TORONTO – New study suggests that parts of Doggerland, the land that once connected Britain to mainland Europe, survived the devastation of a tsunami that hit the North Sea coast over 8,000 years old.
While Doggerland was previously thought to have been inundated by the massive Storegga tsunami, a new topography and sediment analysis by a group of researchers from the UK and Estonia revealed that one archipelago survived natural disaster.
Researchers say the surviving islands may have played a key role in prehistoric times by providing a starting point for the spread of agriculture to the rest of Britain.
The findings, published in the December 2020 issue of the peer-reviewed archeology journal Antiquity, support modern research into tsunamis anticipating similar future events.
While another gigantic underwater landslide is unlikely anytime soon, the researchers say their findings are essential in helping risk modellers prepare for future tsunamis and their impacts on surrounding regions.
Doggerland, which had already been partially inundated by rising sea levels after the last ice age, was hit by the Storegga tsunami around 8,150 years ago, according to the study.
The study reports that the Storrega tsunami was triggered by a massive underwater landslide off the Norwegian continental shelf. Researchers say the large tsunami may have caused several other tsunamis that hit the coastline of the North Sea basin.
The resulting waves were of a catastrophic magnitude the region has not seen since, as researchers found evidence of sediment, stones and shattered shells from the tsunami more than 40 kilometers from the shore at the time, suggesting that the tsunami reached far inland.
The tsunami likely had a devastating impact on the human population, potentially killing thousands of people, as well as a lasting effect on the now completely submerged landscape of the southern North Sea.
While the tsunami would have had a drastic impact on Doggerland, researchers suggest that the first wave was concentrated in valleys with dense forests and hills, offering protection to other parts of the region.
“Although part of the region may have been permanently inundated, a significant area would have remained habitable for centuries,” notes the study.
The researchers noted that the highlands, which would later become a sandbar known as Dogger Bank in the late 19th and 20th centuries, may also have dissipated some of the wave energy. This helped a smaller archipelago of Doggerland to survive for a millennium until it was finally submerged by rising sea levels.
Analysis suggests that these latter parts of Doggerland may still have existed when farmers emigrated from mainland Europe and began to introduce agriculture to Britain.
Given its remaining landscape, researchers say the surviving islands likely attracted hunter-gatherers living in northwestern Europe after the last Ice Age, providing various hunting and foraging opportunities.
The study reports that the remaining part of Doggerland may have been a ‘staging ground’ for early farmers, an isolated region they never reached and hunter-gatherers thrived, or a ‘unique mixing pot. Between the two groups.
However, the researchers warn that the opportunity to continue studying what Doggerland was “is closing quickly.”
There are proposals for massive oil and natural gas developments in the North Sea, which could jeopardize future research, according to the study.