Once upon a time there existed a magical place called ‘Doggerland’ (no dear readers, don’t chuckle). For thousands of years, the land had lain under a curse of ice but that curse had been broken and the Ice Age was over. Into this new land came a creature called ‘man’ and he found it was very much to his liking, so he stayed and made it his home. He camped by its rivers, hunted in its forests and made tools from its rocks. But a great peril was creeping from the north. All that ice had melted and run into the seas and was rushing south to reclaim its kingdom. Nothing could stand in its way and Doggerland fell. All the land was consumed by water and man was forced to abandon his home forever to the depths.
For eight thousand years his home lay buried and forgotten until one day an inquisitive lobster came along and starting digging it up again…
The lobster, which was really just going about its daily business, had been digging just off a site on the Isle of Wight, called Bouldnor Cliff. In the process unearthed flint artefacts that hadn’t seen the light of day for more than eight millennia.
This area had been under investigation since 1985 and was well known for the flints that were regularly dredged up by fishermen. But it was the lobster’s ‘discovery’ in 1999 that really opened the archaeological doors to Bouldnor Cliff.
The flints that had been found before were always out of context and thus of limited use to archaeologists, but the new flints were still buried where they fallen – offering an almost unique glimpse into a world lost to the sea.
Today, the site’s international importance is clear. Analysis has shown that the seabed (or former land surface) has remained undisturbed – meaning that the archaeology beneath is well preserved and still in situ. As well as giving us a peek into life of Mesolithic man, evidence from pollen, preserved organisms and the landscape is shedding light on post-ice age climate change and the chain of events that led to our island nation becoming, well, an island.
Other finds have shown that the first inhabitants of our shiny new island were not the grunting cave men that had gone before, but were sophisticated hunters and craftsmen that employed woodworking techniques that were thousands of years ahead of their time.
[Graphic: The site at Bouldnor Cliff and how Britain became an island. Click to make biggerer]
You can read more about Bouldnor Cliff and the challenges of excavating an underwater site in the Nov/Dec issue of the magazine British Archaeology