UK Offshore Wind Farm Offers a Glimpse into Pre-History

Archaeologists working for Vattenfall, the Swedish energy group developing Norfolk’s largest offshore wind farms, have recovered evidence in the North Sea which is hoped will tell a more detailed story of ‘Doggerland’, the submerged landscape which was flooded more than 8,000 years ago.

Image for illustrative purposes. Source: Vattenfall

The set of cores were recently extracted from the seabed as part of the developer’s surveys of seabed conditions for its 1.8GW Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farm.

The independent research is expected to answer questions about the environments in which people would have lived at the time, Vattenfall said. It will also shed light on how quickly they would have needed to adapt to the changing coastline, as rising sea levels flooded the North Sea through the English Channel and cut off the British Isles from the European mainland.

Wessex Archaeology is conducting the research. The specialist archaeology and heritage company say that the core samples recovered by borehole drilling provide an almost unbroken record of pre-historic environmental change from the end of the last Ice Age through to the flooding of Doggerland.

“We have been extremely fortunate to recover what we believe is a unique sequence of sediments which offer an environmental record over a period of nearly 3,500 years,” said Wessex Archaeology’s Principal Marine Geoarchaeologist, Dr Claire Mellett.

Historic England, the public body which advises on coastal and marine development projects, is advising Vattenfall as the research continues.

Graham Davey, Vattenfall’s Project Manager for Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farm, said: “It is common that wind farm development – on and offshore – uncovers Britain’s hidden history but important finds like these are exceptionally rare. When it does it happen, it’s important to let science take its course and allow a full analysis of the evidence. Most fascinating is trying to understand what the data can tell us about how warming over 10,000 years ago affected the landscape and the seascape in the North Sea, and what impacts we might expect from global warming now.”

Archaeologists already have some limited understanding of the ‘Doggerland’ environment. During the last ice age, about 18,000 years ago, the majority of Britain was covered by ice but, as the climate warmed, Doggerland offered an increasingly attractive environment for human settlement. Temperate grassland replaced the frozen tundra and big game animals such as mammoth, aurochs and red deer attracted hunters to the region.

As global climate continued to warm, sea levels rose and Doggerland became a land of rivers and inlets, archipelagos, lagoons, wetlands and marshes. As woodlands and other flora flourished so did the range of mammals; fish and birds supported Mesolithic communities and populated some of the richest hunting and fishing grounds in Europe.