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Prehistoric Settlements Found Under North Sea ... Page 9

Peter Hetherington
Friday September 12, 2003
The Guardian

To the untutored eye, they appear like the anonymous pebbles fringing any shoreline. But the small cluster of rocks found eight metres (26ft) under the North sea were hailed yesterday as a stepping stone to the little-known world of Mesolithic people, perhaps shedding fresh light on a "prehistoric Atlantis" beneath the waves.

Unveiled yesterday by a team from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne the artifacts, including tools and arrowheads, have pinpointed the locations of two settlements of hunter-gatherers from the middle stone age.

Photo:Tyneside Coast of Northsea. Source: Tyneside Click and drag photo to resize. Script from The Java Script Source

The secret locations, more than 500 metres off the Tyneside coast, were submerged 10,000 years ago as sea levels rose after the last ice age. They could be the earliest underwater archaeological sites in the UK.

Although a fishing boat picked up a Mesolithic antler harpoon in the North sea early in the last century, experts believe the new findings could lead to significant further discoveries.

"Archaeologists thought the sites left by people who lived 5-10,000 years ago had simply been lost to the sea," said Penny Spikins, who is leading the international submerged prehistoric landscapes project at the university.

"But our finds could change our understanding of the earliest occupation of the British isles. They open up a whole new landscape under the water, a new frontier for archaeology."

She made the discovery by chance while learning to scuba dive and would not reveal the exact location, fearing it might be overrun. "To the average person they might appear like ordinary stones you would find on the beach, but to a specialist they were something very exciting indeed," she said.

David Miles, chief archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "We know that there is a prehistoric Atlantis beneath the North sea, where an area equal to the size of Britain attached us to the continent. This discovery gives us a stepping stone into this unknown world."

Scientists Reveal a Lost World Discovered Under the North Sea

Scientists at the University of Birmingham are using seismic data to reveal a spectacular prehistoric landscape previously unknown to science where early man roamed more than 10,000 years ago, deep beneath the North Sea.

With the aid of new high-powered computing facilities at the University's HP VISTA (Visualisation and Spatial Technology) Centre, a team of archaeologists, geologists and engineers are beginning to explore and visualise this hidden landscape, which, during the period from 8000 - 18,000 years before the present day, was a large plain on which humans hunted animals & gathered plants.

Northsea satellite photo. Click and drag photo to resize.

The team is revealing some amazing secrets as they reconstruct the lost environment, including evidence of a large river comparable in size to the Thames or Rhine, which was buried when its valley was flooded some 7,000 years ago due to glacial melting.

The river channel, which has provisionally been named the Shotton River after the University's pioneering geologist and archaeologist Professor Fred Shotton, is over 600 metres wide and has so far been traced for a length of 27.5 kilometres travelling in a north west-south easterly direction.

Engineers have produced preliminary virtual reconstruction images of the river and its surrounding environment prior to the area becoming flooded. Professor Bob Stone, Head of Engineering's Human Interface Technology Team (and a Director of the International Virtual Heritage Network) said, "This is the most exciting and challenging virtual reality project since Virtual Stonehenge in 1996.

Not only are we working with our colleagues in Archaeology to ensure the visual accuracy of this very rich environment, we are basing the topography of the virtual landscape on actual seismic data and the computer-generated flora on pollen and plant traces extracted from geological core samples retrieved from the sea bed".

Dr Vincent Gaffney, Director of the University's Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity and lead investigator on the project comments, "This pilot project has great significance to the whole of the quaternary research community, both in its environmental, geological & archaeological forms. We intend to extend the project to visualise the whole of the now submerged land bridge that previously joined Britain to Northern Europe as one land mass, providing scientists with a new insight into the previous human occupation of the North Sea."

In addition to the 3D virtual images of the landscape, an industrial collaboration with HP Vista Centre partners, Reachin Technologies, has aided the development of a tactile (haptic) interface, greatly assisting scientists by combining the sense of touch and sight to interpret and explore the intricate landscape.

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