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Doggerland was a former landmass in the southern North Sea that connected Great Britain to mainland Europe during and after the last Ice Age until about 6,500 or 6,200 BC and was then gradually flooded by rising sea levels. Geological surveys have suggested that it stretched from Britain's east coast to the Netherlands and the western coasts of Germany and the Danish peninsula of Jutland. It was probably a rich habitat with human habitation in the Mesolithic period, although rising sea levels gradually reduced it to low-lying islands before its final destruction, perhaps following a tsunami caused by the Storegga Slide.
The archaeological potential of the area had first been discussed in the early 20th century, but interest intensified in 1931 when a commercial trawler operating between the sandbanks and shipping hazards of the Leman Bank and Ower Bank east of the Wash dragged up a barbed antler point that dated to a time when the area was tundra. Vessels have dragged up remains of mammoth, lion and other land animals, and small numbers of prehistoric tools and weapons.
Until the middle Pleistocene, Britain was a peninsula off Europe, connected by a massive chalk anticline, the Weald–Artois Anticline across the Straits of Dover. During the Anglian glaciation, approximately 450,000 years ago, an ice sheet filled much of the North Sea, with a large proglacial lake in the southern part fed by the Rhine, Scheldt and Thames river systems. The catastrophic overflow of this lake carved a channel through the anticline, leading to the formation of the Channel River, which carried the combined Scheldt and Thames rivers into the Atlantic. It probably created the potential for Britain to become isolated from the continent during periods of high sea level, although some scientists argue that the final break did not occur until a second ice-dammed lake overflowed during the MIS8 or MIS6 glaciations, around 340,000 or 240,000 years ago.
During the most recent glaciation, the Last Glacial Maximum that ended in this area around 18,000 years ago, the North Sea and almost all of the British Isles were covered with glacial ice and the sea level was about 120 m (390 ft) lower than it is today. After that the climate became warmer and during the Late Glacial Maximum much of the North Sea and English Channel was an expanse of low-lying tundra, around 12,000 BC extending to the modern northern point of Scotland.
Evidence including the contours of the present seabed shows that after the first main Ice Age, the watershed between the North Sea and the English Channel extended east from East Anglia then south-east to the Hook of Holland rather than across the Strait of Dover and that the Thames, Meuse, Scheldt and Rhine joined and flowed along the English Channel dry bed as a wide slow river that flowed far before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. At about 8000 BC the north-facing coastal area of Doggerland had a coastline of lagoons, saltmarshes, mudflats and beaches as well as inland streams, rivers, marshes and sometimes lakes. It may have been the richest hunting, fowling and fishing ground in Europe in the Mesolithic period.
One big river system found by 3D seismic survey was the 'Shotton River', which drained the south-east part of the Dogger Bank hill area into the east end of the Outer Silver Pit lake. It is named after Birmingham geologist Frederick William Shotton.
As sea levels rose after the end of the last glacial period of the current ice age, and the land began to sink due to isostatic adjustment due to removal of the weight of ice, Doggerland became submerged beneath the North Sea, cutting off what was previously the British peninsula from the European mainland by around 6500 BC. The Dogger Bank, an upland area of Doggerland, is believed to have remained as an island until at least 5000 BC. Before it flooded completely, Doggerland was a wide undulating plain containing complex meandering river systems, with associated channels and lakes. Key stages are now believed to include the gradual evolution of a large tidal embayment between eastern England and Dogger Bank by 7000 BC and rapid sea level rise thereafter, leading to the Dogger Bank becoming an island and Great Britain being finally physically disconnected from the continent.
A recent hypothesis is that much of the remaining coastal land, already much reduced in size from the original land area, was flooded by a megatsunami around 6200 BC (approximately 8200 BP) caused by a submarine landslide off the coast of Norway known as the Storegga Slide. This theory suggests "that the Storegga Slide tsunami would have had a catastrophic impact on the contemporary coastal Mesolithic population. [...] Following the Storegga Slide tsunami, it appears, Britain finally became separated from the continent and in cultural terms, the Mesolithic there goes its own way." A study published in 2014 suggested that the only remaining parts of Doggerland at the time of the Storegga Slide were low-lying islands, but supported the view that the area was abandoned at about the same time as the tsunamis.
Another version is that the Storegga Slide tsunami devastated Doggerland but ebbed back into the sea and that later the bursting of Lake Agassiz released so much fresh water to the world ocean that sea level over about two years rose enough to permanently flood much of Doggerland and make Britain into an island.
The remains of plants brought to the surface from Dogger Bank had been studied as early as 1913 by palaeobiologist Clement Reid and the remains of animals and worked flints from the Neolithic period had been found around the fringes of the area. In his book The Antiquity of Man, published in 1915, anatomist Sir Arthur Keith had discussed the archaeological potential of the area. In 1931, the trawler Colinda hauled up a lump of peat whilst fishing near the Ower Bank, 25 mi (40 km) east of Norfolk. The peat was found to contain a barbed antler point, possibly used as a harpoon or fish spear, 8.5 in (220 mm) long, later identified to date from between 4,000 and 10,000 BCE, when the area was tundra. The tool was exhibited in the Castle Museum in Norwich.
Interest in the area was reinvigorated in the 1990s by the work of Professor Bryony Coles, who named the area "Doggerland" ("after the great banks in the southern North Sea") and produced a series of speculative maps of the area. Although she recognised that the current relief of the southern North Sea seabed is not a sound guide to the topography of Doggerland, the topography of the area has more recently begun to be reconstructed more authoritatively using seismic survey data obtained through petroleum exploration surveys.
A skull fragment of a Neanderthal, dated at over 40,000 years old, was recovered from material dredged from the Middeldiep, a region of the North Sea some 10 mi (16 km) off the coast of Zeeland, and was exhibited in Leiden in 2009. In March 2010 it was reported that recognition of the potential archaeological importance of the area could affect the future development of offshore wind farms in the North Sea.
In July 2012, the results of a fifteen-year study of Doggerland by the universities of St Andrews, Dundee and Aberdeen, including artefacts and analysis of survey results, were displayed at the Royal Academy in London. Richard Bates of St Andrews University said:
"We have speculated for years on the lost land's existence from bones dredged by fishermen all over the North Sea, but it's only since working with oil companies in the last few years that we have been able to re-create what this lost land looked like....We have now been able to model its flora and fauna, build up a picture of the ancient people that lived there and begin to understand some of the dramatic events that subsequently changed the land, including the sea rising and a devastating tsunami."
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