Doggerland Rising

Are Newly Discovered Underwater Artifacts in the North Sea the Remains of Atlantis?

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The “iNews” section of Atlantis Rising, Issue #95, carried the headline, “Britain’s Atlantis Found?” It referred to recent, underwater discoveries of Ice Age harpoons, fish prongs, possible burial sites, and fossilized remains belonging to large mammals—many of them extinct—such as mammoths, giant reindeer, and cave lions. According to physicist Dr. Richard Bates from the Department of Earth Sciences at St. Andrews University, “We have found many artifacts and submerged features that are very difficult to explain by natural causes, such as mounds surrounded by ditches.”

They were discovered from 55 to 120 feet beneath the surface of the central North Sea along an extensive sandbank long known as the Dogger Banks, the sunken remnants of a more extensive territory that once connected northeastern Britain to the present coasts of Denmark and Germany. Beginning about eighteen thousand years ago, great ice sheets locked up enough of the world’s water to produce sea-levels 390 feet lower than at present, allowing higher terrain on the ocean floor to stand as dry land. It was almost entirely covered with ice until the onset of warmer temperatures in the Late Glacial Maximum some twelve thousand years ago created tundra-like conditions. These continued to moderate over the next four millennia, resulting in the formation of lagoons, salt marshes, mud-flats, beaches, streams, rivers, marshes, and lakes interspersed with hills and valleys.

Into this Stone Age paradise, Paleolithic hunters followed big-game animals wandering from Northern Europe into Britain. Rising temperatures near the close of the last glacial epoch melted the ice, releasing billions of tons of locked-up water to raise sea levels. By eight thousand five hundred years ago, the ocean had cut off Scotland from Denmark and Germany, leaving behind a large island referred to by Professor Bryony Coles, Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Exeter, as “Doggerland.” It survived another thousand years, until completely inundated by the steadily elevating North Sea. Climatologists, archaeologists and geophysicists earlier this year finished mapping the sunken region in question by using new technologies borrowed from the oil industry.

“When the data was first being processed,” confessed Dr. Bates, “I thought it unlikely to give us any useful information. However, as more area was covered, it revealed a vast and complex landscape. We have now been able to model its flora and fauna and build up a picture of the ancient people that lived there … Doggerland was the real heartland of Europe, until sea levels rose to give us the U.K. coastline of today. The research suggests that the populations of these drowned lands could have been tens of thousands. By examining the fossil record—such as pollen grains, micro fauna, and macro fauna—we can tell what kind of vegetation grew in Doggerland, and what animals roamed there. Using this information, we were able to build up a model of the carrying capacity of the land, and work out roughly how many humans could have lived there.”

Combining geophysical modeling of data obtained from oil and gas companies and direct evidence from material recovered from the sea floor has enabled Bates’s team to come up with a reconstruction of the lost land. Of particularly strong interest are on-going investigations concentrating on several subsurface sites resembling the standing stones of Neolithic Europe, together with what appears to be an underwater burial mound already explored by scuba divers. If, in fact, these apparently upright features can be verified as authentic, megalithic structures, then dating them will be very important. Should they prove even slightly older than standing stones on the continent or in the British Isles, then Doggerland may very well have been the real heartland of Europe, from which early Paleolithic culture spread outward. If so, then the supportive, ecological conditions Dr. Bates and his colleagues have traced back to Doggerland could have served as the proper setting and environmental spur necessary to spark the Megalithic Age.

Dr. Bate’s research project is a joint effort between St. Andrews and the Universities of Aberdeen, Birmingham, Dundee, and Wales Trinity St David. Results of their fifteen-year fieldwork collaboration went on display early last July at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, in London. Entitled “Drowned Landscapes,” a three-dimensional Doggerland was recreated for the general public. Adding to the sense of realism were several artifacts retrieved from the North Sea bottom, including pieces of flint used by humans as tools. The exhibition’s innovative, 3D methodologies imaginatively brought back to life the formerly inhabited landscapes, mapping rivers, lake shores, hills, coastlines and estuaries, plus the modeling of flora and fauna associated with them.

“Drowned Landscapes” was actually the accumulation of much earlier research into Doggerland. As long ago as 1913, a British palaeo-biologist, Clement Reid, was the first scientist to conclude that an island greater in area than some modern European nations long ago lay between Scotland and the Netherlands. His examination of land, animal, and plant remains brought up from Dogger Bank and along its fringe was evidence, he believed, of formerly inhabited terrain. Two years later, the renowned Scottish anatomist, Sir Arthur Keith, described worked flints of Neolithic origins retrieved from the same area in his book, The Antiquity of Man (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1927), which emphasized the sunken region’s thus far untapped archaeological potential.

His prediction for great finds there came true in 1931 when the trawler Colinda, while fishing near the Ower Bank, 25 miles east of Norfolk, hauled up a lump of peat containing a very ancient harpoon. Later exhibited in the Castle Museum in Norwich, the 8.5-inch-long barbed antler point was dated from six thousand to twelve thousand years old. Not until the advent of seismic survey data obtained through petrochemical exploration surveys during the late 1990s, however, was archaeological interest in the bottom of the North Sea rekindled. The new technique yielded a dramatic find in 2009, when the forty-thousand-year-old fragment of a Neanderthal skull enveloped by plant material was accidentally dredged up from Middeldiep, a region approximately 10 miles off the coast of Zeeland, and subsequently exhibited at Leiden, in Holland.

These illuminating discoveries appear to confirm the theoretical work of Mary Settegast, a scholar from Columbia University who, back in the 1980s, proposed a similar location for Atlantis. Her book, Plato Prehistorian: 10,000 to 5000 B.C. Myth, Religion, Archaeology (MA: Rotenberg Press) “begins,” according to Amazon reviewer, John David Ebert, “as do all such great tomes, like Frazer’s Golden Bough, or Graves’s White Goddess or even Hertha von Dechend’s Hamlet’s Mill, with a question: is it possible that Plato’s myth of Atlantis, which takes place in roughly 10,000 BC, is an actual record of a real conflict that took place between two cultures that flourished at about that time in the Mesolithic Mediterranean? Settegast assumes that the answer might be a yes, and that a search for a sunken continent is not so much the issue, as a search for vanished and forgotten cultures. For the war of the Greeks versus the Atlanteans, Settegast substitutes a mysterious European culture whose tool industries were known as ‘tanged’ arrowheads and which appear in Paleolithic Europe at just about the time of the decline of Magdalenian culture circa 10,000 BC. Settegast supposes that the Magdalenians—who may have tamed the horse, and may have been seafaring folk—correspond to the horse-riding and Poseidon-worshipping Atlanteans.”

Another Amazon reviewer, Jeff Hicks, writes that Settegast describes how “at the end of the last ice age, water levels were much lower, hence cultural meccas were wiped out, leaving the lesser cultures to carry the torch, when the oceans began to rise to present-day levels.” She postulated that the formerly more extensive coastlines of France and Britain were inhabited by relatively advanced Paleolithic peoples, until elevated seas inundated their settlements and forced the residents inland after a series of natural events that were retold in oral traditions over the millennia and eventually preserved in Plato’s fourth century BC dialogues, the Timaeus and Critias.

The implications of Doggerland as a kind of “European heartland” likewise reflect favorably on the research of Dennis J. Stanford and his colleagues, who contend that stone tool technology of the Solutrean culture in prehistoric France may have influenced the development of the Clovis tool-making culture in the Americas. At the time lower sea levels made possible the existence of Doggerland, they also greatly extended and sometimes connected the coastal areas of Europe with Greenland, Iceland and Canada, thereby facilitating passage of Stone Age travelers from Europe to North America, beginning as long ago as twenty thousand years. Among the foremost authorities on the early inhabitants of North America, Stanford is Director of the Paleoindian/Paleoecology Program at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution, and author (with Bruce A. Bradley) of Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture (University of California Press, 2012).

His arguments on behalf of early transatlantic voyages undertaken by advanced culture-bearers along exposed coastal areas and Settegast’s emphasis on the Atlantean possibilities of those areas have been underscored by scientific recognition of Doggerland, particularly evidence there of a monstrous deluge that impacted the North Sea island during its final, geologic phases. According to Dr. Bates, “we are beginning to understand some of the dramatic events that subsequently changed the land, including the sea rising and a devastating tsunami.” Seismic scans show that much of the remaining coastal land was flooded by a tsunami about eighty two hundred years ago, when part of Norway’s shoreline fell.

The Storegga Event (or “Great Edge”) is the greatest-known landside in history, when some 180 miles of coastal shelf, with a total volume of 840 miles of debris, suddenly collapsed. The resulting, 60-high, 70-mile-per-hour wave traveled more than 50 miles into Scotland after obliterating Doggerland. The natural catastrophe had been caused by material built up during the previous ice age over a weak, unstable coastline.

Was Norway’s Storegga Event the flood that destroyed Atlantis? Beyond these obvious parallels, however, there are some important discrepancies. While its Magdalenian inhabitants may have possessed a relatively high Stone Age technology in the form of barbed harpoons, standing stones, and burial mounds, and their North Sea island appears to have made for a pleasing location, nothing resembling the apparently Bronze Age city Plato described with such detail has been found at Doggerland. Moreover, the natural disaster he dated to eleven thousand five hundred years ago, while roughly corresponding to the violent end of the last glacial epoch with its cataclysmic flooding, predates the Storegga Event by thirty-three centuries. The verified presence of mammoths on the sunken North Sea island, however, does comport with Plato’s statement in the Critias that elephants were native to Atlantis.

Scientists are learning that our planet has always been far more geologically dynamic than their predecessors believed, a point forcefully brought home to every person on Earth last year, when northeast coastal Japan was devastated by a terrible tsunami. As such, the destruction of Atlantis was not unique. Other areas of formerly dry land, before and since, have risen above and fallen beneath the surface of the sea. Some of these deluged territories were occupied by humans, as the previously lost remains of their societies are gradually rediscovered, even on the floor of the North Sea.

Official, academic recognition of Doggerland is important for the future discovery of Atlantis. With the Royal Society’s exhibition of “Drowned Landscapes” in London last summer, Plato’s sunken city can no longer be dismissed by mainstream scholars as an impossible fantasy unworthy of consideration. Accordingly, the freeze on resources and technologies needed to conduct serious, scientific inquiries into the lost civilization may begin to thaw. One discovery leads on to another in a chain of revelation that could lead to the ultimate archaeological find of all time.

By Frank Joseph