Doggerland is a name given by archaeologists and geologists to the former landmass in the southern North Sea that connected the island of Great Britain to mainland Europe during and after the last Ice Age. Geological surveys have suggested that Doggerland was a large area of dry land that stretched from Britain's east coast across to the present coast of the Netherlands and the western coasts of Germany and Denmark. The land was likely a rich habitat with human habitation in the Mesolithic period.
The archaeological potential of the area had first been discussed in the early 20th Century, but interest intensified in 1931 when a commercial trawler operating near the sandbank and shipping hazard known as the Dogger Bank (from dogge, an old Dutch word for fishing boat), dragged up an elegant, barbed antler point that dated to a time when the area was a tundra. Later vessels have dragged up mammoth and lion remains, among other remains of land animals, as well as small numbers of prehistoric tools and weapons which were used by the region's inhabitants.
Before the first glacial period of the current Pleistocene-Holocene Ice Age the Rhine river flowed northwards through the North Sea bed at a time when the North Sea was dry. It is thought that a Cenozoic silt deposit in East Anglia is the bed of an old course of the Rhine. The Weald was twice as long as it is now and stretched across the present Strait of Dover; the modern Boulonnais is a remnant of its east end.
With glaciation, when Scandinavian and Scottish ice first met and formed a giant ice dam, a large proglacial lake then formed behind it, which received the river drainage and ice melt from much of northern Europe and Baltic drainage through the Baltic River System. The impounded water eventually overflowed over the Weald into the English Channel and cut a deep gap which sea erosion later widened gradually into the Strait of Dover.
During the the most recent glaciation, the Devensian glaciation which occurred around 10,000 years ago, the North Sea and almost all of the British Isles were covered with glacial ice and the sea level was about 120 metres (390 ft) lower than it is today. Much of the North Sea and English Channel was an expanse of low-lying tundra, extending around 12,000BC as far as the modern northern point of Scotland.
Evidence including the contours of the present seabed shows that after the first main Ice Age the watershed between North Sea drainage and English Channel drainage extended east from East Anglia then southeast to the Hook of Holland, not across the Strait of Dover, and that the Thames, Meuse, Scheldt and Rhine rivers joined and flowed along the English Channel dry bed as a wide slow river which at times flowed far before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. At about 8,000BC, the north-facing coastal area, now called Doggerland, had a coastline of lagoons, marshes, mudflats, and beaches. It may have been the richest hunting, fowling and fishing ground in Europe available to the Mesolithic culture of the time.
It is generally thought that as sea levels gradually rose after the end of the last glacial period of the current ice age, Doggerland became submerged beneath the North Sea, cutting off what was previously the British peninsula from the European mainland by around 6500BC. The Dogger Bank, which had been an upland area of Doggerland, is believed to have remained as an island until at least 5000BC.
An alternative recent hypothesis is that much of the land was inundated by a tsunami around 8200BP (6200BC), caused by a submarine landslide off the coast of Norway known as the Storegga Slide. This theory suggests "that the Storegga Slide tsunami would have had a catastrophic impact on the contemporary coastal Mesolithic population... Following the Storegga Slide tsunami, it appears, Britain finally became separated from the continent and, in cultural terms, the Mesolithic there goes its own way."
The remains of plants brought to the surface in from Dogger Bank had been studied early as 1913 by palaeobiologist Clement Reid and the remains of animals and worked flints from the Neolithic period had been found around the fringes of the area. In his book The Antiquity of Man, published in 1915, anatomist Sir Arthur Keith had discussed the archaeological potential of the area. Then, in 1931, the trawler Colinda hauled up a lump of peat whilst fishing near the Ower Bank, 25 miles (40 km) east of Norfolk. The peat was found to contain a barbed antler point, possibly used as a harpoon or fish spear, 8.5 inches (220 mm) long, later identified to date from between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago, when the area was tundra. The tool was exhibited in the Castle Museum in Norwich.
Interest in the area was reinvigorated in the 1990s by the work of Prof. Bryony Coles, who named the area "Doggerland" ("after the great banks in the southern North Sea") and produced a series of speculative maps of the area. Although she recognised that the current relief of the southern North Sea seabed is not a sound guide to the topography of Doggerland, the topography of the area has more recently begun to be reconstructed more authoritatively using seismic survey data obtained through petrochemical exploration surveys.
A skull fragment of a Neanderthal, dated at over 40,000 years old, was recovered from material dredged from the Middeldiep, a region of the North Sea located some 10 miles (16 km) off the coast of Zeeland, and was exhibited in Leiden in 2009.