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The southern North Sea and the human occupation of northwest Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum

  • J.H.M. Peeters (a1) and G. Momber (a2)
Abstract

This paper discusses the significance of the southern North Sea for research on the human occupation of northwest Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Recent insight into the survival of post-LGM land surfaces and palaeolandscape structures points to the potential preservation of Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites in this area. Finds of well-preserved materials (including artefacts of bone, antler and wood, as well as human remains) from various zones along the Dutch and British coasts corroborate this idea, whilst underwater excavations of eroding sites at Bouldnor Cliff (UK) and Maasvlakte-Rotterdam (NL) underpin the possibilities of gaining further insight into human behaviour in the context of submerging landscapes. Although the significance of the southern North Sea with regard to the Mesolithic is gradually exposed, there is still a lot to learn. The terrestrial archaeological records from both sides of the present-day North Sea yield indisputable evidence for hunter-gatherer presence from at least 13,000 BP. Successions of Magdalenian/Creswellian/Hamburgian, Federmesser Gruppen and Ahrensburgian people (re)colonised the northwest European plain, interrupted by short-lived cold spells. Although it is expected that the southern North Sea must have been inhabited, and maybe even more intensively than the present-day dry land, archaeological evidence is still missing. Despite the presence of vast amounts of mammalian remains and the availability of many radiocarbon-dated bones, there is a striking lack of material post-dating the LGM and pre-dating the Holocene, whilst remains dated to the early Upper Palaeolithic show no evidence of human interference. At this stage, it is probable that taphonomic factors and research biases are responsible for this picture. This marks a sharp contrast with the early Holocene record, where numerous Mesolithic artefacts, as well as human remains, provide evidence for human occupation of the area. Materials are exposed on the sea floor, evidencing gradual erosion of early Holocene land surfaces. Although the number of sites is increasing, little is known yet about how the submerged record can be connected to the terrestrial record. Indeed, the central question here is how the submerged Mesolithic record compares to, or differs from, the terrestrial record. In order to answer this question, targeted archaeological research is needed, along with an understanding of taphonomic processes and increased insight into landscape dynamics. From a northwest European perspective, the present state of knowledge about the submerged post-LGM prehistoric archaeology of the southern North Sea demonstrates its huge research potential.

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