Scientists Are Examining Sediment That Could Reveal Secrets About Doggerland, Which Sank 8,000 Years Ago

Scientists are searching for ancient pollen grains and microscopic fossils in peat to learn more about the ancient world of Doggerland, which disappeared into the North Sea 8,000 years ago.

oil rig silhouette on the North Sea.
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Scientists are searching for ancient pollen grains and microscopic fossils in peat to learn more about the ancient world of Doggerland, which disappeared into the North Sea 8,000 years ago.

Doggerland is a huge chunk of land that was once perched solidly between the Netherlands and England before it disappeared forever in the North Sea 8,000 years ago, and scientists are curious to learn more about this ancient land and how its landscape may have appeared before it sank.

As Live Science reports, to learn more about Doggerland, scientists have been busy retrieving large amounts of sediment from the North Sea to discover secrets about this long-lost community. Doggerland derives its name from Dogger Bank, which is a shoal that is found in the southern area of the North Sea, and the name Dogger Bank was given to the shoal on account of Dutch fishing boats from the medieval era that once frequented the area that was known as doggers.

With Doggerland finally breaking free of ice around 12,000 years ago, it was eventually completely flooded by the North Sea. While Doggerland may have had its day, this ended 8,000 years ago and with its departure also went its forests and the many animals and humans who would have migrated to this region from far-flung corners of Europe.

Claire Mellett, who works with Wessex Archaeology as its chief marine geoarchaeologist, has explained that 10 of the sediment cores that scientists have extracted from the North Sea have shown the undeniable presence of peat, which can only be created in marshy areas.

While this peat is currently being examined, scientists are also turning their attention to microscopic fossils and ancient pollen grains that may still be hidden within this peat. If these are discovered, it would help scientists tremendously as it would provide a much clearer picture of the climate and landscape of this lost piece of an ancient land.

The most recent collection of sediment was carefully extracted from the site of Norfolk Boreas which spans an enormously large region of 280 square miles. The peat that was recovered was found over a space of 32 miles, which Mellett noted is to date the largest extraction of sediment from the North Sea. According to Mellett, to find the right areas to reach this sediment, scientists used remotely sensed images.

“The remote sensing provides us an image of the seabed, but no physical material — so when we get the cores, that gives us the actual evidence. We can see where the old rivers are. We can see the peat lands, and we can see the extent of them, so we know how big they are. We’re essentially reconstructing the geography of the North Sea around 10,000 years ago.”

With the peat that was pulled up from Doggerland, scientists can even examine tiny objects like charcoal to determine whether there were times in which large burning events may have happened, although it would be difficult to tell whether these fires were started by humans or were simply natural events.

“Not only is the peat hard evidence of a former land surface, but it also has excellent preservation of microscopic fossils — and that is what gives us the information to reconstruct climate, sea levels and what trees were growing in the area. We also look at things like microscopic charcoal, so we can see when there has been a big burning event. We don’t know whether that burning was driven by humans or whether it was a natural forest fire, but we can all see all that within these peat deposits.”

Perhaps the greatest mystery of all is determining how quickly Doggerland flooded and disappeared into the North Sea, and scientists believe that by studying ancient sediment they will eventually be able to answer this question.