Fishing for Fossils in the North Sea: The Lost World of Doggerland

A large leg bone of a mammoth comes up with a load a fish in the North Sea.

A large leg bone of a mammoth comes up with a load a fish and other debris from the floor of the North Sea.

Imagine trawling for fish and when you pull up your nets you find a massive bone or a huge tooth along with your catch.  For over 100 years fishermen in the North Sea between Britain and Denmark have found such items in their nets but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the items that their value, monetarily and scientifically, was finally appreciated.   Since that time trawlers have kept their catch of fossils and have been able to sell them to fossil traders thus making an extra profit on their excursions.  By recording the locations of their finds and allowing scientists to make observations before many are sold to collectors, much has been learned about the fauna that once roamed the land that now lies 30 to 150 feet below the North Sea waters.

A portion of a mammoth tooth obtained from North Sea seadbed and sold on-line.  Partially fossilized mammoth teeth are found in abundance here and are also available from many other sources as well.

A portion of a mammoth tooth obtained from North Sea seadbed and sold on-line. Partially fossilized mammoth teeth are found in abundance here and are also available from many other sources as well.

This fossil catch has yielded over 200 tons of fossil bones and over 15,000 mammoth teeth.   The bones include remains of mammoths, of three different species of woolly rhinos, hippos, lions, bears, wild horses, bison, elk, reindeer, hyenas, wolves and Sabre tooth cats of at least two species.   In effect a whole community of animals that is referred to as ice age fauna have been collected in this area.

The skull of a mammoth is loaded on board a fishing vessel on the North Sea

The skull of a mammoth is loaded on board a fishing vessel on the North Sea

Given that the chance of accidentally gathering one of these fossils from the sea floor is slim it is estimated that there must be millions of animal remains preserved in the sediments just under the bottom of the North Sea.  The cold temperatures and low oxygen levels in the sediments have preserved these bones in remarkable condition despite their having been there for 8000 to 40,000 years.

Doggerland: A land bridge between Great Britain, France and the Netherlands.  

doggerland-mapThe southern portion of this region under the North Sea has been given a name: Doggerland.  It is the land that used to connect the British Isles to Europe and during the last ice age is thought to have been equivalent to the Serengeti of Europe, albeit with a much colder climate.

You may have seen reports of the discovery of the “British Atlantis” circulating the web the past year or two.   Those stories seem to have been sparked by a new display of recent research at the Royal Society and this article which has some good images.   Briefly, the fossils that have been found along with cores of the sediments provides indisputable evidence that the area between Great Britain and western Europe used to be dry land that was inhabited by a community of ice-age animals and plants including  human populations.

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.

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)

Evidence of Past Human Occupation:

A portion of a Neanderthal skull was retrieved from the sea floor and bones with stone tool butchery marks have also been identified. In addition some stone implements including spears and axes made from antlers of extinct animals have been retrieved (see article from Nature with more details).  This suggests that at least Neanderthals inhabited this land but it is very likely that there were many modern humans in this region prior to its being inundated. There are studies underway to thoroughly examine some possible locations such as some mounds that suggest the possibility of human settlements. 

The History of Doggerland

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 barren 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?

Since 2012 when the story broke until now (Feb 2014) I have found only one mention of Doggerland in the young earth creationist’s literature.  That was by Brian Thomas at ICR (Making Sense of Britain’s Atlantis). In that article he provide exactly the response I predicted when I first wrote about this story: That during the ice age after the Flood people migrated to this land and then were inundated a few hundred years later.  Creationist’s believe there was an ice age after the global flood so theoretically 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 (stone tools only!) 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 are no longer above sea level.   The fact is that a large number of human occupations sites have been drowned.   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.  For example 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 also provide interesting evidence of 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 (Down to 8 people!).  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. The Bible says nothing about sea levels once being much LOWER – only much HIGHER

  2. Paul Edwards says:

    Well, bible or no bible its obvious that at the end of the last ice age the sea level rose by over 300ft. And it looks like its starting to happen again too albeit on a smaller scale thanks to global warming.
    Obvioulsy this is where all the stories of global deluge come from including – but not exclusive to – the bible.

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