fact confirmed by the discovery of the Bronze Age timber circle Seahenge on the beach at Holme, near Hunstanton in 1998.

Prof Vincent Gaffney, professor of landscape archaeology at the University of Bradford,  said: "That's below the high water level, that was dated about 2000BC.

"The introduction of farming is dated 4000BC so there's 2,000 years of retreat in front of that monument. There had to be a vast area of land out there."

Wendy George's photo of Seahenge which was discovered on Holme Beach (C) Wendy George

Seahenge, which thousands of years ago stood inland from the sea - Credit: Wendy George

Prof Gaffney and his colleagues have spend 15 years mapping the bed of the North Sea.

He said: "There are thousands of kilometres of rivers out there under the sea."

Prof Vince Gaffney, from the University of Bradford's School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences

Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Bradford's School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, has been researching the mega-tsunami off Doggerland. Picture: University of Bradford - Credit: Bradford University

Scientists funded by a 2.5m-Euro European Research Council grant plan to use survey ships and remote vehicles to continue their seabed studies, after mapping more than 65,000 sq km of it.

Prof Gaffney said: "It's so challenging out there but we're at the stage of being able to say where settlement is likely to occur and do something about it. It's a world first."  

The research has been published in full in the journal Antiquity.

A map illustrating the contraction of Doggerland over the millienia. Picture: UNIVERSITY OF BRADFORD

A map illustrating the contraction of Doggerland over the millienia - Credit: Bradford University

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