Thousands of years ago, when the ocean levels were lower, an inhabited island once existed between Great Britain and Denmark. Who were the people who lived there? And what happened to Doggerland?
In 1931, a fishing trawler was working in the North Sea in an area known as Dogger Bank, it’s an undersea raised formation about halfway between Britain and Denmark – it’s a popular spot for fishing because the water is shallower there, and that’s actually how it got its name, a Dogger is a type of Danish fishing boat.
Anyway, on this one particular fishing trip, they trawled a little too low and scraped the sea floor and pulled some of that floor up with it.
And as they were digging that sea floor stuff out of their nets they realized that what they had actually dug up underneath the sediment was peat.
Now this is weird right away because peat is a nutrient-dense organic soil that’s made from decomposing plant life over thousands of years, which suggests there was once dense vegetation there, totally not what one would expect at the bottom of the ocean.
But even weirder was that mixed in with that peat, they found this. A stone-age barbed hunting spear made out of antler bone.
What was this doing in the middle of the ocean? Was it dropped off a stone age boat? Did stone age boats even exist?
To get some clarity on this, they analyzed some of the peat from the same area and found pollen that suggested that the area was once a mixed woodland – in other words… This used to be dry land. Dry land with people living on it.
So… What happened?
To say that the world used to be different is the most obvious statement ever made. Of course continents have shifted and changed over time – South America used to spoon up against Africa in the giant continental orgy we call Pangea.
Ooh, naughty geology.
Hell, fossils of sea creatures have been found here in North Texas because back in the Cretaceous, there was an ocean here. It was called the Western Interior Seaway.
But these are things that take place over geologic time, hundreds of thousands, even millions of years. The idea that it could happen during the span of human history – and fairly recent human history at that – is kinda mind-boggling.
And yet, that’s what happened in this area of the North Sea that was once inhabited land. An area now known as Doggerland.
So what caused this to happen? The short answer, is the same thing that killed the dinosaurs… According to Batman and Robin.
Terrible pun. And even worse science.
No, the ice age didn’t kill the dinosaurs, but it did lower sea levels all around the world.
And this changed the map in a lot of ways. In Australia, it gave it this nice little peninsula that merged it with Papua New Guinea.
Just northwest of there, Vietnam and Cambodia merged with Indonesia and Brunei to create this giant land mass bigger than India today.
Speaking of India, it once had a peninsula where the island of Sri Lanka is now.
Saudi Arabia was merged with Iran with no Persian Gulf in between them.
And perhaps most famously, a land bridge formed over the Bering Strait, connecting the Eastern and Western hemispheres, allowing animals and humans to migrate into North America.
And in Northern Europe, the British isles merged with the mainland, forming this region that we’re talking about today.
The reason for this drop in
sea levels was, of course, the massive ice sheets that formed over the Northern Hemisphere during the Late Glacial Maximum.
This was a period where just incomprehensibly large miles-high glaciers began creeping down from the arctic starting about 33,000 years ago, and reaching their peak at around 25,000 years ago and finally retreating around 14,000 years ago.
It’s thought that 8% of the Earth’s surface was covered in this thick ice, and sea levels dropped by 125 meters. All because the average temperature dropped by 6 degrees celsius. (11 degrees F).
Now I’ve been calling this the “Late Glacial Maximum,” it’s also often called the “Last Glacial Maximum.” Because it’s not the only time this happened. It happened a lot actually over the years.
From about 800,000 to 500,000 years ago there was the Cromerian Stage, followed by the Elster Ice Age about 450,000 to 300,000 years ago.
This was when Neanderthals and Homo Heidelbergensis entered the scene, leaving behind flint rocks and wooden spears that have been found all over Northern Europe, including in Doggerland.
This was followed by the Saalian Glaciation from 300,000 to about 150,000 years ago, then the Earth had a warming cycle called the Eemian period that started about 120,000 years ago.
This caused ocean levels to rise by 9 meters, and put Doggerland back under water. This would actually happen several times, it would be inhabited, then it would flood, then dry and inhabited, over and over again.
The last of these glacial periods was the Weichselian Glaciation, this began 115,000 years ago, and would last until about 12,000 years ago.
This was the period that encompassed the Last Glacial Maximum and would bring an end to the Pleistocene Age. It was also when we, homo sapiens came on the scene in Northern Europe around 40,000 years ago.
The Pleistocene actually ended with a bit of a last hurrah, with a warming period from 14,690 to 12,890 years ago called the Bølling–Allerød interstadial, followed by the Younger Dryas, a rapid cooling period between 12,900 to 11,700 years ago.
This is when temperatures leveled off into the Holocene period, which is the era we’re living in today.
Now that was a lot of history to cover in a very small amount of time, so a ton got left out, but that brings us to what you might call the Golden Years of Doggerland.
Before the glaciers truly melted away and the seas rose, Doggerland was a lush woodland, populated by mammoths, bison, reindeer, and horses. And some more surprising animals like lions and hyenas.
This was like a Golden Corral all you can eat buffet for early humans in the area, and just to put this into perspective, the Pyramids of Giza wouldn’t be built for another 9,000 years.
Not only was hunting plentiful but fishing was relatively easy, and it boasted a slurry of tree species like Oak, Hazel, Birch, Pine, and Juniper.
It was the Ahrensburg people who populated Doggerland for much of this time, they were an early hunter-gatherer civilization that emerged after the climate shifts caused a change in ecosystems.
Ahrensburg items have been found in Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, North France, and Eastern England, and it’s thought that Doggerland may have been especially popular during the Winter following the migration of reindeer.
And they’ve found similar barbed spears in Ahrensburg settlements much like the one they found on Dogger bank.
They were a group of nomadic tribes so they didn’t set up cities in Doggerland or anything, which is a good thing because as we already know, Doggerland’s days were numbered.
As the glaciers continued to melt and the water slowly rose, much of Doggerland became marshy wetlands, which actually still made for some pretty good hunting grounds for humans because it kept out other predators like sabre-tooth cats.
The Dogger Bank area was higher in elevation so probably still more dry and woody
But then, around 9,000 years ago, an event took place on the other side of the world that pretty much sealed its fate.
In North America, as the Laurentide Ice Sheet melted and receded northward, it left behind a massive lake just to the northwest of the current Great Lakes, called Lake Agassiz.
Lake Agassiz was bigger than all the Great Lakes combined, it covered 440,000 square kilometers, larger than any lake currently existing today – similar in size to the Black Sea.
And when that ice sheet receded past Hudson Bay, all that water – a Black Sea worth of water – spilled into Hudson Bay, which was connected to the Atlantic Ocean.
This rose ocean levels around the world practically overnight, and most of Doggerland slipped under the water. And Dogger Bank bank became Dogger Island.
Some suggest that the Lake Agassiz event might be the source of all the flood myths from all around the ancient world because it raised ocean levels everywhere.
And just like today, people back then tended to settle along coastlines. It’s likely a LOT of settlements got wiped out. Including Doggerland.
But this isn’t why they call Doggerland the Atlantis of the North Sea. No, at this point, Dogger Island still remained, along with a small land bridge connecting Britain to the mainland.
And Dogger Island wasn’t small, it was 23,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of Sardinia.
Oh, and fun fact, in this same area is the world’s oldest boat. A canoe was found and is dated to be around 7750 BCE, so it’s possible people could have even traveled to it.
No, it was another event that has led some to call it Atlantis.
Around 6200 BCE, so 8200 years ago, the North Sea was hit with a series of massive tsunamis caused by the Storegga Slide.
That might sound like a dance you might do at a cousin’s wedding but the Storegga Slide was an underwater landslide that occurred when a massive chunk of the continental shelf broke off and displaced 3500 cubic meters of debris. That’s 840 cubic miles.
That’s basically like if an asteroid 9.5 miles wide dropped into the North Sea.
Experts suggest that this mega-tsunami wiped out both the remaining land bridge and Dogger Island, effectively wiping out any civilizations that might have remained there and separating Britain from mainland Europe.
You could call it the first Brexit.
Now, to the best of our knowledge, any remaining groups still living on Dogger Island were likely hunter-gatherers so the idea that an advanced and powerful civilization got wiped out like the Atlantis myth is kind-of a non-starter.
But it was an inhabited island that literally sank into the ocean in a cataclysmic event.
Of course nothing in science is that cut and dried, there is evidence to show that this happened, like the distribution of sand and clay in the area.
But other findings based off sediment cores suggest that it might have remained above water for several hundred years after the tsunami.
But investigations continue around Dogger Bank to learn more about what was lost all those years ago. Everything from lions to wooly mammoths to dozens more spear tips and tools.
As of right now, the youngest artifact found was from 6050 BCE.
Ironically, plans are in the works to use Dogger Bank to install an offshore wind farm, including a floating “artificial Island” in the same place a real island used to be.
Double ironically, the point of the wind farm is to help reduce the very kind of sea level rise that doomed it in the first place.
It’s a big project but there’s an even bigger project that has been discussed that could actually bring Dogger Island back.
I mean, it’s unlikely. But maybe?
Because of rising sea levels and cities like Amsterdam in the North Sea coming under threat, some proposals have been made to put a dam across the whole North Sea and The English Channel.
The plan is to extend a dam from Scotland and the Shetland Islands across to Norway and from the southwest coast of England to the Northwest tip of France.
This is being called the North European Enclosure Dam and it would not just protect the North Sea but also the Baltic Sea and all the cities that lie on that coast.
It’s a megaproject to say the least. The total length would be 657 kilometers, and it could cost up to $500 billion, but would protect the livelihoods and property of over 25 million people and prevent many times more cost in damages.
And hey, if they get really crazy with it, maybe they could pump out enough to bring Dogger Bank back out of the water, and discover all the secrets it holds.
Again, not likely, but an interesting thought.
And I mean, I think it would be cool to know more about the people who lived on Dogger Island. Like it’s easy to kinda blow it off say ah, they were stone age hunter/gatherers, so what but keep in mind, there were artists painting on cave walls going back 30,000 years.
One of my favorite things that I saw in Ireland on my trip there were stone circles and monuments and tombs dating back 6000 years.
These were mature civilizations with rituals and religions, and understanding of astronomy, they might not have been Atlantis but they were significant.
And since they lived on islands, that isolation probably created very distinct cultures that have now been completely lost to the sea.
Much like Ireland and Britain developed distinct cultures over thousands of years even though they were right next to each other. And this clash of cultures led to a catastrophe of its own that threatened to wipe out Irish culture.
This one, however, was entirely man-made.
The Irish Famine of the late 1840s was not the same as what happened in Doggerland. No tsunami was involved, but an argument could be made that it was the worst disaster that occurred in that area since Dogger Island was wiped away.
It was by far the biggest loss of life in that area – I mean, we have no way of knowing how many people were on Dogger Island when it went down, but it was undoubtably less than the millions of people who literally starved to death between the years of 1846 and 1849.