The Atlantis of Northern Europe slowly sank under the sea instead of being wiped out by a tsunami. A little over 8,000 years ago, a devastating tsunami swept the North Sea and hit a small island that existed there at the time. However, new evidence suggests that the wave did not permanently flood Dogger Island and the surrounding archipelago. Humans may have lived on the remaining land centuries later.
110,000 to 12,000 years ago the earth was in an ice age – sometimes misleadingly referred to as the last ice age. Because so much water was trapped in the ice at the poles, the sea level was many meters lower. This means that land that is now underwater has been exposed.
This includes much of what is now the southern North Sea between Great Britain and mainland Europe. As a result, Great Britain was connected to Europe by a fertile plain called the Doggerland.
What happened to it We know that much of the polar ice has melted and sea levels are rising worldwide. About 8200 years ago, Doggerland had gradually shrunk and Dogger Island was surrounded by a small archipelago (see picture above left). There is evidence that this final piece of Doggerland had a dramatic ending.
About 8150 years ago, a submarine landslide, known as the Storegga slide, occurred off the Norwegian coast. This caused a tsunami in the North Sea that hit the surrounding coasts – in many areas the wave was many meters deep. Many researchers have argued that the Storegga tsunami helped cut the UK off from Europe.
The problem is, as of now, we have had no archaeological record of the impact of the tsunami on Doggerland. “We know essentially nothing about the actual impact on the areas that were obviously most vulnerable to hits,” says Vince Gaffney of the University of Bradford in the UK.
As part of a long-term project to map Doggerland, Gaffney’s team was collecting sediment cores from the ocean floor off the coast of East Anglia in eastern England. The cores contain traces of the Storegga tsunami, such as B. broken clams. It seems like the tsunami struck a river valley, tore trees from the sides – and left their DNA in the sediments for the team to find. But the water soon receded, and later sediments suggest the area was again above water.
Gaffney’s team compiled existing data from the North Sea. The researchers argue that this suggests that the Dogger Archipelago survived for several centuries. It was underwater 7,000 years ago and became what is now Dogger Bank: a submarine sandbank.
Just getting the sediment cores was “a big undertaking,” says Karen Wicks of the University of Reading in the UK.
“It confirms the things we were thinking about anyway,” says Sue Dawson of the University of Dundee in the UK.
Simulations of the tsunami had shown that the Doggerland could not be flooded, and in some places, such as northern Norway, the wave may have been quite small. The key factor is the exact shape of the coastline and nearby seabed, which affects how high the water rises, says Dawson.
Wicks previously found evidence that the hunter-gatherer population in northeastern Britain declined around the time of the tsunami. She argues that the tsunami was part of a “perfect storm” of environmental crises in the region that combined with an era of climate cooling 8200 years ago.
However, almost nothing is known about the people of Doggerland. Last year, Gaffney’s team found the first known artifact: two small pieces of flint. As a result, it is unclear how long people lived there when the area under the sea slid.