There was a period when Doggerland was arid and incredibly rich, a great place for hunter-gatherers.
The idea of a “lost Atlantis” under the North Sea, connecting Britain by land with continental Europe, was invented by H. G. Wells at the end of the 19th century, with evidence of human settlement of the forgotten world in 1931, when the trawler “Kolinda” pulled to the surface of the earth a piece of peat containing the tip of a spear.
But only now, after a decade of groundbreaking research and outstanding finds by an army of amateur archaeologists scouring the Dutch coast in search of artifacts and fossils, a major exhibition can open a window into Doggerland, a vast area submerged underwater after the tsunami 8000 years ago, which cut off the British Isles from modern Belgium, the Netherlands and southern Scandinavia.
The exhibition “Doggerland: a Lost World in the North Sea” at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) in Leiden, South Holland, includes more than 200 objects, ranging from a deer bone with an arrow tip to fossils, etc. in the form of fossilized hyena droppings and mammoth molars to a fragment of the skull of a young male Neanderthal. Studies of the frontal bone, excavated in 2001 off the coast of Zealand, suggest that he was a big meat eater. A small cavity behind the brow bone is considered a scar from a harmless subcutaneous tumor, which would be visible as a lump above the eye.
But while the past decade has seen an increase in expensive scientific research, including a recent survey of the flooded landscape by the Universities of Bradford and Ghent, offering additional clues to the causes of its destruction, it is the work of” citizen scientists ” according to Dr. Sasja van der Vaart-Verschoof, assistant curator of the museum’s prehistory department, that has produced some of the most fascinating artifacts to tell the full story.
Artificial beaches built from material extracted from the sea as part of efforts to protect the modern coastline from the effects of the climate crisis have provided a storehouse of once inaccessible treasures from a world inhabited for millions of years by modern humans, Neanderthals, and even older Hominids have a predecessor Homo.
“We have a wonderful community of amateur archaeologists who go to these beaches almost daily in search of fossils and artifacts, and we work with them to analyze and study them,” Van der Vaart-Verchoof said. “It is open to everyone, and everyone can find, for example, a hand axe. Amateur archaeologists discovered almost all the tools that could be used.”
One of these finds is a 50,000-year-old flint tool with a handle made of birch tarpaulin. Discovered in 2016 by nurse Willy van Wingerden, it helped to update the idea of Neanderthals, who were once considered rude and simplistic, as being able to perform precise and complex multi-stage tasks. The drawing in the exhibition shows that this sharp tool was used like a razor to shave the head of another.
Other finds include fragments of a human skull with traces of cuts that may have been caused by deflashing, which is believed to have been part of a funeral ritual, and remains such as the jaw of a hyena that was thrown out in front of Van Wingerden during a walk on the beach near Rotterdam six years ago. The wide-open grassy plains of Doggerland were ideal pasture for large herds of animals, such as reindeer, which were the prey of cave lions, saber-toothed cats, cave hyenas, and wolves.
Doggerland, named by University of Exeter archaeologist Bryony Coles in the 1990s after Dogger Bank, a section of the seabed in the North Sea, in turn, named after the 17th-century fishing boats “Dogger” that sailed there -presumably there were about 8,200 years ago after a strong tsunami.
During the last Ice Age, the sea level was much lower than it is today, but the catastrophic wave was caused by an underwater landslide off the coast of Norway. “There was a period when Doggerland was arid and incredibly rich, a great place for hunter-gatherers,” said Van der Vaart-Verchoof. “This was not the end of the earth or a land bridge to the UK. It really was the heart of Europe. There are lessons to be learned. The story of Doggerland shows how devastating climate change can be. The climate change that we see today is caused by human activity, but its consequences can be as devastating as the changes that occurred many years ago.”