Showing posts with label Barry Cunliffe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barry Cunliffe. Show all posts

02 October 2012

Doggerland

The book 'Britain Begins' tells the story of the landscape and people who lived in these islands from the end of the last great ice-age (when they were still part of mainland Europe) right up to the end of the Saxon period. It's a great read.

Part of north-west Europe 10 000 years agoI'm currently working my way through 'Britain Begins', Barry Cunliffe's latest book. Sir Barry Cunliffe is a well-regarded archaeologist working at Oxford University. In fact he's Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at the University's Institute of Archaeology.

In the book he traces the origins of human occupation in what is now the British Isles, though at the time of the early settlements some 10 000 years ago, most the North Sea was an extension of the North European Plain and Britain was part of the European continent.

Part of an illustration from the book (right) shows some of the Atlantic coastline of Europe around 30 000 years ago, along with the ice sheets in grey and today's coastlines in orange. (Doggerland in my title refers to the central part of what is now the North Sea. It was an area of rolling hills and river valleys.)

Although the ice retreated almost completely from Britain by 15 000 years ago, sea levels remained low for some time and migrating hunter-gatherer communities would have been able to live in the new landscapes right across areas that are now the English Channel and the North Sea.

What a fascinating insight into a time before history began. Although we don't know the details of life in those days, Cunliffe is able to draw a lively picture in a general way. He writes of the separation of Ireland...

The return to temperate conditions beginning around 9600 BC set in train the processes that created the British Isles familiar to us today. The first stage was the separation of Ireland from the mainland. This occurred around 9000 BC as the deep river valley, scoured out by the flow of meltwater from the Scottish ice-cap, was progressively flooded by the rising sea until the last land bridge between the north of Ireland and the Inner Hebrides was broken through. The deeper waters of St George's Channel and the North Channel, now below 50 fathoms, mark the course of this original valley.

It's a great book and I highly recommend it. Cunliffe condenses a great deal of scientific and archaeological data into a cohesive description of Britain from the final stages of the ice-age to the time of the Norman Conquest and the end of Saxon rule. The book is accessible to the interested layman (like me!) but will also find a special place on library shelves in schools and universities.

If you're interested in the history of these islands - buy a copy!

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