The submerged land between the Netherlands and Great Britain is an archeological mecca. We now better understand how our distant ancestors lived in the changing climate.
An invisible landscape lies at the bottom of the North Sea. At its peak, it spread from the Netherlands to Great Britain, Denmark and the southern tip of Norway. More than 200,000 square kilometers in total. Human history is over a million years old.
It is one of the most important archeological sites in Europe. “The area is also a treasure trove for geologists and paleontologists,” said Luke Ankrutz, curator of the prehistoric collection at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. “The collection of fishing Pleistocene mammals is one of the largest in the world.”
During the Ice Age, Old Doggerland was a cool mammoth step that cut through the Rhine, Muse, Shell and Thames. Even during those ice ages, the region had a relatively mild climate because it was on the edge of the continent, says Natasha Denden, collection manager at the Naturalis Museum of Naturalism. The presence of rivers made the mammoth step attractive. Animals need to drink, so never get too far from the water. “During the cold season, large animals, mainly mammoths and woolly rhinos, lived. They ate abundant grasses and plants. Horses and reindeer herds lived there. Cave lions, deer, brown bears, and wolves also lived there.
The earliest evidence of the inhabitants is 950,000 years old
The first hominids from the south reached the area along rivers and coasts. British archaeologists have unearthed evidence of an early settlement dating back 950,000 years. On the other side of the North Sea. The Neanderthals came a long time later, and only two consecutive ice ages drove them away. One of them was Krigen, the first Neanderthal, to find a piece of bone in it from the Netherlands. Its fossils are 50,000 to 100,000 years old. It tells about a part of his forehead where the thick eyebrow arch can be identified. An MRI scan found a small hole in the skull; Evidence that Neanderthal man was affected by a malignant tumor. Obviously he would have suffered from it, but it did not kill him.
The Neanderthals became extinct before the peak of the last ice age. Since then, modern humans have occupied the area 14,000 years ago, albeit not for good. In the Holocene, climate change wiped out their European paradise permanently within 6,000 years. Due to the high temperature and melting glaciers, the sea level rose rapidly, reaching a total of 50 meters. The old land disappeared under the North Sea. Residents retreated for a while on the muddy and sandy ridges of the area, such as Bruin Bank and Doger Bank. They adapted well to the changes. They were fishing in the increasingly humid climate. But the sea continued to rise, and the tsunami that eventually formed off the coast of Norway was the beginning of the end of Dogerland.
Fishermen bring out the past
As early as the 1920s, fishermen found fossil bones of unknown animals in their nets. Sometimes they throw it on the ship, but end up with fossils and scientists. This gradually led to the insight that the coasts of the Netherlands and England did not stop at sea, but remained underwater. That suspicion has been there for some time. The famous ‘submerged forests’ off the coast of Wales are an indication that there must be land there. Initially, the researchers talked about a land bridge connecting England and Europe. But the findings piled up. The area has become very large.
“Only when you look at maps showing different eras do you realize how much Dogerland has changed,” says Kim Cohen, a physical geographer at the University of Utrecht. Together with his colleagues from Deltares and the TNO Geological Service, he created maps depicting a million years. We can still see what the country was like on the edge of the current North Sea. Here, various ice ages plowed one thing out, but the investment was preserved. In the middle, the devastation of such a period is enormous. Yet the remains have not gone there, they are lying somewhere else. With that information, we try to determine what the missing land should look like. ”
Thanks to fishermen, sand extraction and exploratory research for wind farms, more and more submerged land is emerging from the water. The land reclamation of Massvlakte 1 and 2 and the sand motor on the shores of Kizhakdun also provide many prehistoric treasures. Collection of hand axes, for example, from a gravel processing company in Vlisingen. In 2007, amateur archaeologist John Mellmeister discovered dozens of flint axes and fossil bones in the Neolithic Middle Paleolithic among piles of rocks.
A dredger removed gravel from the North Sea. GPS data showed exactly where it came from: 8 miles off the coast of Greatermouth. Ankruts says this was not just a discovery. “What’s the point of having so many craft objects in one place?”
The company stopped dredging operations as soon as the report was received. Scientists searched for more carnivorous objects and mapped the area. The results of this research led to a credible reconstruction of the landscape, providing a scientific context for the findings.
Hand ax: One of the best tools ever
A flint hand ax is synonymous with prehistoric times. This device is one of the most efficient devices ever developed and has been in use for over 50,000 generations, for about a year and a half. “The hand ax is an icon, the knife of the Swiss army of primitive men,” says Ankruts excitedly. “We know large and sharp stones, but by hand you can cut, scrape, cut and make fire. Or you can remove small pieces for knives. Neanderthals and other early humans built smaller and more sophisticated blades for different uses. From spears and arrows to various types of aircraft and scrapers. You can find and read traditions from those shapes and stones. ”
Another unique item is the handmade one made at the Wormersome quartz site found in the Tweedy Massvlakte. This characteristic of mica frosting is found only in one place: upstream near the Sheld near Tiananmen, Belgium. That means a Neanderthal was there. He took a stone or made an ax in place. It then traveled 140 km to Dogerland. This is the longest distance apparently traveled by a Neanderthal.
Mammoths and rhinos have left the country
After the last ice age, when the weather warmed up, a new habitat emerged. The megafana of mammoths and rhinos on the grass steps has disappeared. Large influx of migrants have also stopped, ”says Den Dunn. Deer and wild boar, which stay in the same place in the forests throughout the year, are new to the landscape. Human settlers no longer had to travel with prey and began to use permanent camp sites. However, the forests gradually sank. In a swampy area with plenty of water, hunters began to focus on small mammals, birds, and fish. The equipment changed with it. Hundreds of spearheads and fishing hooks made of antlers and bones have been found in sand motors and massvlacts. Sometimes works very accurately with barbs, so the prey point will stay fine.
People gave objects a particular function, for example in rituals. This is evident from, for example, the discovery of the Bruin Bank on the Dutch side of the North Sea. Here the fishermen brought the metatarsal bone of an orchid or wild buffalo with V-shaped ornaments. The bone is 13,000 years old, making it the oldest Dutch art. Only bone fragments with similar ornaments have been found in Europe.
Two spikes made of human bone have been found. Ankruts: “Someone deliberately decided to use human bone because there is enough animal bone available. Perhaps it would be useful to hunt this way with the ancestors. ”
Protected marine ecosystems
There are still numerous finds at the National Museum of Antiquities, Naturalis, the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam, and the Collectors’ Homes. The NWO has provided more than ,000 500,000 for research on these current findings. Scientists from various scientific institutes are working together on the Resurfacing Dogerland project, led by Hans Peters, a professor at the University of Groningen. The North Sea Bed may be a difficult research site, but it has a major advantage. Human and animal remains have been wrapped in peat, clay, sand, and gravel for thousands of years, preserving numerous organisms. This organic component is usually not seen from the findings of the mainland. The remains are dried up, exhausted and burned there.
“For example, we look at human waste, equipment, and food waste,” says Ankruts. “We hope to find out what early humans ate or what genetic groups they created. Where did they come from and where did they go? We may find members of such a group or their relatives elsewhere in Europe. It sheds a new light on those communities. ”
Anchruts are always surprised at the findings from relatively small extraction areas for sand and gravel called extraction wells. Especially a complete picture is gradually emerging from those places. So we need to be more cooperative with the parties active in the North Sea. This does not mean that nothing will be allowed anymore, but we can advise you to build a wind farm a little further in the future. As far as we know, we can protect this area. ”
Exhibition ‘Doggerland. Once the museum reopens until October 31, 2021, the lost world will be visible at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. Tickets need to be reserved in advance. Two books have been published for the exhibition:
Exhibition book Doggerland. The world was lost in the North Sea With a full review of current Doggerland research (Ed. Sidestone Press)
That’s it Children’s book Under the waves From Linda Dailymans.
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