Researchers explore ancient settlements washed away by North Sea


A mission has begun that will hopefully uncover some secrets of human settlements on former land masses long since swallowed up by the North Sea

‘Largely terra incognita’

A group of scientists led by Flanders Marine Institute (Vliz) has embarked on a 10-day mission to explore former settlements that have been washed away by the North Sea. The land that filled in most of the current sea 10,000 years ago was inhabited by river valleys and woolly mammoths.

The institute is co-operating with researchers from Ghent University and the University of Bradford in West Yorkshire and making use of the Belgica research vessel. They are specifically exploring Dogger Bank, located between the Netherlands and the UK. That is the site of a former land mass that connected the two countries named Doggerland.

“This was a remarkably lush area, with river valleys and interesting vegetation,” Jan Seys of Vliz told VRT. “Mammoths ran about here, as did woolly rhinoceroses and people. On this expedition, we want to find out exactly where human settlements were located.”

Although fishing boats have been bringing up fossils of both animal and human bones and of tools, “Doggerland is at this point mostly terra incognita”. The time had come for an expedition because technology has been refined to the point where landscapes under the sea bed can be more easily determined.

“It’s fascinating to imagine that just 10,000 years ago the North Sea area was for the most part dry land, that humans wandered this land and that there were completely different fauna and flora,” says Seys. “This allows us to reflect on the future. Climate change is leading to a rise in sea levels. It’s certainly not an exaggeration to say that understanding the past can help us to deduce what we can expect from the future.”

Image: William E McNulty & Jerome N Cookson/National Geographic Magazine