In the Prehistoric Society’s 1998 annual journal, the archaeologist Bryony Coles contributed a survey of the land that had once existed under the southern part of the North Sea. She named this place “Doggerland” (after the Dogger sandbank) and speculated on what it might have been like: its geology; its vegetation; its fauna; its inhabitants.
Contrary to what had previously been assumed about this terrain, she argued that this was not a mere landbridge between the now island of Britain and the European mainland. But rather, she wrote, it was “a place to be” and pointed to evidence of a distinct landscape and a unique people who had left behind tools different from those found in the adjoining countries.
Eventually (around 5500BC), this land was completely submerged and thus lost to the sea. But in Coles’s assertion that this space where the North Sea now is (which she has named as if it were its own country: “Doggerland”) could once have been a place in its own right – and not just an interval between other places – she has got me thinking. How can this place not be there any more? How can the sea make somewhere stop being somewhere?
What if the North Sea were not just a body of water that can be divided up between so-called “Exclusive Economic Zones”, ie its surrounding countries? What if it had a right to its own nationhood? Perhaps Doggerland can be reclaimed.
But if we follow this logic and Doggerland does have a right to exist, where would it be? Of course under the North Sea, for the most part. On the coasts around the sea, however, centuries of land reclamation have taken place. Great swathes of Holland, East Anglia, Frisia, Flanders and Jutland have been created through digging dykes and dredging the seabed. As is evident in Happisburgh in Norfolk or on the island of Sylt, the sea is all too willing to get these places back. Nation states have to build coastal defences to keep hold of these lands. If they didn’t, they would presumably be subsumed back into the sea.
So surely you could argue that these places should, by right, belong to the North Sea – and, if so, to Doggerland – and not, therefore, to the Netherlands, to the United Kingdom, to Belgium, to Germany or to Denmark. And if that were the case, how would that change the map of Europe and where would Doggerland fit into this?
The Doggerland project is an attempt to remap Europe and claim back the lost territories of the North Sea. Its progress is being logged online.
Launch the project at http://doggerland.net