Doggerland: The Ice Age, Sea Level Rise, and Human Migration

Update Feb 2014:  I have rewritten this article with updated information here:  Fishing For Fossils in the North Sea: The Lost World of Doggerland

You may have seen reports of the discovery of the “British Atlantis” circulating the web.   Those stories seem to have been sparked by a new display of recent research at the Royal Society and especially this article which has some good images.   Briefly, what has been found is further evidence that between Great Britain and western Europe there used to be no sea but dry land that was inhabited by a community of ice-age animals and plants including probably human populations.   This is not a new idea but new technology and renewed human efforts have led to the discovery of much more evidence to support this hypothesis.   I find the articles to be too fluffy and so it is difficult to say how certain we can be that what is now the sea floor was inhabited by communities of people and not just plants and other animals but it seems quite certain that Great Britain and Europe were connected by dry land in the past.

How this past connection happened is quite clear:  during the maximum extent of ice during the last ice age the worlds oceans were 350 to 400 feet lower than they are today.  As a result large sections of continental shelf which today are covered by shallow seas,  would have been dry ground.   This includes large areas between Britain and Denmark parts of which have been given the name Doggerland.

Map showing some research sites on and around Great Britain but most importantly showing what area (in red) would have been above sea level during the last Ice Age when sea levels were 350 to 400 feet lower than they are today. (Image from the article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2167731/Britains-Atlantis-North-sea–huge-undersea-kingdom-swamped-tsunami-5-500-years-ago.html)

Over the past 50 years fishermen have inadvertently brought up 100s of artifacts that date to 8 to 10 thousand years old including stone implements and spears and axes made from antlers of extinct animals (See article from Nature with more details).  Now that a better map of the area has been made those finds can be mapped to see if ancient villages can now be identified.  For example, this more recently announced map of the area apparently has identified some mounds of possible human origin that will be investigated in the future.   Cores from the soils underlying the sands deposited in the English Channel suggest swamps and hills with vegetation that was very much like the rest of Europe during the ice age.   The land was cold and probably fairly baren like Britain at the height of the ice age (20,000 years by conventional dating) and then as the world warmed Doggerland would have filled with vegetation and ice age animals very quickly.  But not long after becoming habitable the  sea levels would have continued to rise dramatically over several thousand years resulting in the flooding of this entire area. By 8500 years ago or so nearly this entire region would have been submerged and the coastlines of Britain nearly established.   Part of the problem in describing the former geography and biota of this area is that when this land was gradually reclaimed by the ocean it would have been eroded in many areas removing evidence of what it was like.  Now that the water is hundreds of feet deep in most places several meters of new sediments have been deposited on much of the area also obscuring the past.   Various forms of radar and scans are allowing the subsurface layers to be examined and cores from oil drilling have also revealed more artifacts that allow for this new picture of what it was like in Doggerland long ago.

Creationism and Doggerland?

I haven’t seen any young earth creationists response to this yet but I don’t think they will find the possibility of people living here particularly concerning.   After all, they believe there was an ice age after the global flood so people could have lived there a short time before being displaced.  The evidence of what sorts of plants and animals lived there (mastodons and other ice-age mammals) and the lack of technology by the first human inhabitants raises persistent questions that are rather poorly addressed in the creation literature.  However, I’m not that interested in these questions.  I find that Doggerland raises a much  more interesting historical phenomena that is not well appreciated:  dramatic sea level change and its effects globally on human populations.

Generalized coast of Florida during the Ice Age. If the water was just 50 feet lower it would almost double the area from this to the east. There are many Clovis-Indian and other very ancient Indian sites found under 100+ feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico in areas that would have been dry land during the height of the last ice age.

Sea levels 300 to 400 feet below their current levels mean that the shape of the earth’s continents would have been very different in the past.   As a result people living at this time, if they were at all dependent on the sea for their living, would have very likely lived in places that no longer are above sea level.   So we are missing a record of a great number of people because it is lost to the sea.   In the case of Doggerland we may yet find some evidence left over of people s existence but for many we will never know of their lives.  One place we know people lived that is now underwater is off the coast of Florida.   There are numerous native american occupation sites that have been identified in the Gulf of Mexico in areas that would have been above sea level during the last Ice Age.  These sites tell us much more about human dispersal around the globe.

The Ice Age vs Human Migration:  A challenge for young earth creationism

I wanted to just take a few minutes to explore the implications of these two sites on the model creationists have for explaining human dispersal after the flood.   Obviously for YECs, the global flood represents an extreme bottlenecking of the human populations.  What is less often recognized is that from my reading, nearly all young earth creationists  believe in a second restriction on human migration patterns.  This is the bottleneck of the Tower of Babel.   Their reading of Scripture tells them that “all” mankind was present at the Tower of Babel and so any evidence of populations of people anywhere must result from the dispersal of people from the Tower of Babel.   When did that occur?  This is not clear in the Scriptures but it seems that 150 to 400 years after the Flood is the most commonly accepted time-frame to place it.   As a result, the Egyptian, Chinese, native American etc.. timelines must all have their starting point after this event.  So it isn’t just that people spread over the earth after the Flood but only after Babel which shortens the total time for the peopling of the earth a few hundred more years which is not insignificant when you are only saying that there are 4000 years available to begin with.

You might have already surmised that this creates some problems for how to understand the peopling  of the Doggerland and native Floridians of the Ice Age?   Add to this that for young earth creationists the ice age took place after the flood and by their estimates reached its maximum extend about 400-500 years after the flood and then quickly (just 100 years or so) significantly melted back to restore the sea level to something close to the current levels.   If we take the date of the Tower of Babel (150-400 years) and the Ice Age (400-500) together we end up with some interesting creation model predictions about human migration.  The most obvious expectation would be that migration must have been incredibly quick!     For example, for Doggerland to become populated people would have had to have left Babel in the mid-east and then walked as fast as they could north to arrive in Doggerland in just a couple of hundred years and then probably established whole communities and maybe even set up some monuments etc.. only to have them all wiped out within 50 years at most (the first sea level rise would have wiped most of this area out.  Not only did humans have to get here but all animals and plant communities had to establish themselves in a short period of time.  But if the pollen cores tell an accurate story, at the peak of the ice age this area was not a lush green valley with abundant wildlife but rather quite tundra like.  People likely wouldn’t have desired to move into this area until after it warmed up, but in the flood geology model that warming took place very quickly and so within 100 years the entire area would have become a sea again with no time to develop an entire community of temperate plants and animals.

I expect this time frame for human dispersal won’t sound all that difficult to some people but lets look at the case of the native Floridians.   According to the creationists time-frame most of what was Florida  was only eligible for human habitation for a very short period of time not long after the Flood.  In this case how could extensive remains of human habitation be found below the waters of gulf of Mexico?   Human dispersal from Babel must have been incredibly fast.    Humans would have had to have left Babel traveled across Asia to the land bridge between Asia and North America in what is Alaska today.  They then came across this land bridge during the time of the ice age and then made their way all the way across North America to Florida where they established communities just in time for the ocean to rise and cover them all.  By most flood geology estimates of Babel and the events of the Ice Age, these people only had 100 to 250 years to make this great migration + community development.    This is some incredible dispersal ability!  When the Tower of Babel restriction is combined with evidence around the world of submerged populations we see that the flood geology model effectively has the entire globe being populated by people in just a few hundred years.  And we are not just talking about a couple of people here and there but large populations and established sites of occupation.

Of course this is very different from the conventional picture of human dispersal that has been drawn by anthropologists.   North and South America are portrayed as having been the last places that people found their way to coming here about 20,000 years ago at the maximum extent of the Ice Age.   But in other places in the world, evidence of human occupation is found well before the last Ice Age.  The evidence of humans under the Toba super volcano ash layer in India that I have written about earlier (The Toba Super-Eruption: A Non-Flood Catastrophe) are found underneath Ice Age deposits strongly implying that people dispersed over that area long before the Ice Age. This doesn’t seem possible in the flood geology models.   The flood model also, by necessity, compresses all evidence of people groups from the past into populations living together as nearly contemporaries rather than displacing each other over time.  This would include Neandertal’s, ‘the hobbit”, cro-magnons etc..in the flood model  (a topic for another day).   In North America there is evidence of hundreds of unique native american cultures many of which are very old but in the flood geology model all these hundreds of groups only lived within a few thousand years and so must have overlapped to a great extent.

Conclusion:

Doggerland is an interesting find and I am sure we will learn much more about it in the future.  Like all evidence of early man the timeline for when this land was inhabited is greatly compressed by creationists because of their global flood bottleneck but even more so by their insistence on a literal interpretation of population distributions at the time of Babel.   This results in the need to propose ultra-fast dispersal of people over the entire earth while at the same time they experienced rapid cultural evolution.  There are a multitude of problems this hypothesis creates when the evidence of human remains is examined.

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Comments

  1. ashley haworth-roberts says:

    You may have made this point (I’m commenting whilst still near the beginning of your posting) but YECs have – of necessity (non-biblical necessity made necessary by their ‘Bible history’ literalism) invented a ‘rapid’, single, post-Flood ice age glaciation lasting around 500 years from c 2,300 BC onwards. By their reckoning the global cooling required would have, on average (assuming the ‘peak cold’ was near the end of the glaciation as in the real events revealed by ice cores), led to a fall in sea level of nearly 1 foot per year in the southern North Sea! Whereas real global warming since 1900 – and a continued, real, post-glacial sinking of southeast Britain – has I think raised sea level around the UK by a few centimetres at the most in 100 years.

    • Yeah, super fast-rates of sea-level rise AND fall are necessary with the YEC model. Such fast rates and their effects on coastlines I didn’t even address but YECs rarely think about the consequences/predictions that result from their models. Many of those predictions can be tested and found easily wanting.
      Just imagine the Mediterranean see 400 feet lower and its effects on the Nile Delta or the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf. These places would have been drastically different during any Ice Age and yet we have Abraham making his way to an Egypt very soon after this Ice Age to find a fully established Egyptian culture along the Nile River and presumably delta region. The Delta and most of the Nile Valley would have expected to be a Canyon incised by its fall into the much lower Mediterranean Sea.

    • I am a Christian and young creationism is a blight on the Christian faith. There is NOTHING in the bible that demands young creationism or precludes even billions of years of terrestrial evolution. In the old testament the name Adam is not synonymous with greater humanity. Humans were already here. Adam was a new creation, the first son of God.

      I want to slap these people upside the head for believing what some ignorant Bishop laid out as a timeline 500 years ago.

  2. I haven’t seen any young earth creationists response to this yet but I don’t think they will find the possibility of people living here particularly concerning.

    Bang on. Bit of a non-explanation, though, but that’s hardly unexpected.

  3. are the yec’s astraw men in this debate….we are so very old…pre-dating the last ice age times ten as a coherent trading culture with cities and walls……gods time is not our time for the has none…keep presenting the facts…..god will tolerate only so much childishness from people who think he just stepped off the boat with noah……..he does have a sense of humor you get that when you deal with children

    • Hi, since I’m interested in reaching those that really believe young earth creationism they are not a strawman for me even if I disagree with their conclusions. I was using the story to illustrate the difficulties that arise from holding to a human timeline that is only 4000 years old.. Sure it seems obvious to most people but I understand that many people just aren’t even aware of what sort of evidence there is out there that human culture has been around for quite some time. PS. fixed some of the obvious spelling problems for you.

      • i thank you for the corrections…….and i share what your trying to do…it is uncomfortable to think that anyone could believe the earth was 4000 to 6000 years old but they do…my brother in law is one of these…i remember being shocked and bewildered when he replyed to an off hand remark of mine…i suggested he look up pictures of the sunken cities off japan….dont know if he did…its obvious to me that the so-called ancient cultures grew from the survivors of the flooding at the end of the last ice age..a city is a complex thing….the people in them depend on trade to flourish and that means… that around the shores of those pre-ice age seas a trading network must have existed….civilization was thinner than people on the earth….the disruption…the distruction of one center by water…ice or war can and has set back broad geographic areas….witness the destruction of carthage by the romans…the entirety of north africa was adversely affected….all the trade and intellectual commerce that found a center there collapsed……the romans in light of this tried to re-establish something resembling it but failed….carthagian trade with western europe and north america; and knowledge of both; was no more…imagine a city or a series of cities or trading posts with tribes oriented to them–networked if you will… being flooded…a market based economy that evolved specific to that area being forced to higher ground….forced to re-establish among the less civilized…indeed among people still feral…that had little in the way of manufactured goods or even the need for them….there is a great adventure story here…i do not discount noah or moses…they were real people or depictions of real people who picked nations up from the flood and started again………..i very much look forward to speaking with you

      • Hi Mike, not sure about the theory of being forced to higher ground and associated with peoples of less sophistication. The whole things with submerged cultures is a bit complex. Every evidence of submerged human occupation sites isn’t always evidence of the end of the ice age because there are two ways to become submerged: 1) the ocean levels could rise or 2) the land could fall. in the case of Japan there are large earthquakes that can raise or lower the land dramatically as witnessed by the recent tsunami there. In Hawaii there is rock art submerged below sea level but this is because the islands are sinking into the ocean more than because the sea is rising. On the other hand there are native american occupation sites 20-40 feet below the Gulf of Mexico along the Florida coast that are the result of the oceans rising after the ice age. Each case requires a bunch of data collection to test hypotheses related to either possibility. In either case that there are sunken sites off Florida or Japan or between England and France do raise serious problems for young earth thinking because they have constrained timeline of human dispersal for the tower of babel. How people dispersed and built occupations only to have them destroyed in such a short period of time defies any rational explanation and thee is no Biblical evidence for this either. Joel

      • thank you for your response………i am here to learn different ideas…as in physics and the search for a unified theory… one size fits all breaks down whenever its advanced from the micro to the macro… the mechanical principle may be the same but the laws of attraction differ in accord to the size of the body and if such a thing can be said the distance in between…chaos has not yet been numbered…consider that humanity as a species was and is dispersed along the coasts…….some land collapses and some floods.. each change affects the individual cells of a larger body…commerce…if developed… personal contact and culture….would be affected not always in a negative way…YEC is bothersome in that it doesnt face reality…..the earth is not through with change…..this is a supposition…….the last ice age lead to the expansion of equatorial forests as well as temperate ones and i think an altogether more pleasant world to live in…the pre-ice age cultures that were forced onto islands and into new upland environments…the displacement would have destroyed some while it created others… global warming..global cooling.. both are factual… and one displaces the other naturally and niether can be stopped slowed down or corrected because there is nothing to correct…the earth simply is and we are passengers….the danger in them is that they take over as a religion that is just as irrational as the close minded YEC doctrine….i do regard both as a danger….science without politics is the purest form of reverence for the earth………i wish i had more time today…and i thank you for opening a door for me that i didnt know was there………..how to talk and convince YECs that is an art that will have to evolve with the argument……….mike hutchings

  4. talldave2 says:

    This was interesting until you started talking about creationism. Don’t care. YECs are not interesting to anyone except other YECs and the anti-religious.

    • Hi, thanks for reading. The target audience of my blog are YECs and others interested in the intersection of science/faith and so it is not surprising that these parts are of no interest to others. I realize this is a small audience but that is the audience that is important to me.

      • long time no hear…I cant help but think that the Y E C’ S are tools of a sort being stood up to discredit religion…nothing can discredit god of course…but I can’t help but think that god as a craftsman wouldn’t be insulted by someone saying that such a complexity took 6000 years…that wouldn’t cover a coffee break….I have some in-laws who believe 6000 years is the timeline….but I do not see the young ones picking up that cross….religion has become corrupted and organized as a state controlled tool….like the news media….it is the most poison religion of all and the most effective…I am friends with an atheist and ex-friend to several more who try to convert me from something to a belief in nothing….they are the most unhappy people but they have a purpose too and are part of creation whether they like it or not…if you dig below the surface they embrace…there has been something done to them or that they have done that they cannot reconcile and so must have refuge in either belief or non-belief which is the same thing…both are states of worship and worship is a state of mind and a state of being with rules and delineated laws to influence thought and either open or close debate…it depends on the person and what they can accept of this world and their place in infinity

  5. Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    I’m not all that interested in the debate with the folks who think the Earth is only 4000years old but the rest of this post is fascinating. Like Hancock’s Underworld, Doggerland reminds us that most if human prehistory may have been effectively hidden under hundreds of feet of ocean.

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