Wednesday, April 25, 2007

 

Prehistoric playground found below the waves

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Smh.com.au
By Ian Sample
April 25, 2007

A lost landscape where early humans roamed more than 12,000 years ago has been discovered beneath the North Sea.

A map of the underwater world reveals criss-crossing rivers, giant lakes and gentle hills around which hunter-gatherers made their homes toward the end of the last ice age.

The region was inundated between 18,000 and 6000BC, when the warming climate melted the thick glaciers that pressed down from the north.

As the water rose, the great plain vanished, and slowly the contours of the British Isles and the north-west European coastline were established. Now the primitive landscape is submerged and preserved, tens of metres beneath one of the busiest seas in the world.

Scientists compiled three-dimensional seismic records from oil-prospecting vessels working in the North Sea over 18 months to piece together a landscape covering 23,000 square kilometres, stretching from the coast of eastern England to the edge of northern Europe, just short of the south coast of Norway. The scientists identified the scars left by ancient riverbeds and lakes, some 25 kilometres across, and salt marshes and valleys.

"Some of this land would have made the perfect environment for hunter-gatherers. There is higher land where they could have built their homes, and hills they could see their prey from," said Vince Gaffney, director of Birmingham University's Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, who led the project with Ken Thomson, a geologist.

The re-creation of the ancient landscape shows that the land beneath the North Sea was probably more than merely a land bridge to Britain.

"The places you wanted to live were the big plains next to the water, and the coastline was way beyond where it is now. This was probably a heartland of population at the time," Professor Gaffney said.

"This completely transforms how we understand the early history of north-western Europe.

"This is the best preserved prehistoric landscape, certainly in the whole of Europe and possibly the world."


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