Ground Breaking Research

There are three main components to the proposed research which significantly advance the state of the art within archaeology and specifically aim to:

  • Release the full potential of thevast seismic reflectance data setsavailable (generated mainly by the petroleum and wind industries) to create topographical maps of early Holocene Doggerland that are as accurate and near complete as possible. This will develop and extend methodologies pioneered by the project team.
  • Useancient DNArecovered directly from buried sediments under the sea floor (rather than from fossils contained in these sediments) as a vital new tool for the reconstruction of the palaeoenvironments of Doggerland. Sedimentary ancient DNA will be used to explore the development of these landscapes during the period of climatic amelioration and specifically to look for markers associated with Neolithic practise within the marine environment that may not be recognised via traditional methodologies. The study is enabled by next generation sequencing that delivers DNA sequences much faster and cheaper than has hitherto been possible, combined with the cool stable environment of marine sediments in which biomolecular preservation is exceptional over the Holocene timescale and beyond.
  • Model the ecological development of Doggerland using complex systems modellingapproaches that simulate real ecological processes grounded in the behaviour of individual organisms. Although these approaches present methodological challenges on the scale proposed, their successful application will allow more realistic and dynamic modelling than is possible with conventional approaches.

While each of these three components involves substantial innovation, either in techniques or in their application, combined together they provide the opportunity to unlock the scientific study of major inundated landscapes. Although the focus of the research will be on Doggerland, the techniques and overall approach are transferable to other drowned landscapes, such as Beringia, the lost land between Alaska and Siberia, or Sundaland, which linked continental Malaysia with Indonesia and Borneo. As with Doggerland, the key role that these sunken landscapes have played in human prehistory and the peopling of the globe is recognised, but appropriate techniques for their detailed scientific study have remained elusive.

The proposed research is timely, not simply in terms of the availability of the data and technology to realise this ambitious project. Just as the possibility of mapping Doggerland and modelling its dynamic ecological and human history has become a reality, this uniquely well-preserved but fragile prehistoric landscape has come under unprecedented pressure from trawling, mineral extraction and infrastructural development, including most recently the construction of extensive wind farms. The European nations around the North Sea have begun to put in place the frameworks for the management of this shared heritage, but the ability to succeed is critically dependent upon having a better understanding of the resource that we wish to both protect and exploit. This project will fundamentally advance that understanding.