…the science about this was considered settled before the new evidence came to light.
Speaking of science and geology (and we were, weren’t we?), recently I was reading a book called Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 B.C.—AD 1000, and was entranced by a series of maps
I say I was “reading” the book, but it would probably be more accurate to say I was looking at the pictures. It’s a big beautiful book with about 500 pages of text, but it’s the illustrations that attracted me most. Some of them feature works of art from a time in early Europe I know very little about, and I’ve been surprised by their beauty and especially their sophistication.
The maps in question feature the area we know as northwest Europe and the British Isles from 18,000 to 5,000 BC. At the beginning, ice sheets covered the latter (especially Scotland). But the whole was one big land mass, because so much water was bound up in the ice that there was no English Channel, and the North Sea was a narrow finger of the ocean. It wasn’t until 6,500 BC that the British Isles became “isles,” when the waters rose significantly and separated them from the rest of Europe.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, describing a period when the European ice caps began to melt and the land of northern Europe rise, beginning around 18,000 BC:
While these changes were taking place, the north-western extremity of Europe, now the islands of Ireland and Britain, were gradually being reshaped. Two river systems developed. The precursor of the Elbe and most of the rivers of eastern Britain flowed northwards into the Norwegian Trench—a deep water channel hugging the coast of Norway—while the Thames, Rhine, and Seine flowed south into the river Channel which drained the water south-westwards into the Atlantic, forming a wide estuary between Cornwall and Brittany. The remnants of the Scottish ice cap drained southwards through what is now the Irish Sea. Relative sea level continued to rise and by 8,000 BC Ireland had become separated from the mainland. By 6,500 BC Britain itself had become an island, though there were still large stretches of dry land remaining for several more millennia in what was eventually to become the North Sea.
In the maps in the book that show what scientists think the area looked like before Britain became an island, you can see the Thames and Rhine connected in an almost straight line. The following isn’t a map from the book, but it’s similar:
Something about all of this not only reminds me how much climate and geological change there has been on the earth, but how relatively recently some of it has occurred. Who would have thought the British Isles became “isles” that short a time ago?
Also, there’s something mysteriously wonderful about the Thames and the Rhine having once been connected, or at least part of the same river system.
[NOTE: There's a lot more here about Doggerland, as the early land mass is sometimes called.]