UK and Holland probe Stone Age land under North Sea

LONDON (Reuters) - British and Dutch archaeologists will together investigate the Stone Age landscape under what is now the North Sea after newly dredged axeheads showed humans lived there alongside mammoths 100,000 years ago.

With sea levels lower then and more of the world’s water locked in ice caps, the land between modern Britain and Holland resembled a Siberian tundra grassland where experts already knew large mammals such as sabre-toothed tigers once roamed.

But they say a haul of 28 flint hand-axes dredged from the seabed some eight miles off Great Yarmouth and unloaded at a Dutch wharf allow them firmly to place humans alongside the Ice Age animals for the first time.

“Up until now, it has been believed that the northwest European peninsula was devoid of human activity at that time,” said Mark Dunkley, an archaeologist with English Heritage.

“It is allowing us to really rethink the human occupation of northwest Europe.”

The land under the North Sea eventually flooded some 10,000 years ago. Local fishermen have since recovered bones, tusks and occasional human items such as harpoons but there has been little formal surveying until now.

Both English Heritage and their Dutch counterpart the National Service for Archaeology have more questions to answer. Aside from the site of the axe find near Great Yarmouth, they want to find other centres of population.

They also want to get some idea of how many people might have lived across the entire area. As well as examining material from dredgers, they will look at survey reports from the North Sea oil industry that now dominates the area.

They say they believe the hand-axes would have been used to butcher the carcasses of animals like mammoths, but many other details of their one-time owners’ lives remain a mystery.

“This has only really given us a first window into that period,” said Dunkley.

Editing by Steve Addison