Scientists search for 'lost' Stone Age settlement in 'Doggerland' at the bottom of the North Sea

Scientists are searching for a lost Stone Age settlement in a prehistoric landscape at the bottom of the North Sea known as Doggerland.

Experts are eyeing the southern North Sea as the location of the lost prehistoric settlement. Prior to the rise of sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age, some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, the area was part of a piece of land connecting Britain to what is now continental Europe.

Earlier this month, experts from the U.K. and Belgium set out on the research vessel RV Belgica to analyze the seabed using acoustic technology. Physical samples were also retrieved from the seabed.

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"We probably know less about the peoples who inhabited these vast landscapes, now lost to the sea, than we know about the far side of the moon," Professor Vincent Gaffney, of the U.K.’s University of Bradford, who participated in the project, told Fox News, via email. "Archaeology, assisted by technology, now has the capacity to explore these lost worlds."

The research vessel RV Belgica. (© Belgian Navy)

The research vessel RV Belgica. (© Belgian Navy)

Scientists studied an area of Doggerland called the Brown Bank, an 18.6-mile long sand ridge located about 62 miles due east of Great Yarmouth on the U.K.’s coast and about 49.7 miles west of the Dutch coast.

Gaffney told Fox News that, despite “rubbish weather,” the research went well. “We found evidence for a forest beneath the sea – probably about 10,000 years old,” he said via email. “We are sampling this and will have it dated but as it comes from ancient peat we’re very confident.”

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Similar forests can be seen at the edges of Britain at low tide, but this one is right in the center of the North Sea, according to Gaffney. The forest, he says, is the first of its type found in a deepwater environment.

2019 exploration areas on the Brown Banks and the Southern River.

2019 exploration areas on the Brown Banks and the Southern River. (© Lost Frontiers/VLIZ/UGenT)

“We now are certain there is preserved landscape, with preserved peat, which we can explore further,” he added. “This is an environment in which people would have lived.”

The expedition was led by Dr. Tine Missiaen from the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Belgium, as part of Belgian/Dutch/U.K. project entitled “Deep History: Revealing the palaeo-landscape of the Southern North Sea.”

Missiaen told Fox News that scientists used state-of-the-art acoustic technology to pinpoint prehistoric outcrops on and near the seafloor. "Dredging and grab sampling in these areas resulted in important finds," she explained, via email. "This clearly illustrates that guided prospecting is the way forward, and we expect that this approach will allow an important increase in archaeological finds in the near future."

The research also complements the University of Bradford-led Lost Frontiers Project, which is funded by the European Research Council and aims to map Doggerland.

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The Lost Frontiers team has already identified thousands of miles of plains, hills, marshlands and river valleys on the seabed, although hard evidence of human activity has eluded researchers.

DNA sampling of cores by the Lost Frontiers team at the University of Warwick. (@Lost Frontiers)

DNA sampling of cores by the Lost Frontiers team at the University of Warwick. (@Lost Frontiers)

Nonetheless, fishermen have found a host of archaeological items in the Brown Bank area over the years, including stone and human remains.

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Gaffney said that more research will be undertaken later this year. “Because we lost so much time to weather, we’re going back later in the year for more peat and sediments to explore this forest further and find the settlement we know to be there,” he explained.

Grab sampler for use at sea. (Belgian Navy)

Grab sampler for use at sea. (Belgian Navy)

Fascinating sea bed discoveries have been made elsewhere in the U.K. A mysterious sunken prehistoric forest, for example, was recently revealed on a Welsh beach in the aftermath of Storm Hannah, which battered much of the U.K. last month.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers