The area that geologists and archaeologists refer to as ‘Doggerland’ now lies below the North Sea but originally connected Britain to mainland Europe. It disappeared under rising sea levels around 6500–6200 BC.
The first evidence of this submerged land started appearing in the second half of the 19th century when Dutch fishermen began using a technique called beam trawling. Occasionally, these weighted nets brought up mammoth tusks, or remains of woolly rhino, aurochs, and other extinct animals.
In 1985, Dick Mol – an amateur palaeontologist who had persuaded the fishermen to bring him objects that they had found – was given a well-preserved human jawbone, complete with worn molars. Radiocarbon dating of the jaw gave a date of c. 9,500 years ago, showing that the person had lived during the Mesolithic period.
Holme-next-the Sea is the location of ‘Seahenge’ (Holme 1), a timber circle with an upturned tree root in the centre. Holme 1 was apparently built in the 21st century BC, during the early Bronze Age in Britain — most likely for ritual purposes.
One hundred metres east, another older ring has been found, consisting of two concentric timber circles surrounding a hurdle lined pit containing two oak logs. Known as Holme II, it dates to the centuries before Holme I (c. 2400-2030 BC), although the two sites may have been in use together.
At the time the sites were constructed this would have been a liminal space between land and sea. However, coastal erosion meant that both sites were threatened with destruction by the sea. Holme 1 was excavated, and its timbers are displayed in Lynn Museum; Holme 2 has been left in situ and exposed to the tidal actions of the sea.
Holme 1 before excavation.
During the Holocene era (from c.10,000 BC) sea levels began to rise, and the North Sea started encroaching more and more onto the land. As the ground became saturated, peat began to form, resulting in the creation of the Fens.
Survey work by Francis Pryor in the early eighties revealed timber constructions in the side of a modern drainage ditch. The timbers were covered by a metre of peat over which lay the ‘Fen Causeway’ Roman Road, itself buried by the peat.
Excavation of these timbers revealed a 1 kilometre long wooden causeway linking the island of Northey (Whittlesey) with Fengate (Peterborough). The causeway consisted of more than 60,000 upright timbers and 250,000 horizontal planks and had been constructed in several phases dating from 900BC to 1400BC. Towards the middle of the causeway was an oval-shaped artificial island, 175m by 155m with an area of 2.7ha. The purpose of this island is not fully understood.
The wet room at Flag Fen Archaeology Park showing the original timbers several metres below the present ground surface.