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Archive 2073

The megaliths and after

 

by Guy Gervis

12th March 2005
Three important new books to be added to the Bibliography:

1. ‘After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000 – 5000 BC’ by Steven Mithen, published by Weidenfeld 1 Nicholson 2003.

A fascinating book which I found of great value in trying to understand what the Mesolithic people had to face up to in the way of climatic and environmental change after the Ice Age.

2. ‘Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and its People’. By Barry Cunliffe, published by Oxford University Press 2001.

A wonderful summary of research on this interface, which is wide ranging and includes a very good section on boats. He does, to my mind however, not provide adequate explanations to my two base problems: what stimulated the construction of the megalithic monuments and an understanding of the evolution of the Indo-European languages.

3. ‘Britain BC’ by Francis Pryor published by Harper Perennial 2003.

Vivid and interesting discussions on a wide range of important British archaeological sites presenting a great deal of information. For me it was also important because there was a reference to the LOIS study which I discuss next.

‘LAND – OCEAN INTERACTION AND ENVIRONMENT CHANGE AROUND THE NORTH SEA’
by Ian Shennan and others, published by the Geological Society as Special Publication No 166.

At first sight this is a high tech study showing that the North Sea, rising after the end of the Ice Age, covered all previous land areas, apart from some coastal strips by 6000 BP, 4000 BC which would put paid to most of ‘The Megaliths & After’. However a more careful reading of the paper shows that this need not be the case.
The first point is that, perhaps not surprisingly, the possibility of man made dykes protecting a substantial island within the North Sea has not been considered. The next point is that while a microscopic examination of some of the cores taken from the seabed indicates quite clearly the period when the sea took over from the land, the ‘transgression’, many of the cores do not for some reason give this information. Most of the cores lacking this information seem to have been taken away from the coast, which is where the island of Lacuna would have been , although there is not precise information about where many of the cores were taken. It is suggested that the reason why some cores lack evidence of transgression might be the effect of erosion on the seabed. If Lacuna ended in a devastating flood with the destruction of the protecting dykes in around 2500 BC, 4500 BP, this would certainly have led to erosion. The computer modelling programme presumably would have deduced from other information, such as the relative levels of land, that the sea would have arrived around a certain date, but the lack of consistent coverage of core data to support this does leave a query.
It appears that further and more sophisticated modelling processes are intended. For instance the present study does not include sediment erosion and deposition, which must be of considerable import in this area. Nor are the historic river routes indicated which would have been of great importance for the evolution of Lacuna.
There also seems to be uncertainty relating to tidal predictions which, according to the model, should not have changed much after 6000 BP, but apparently there is other information suggesting that there were subsequent changes. Certainly if the dykes protecting Lacuna had existed until 4500 BP, their destruction would have been sufficient to effect the tidal pattern. In the paper it is suggested that this problem may go back to the computer modelling of the ice sheet.
So it seems reasonable to raise a query with regard to the possibility of Lacuna on the basis of the current LOIS study, but it should be stressed that a sophisticated computer modelling programme, such as been employed for this study, might be the way to test whether the Lacuna hypothesis is feasible, and perhaps even whether Lacuna did exist. The likely form of Lacuna would be sketched in by identifying the points likely to have been defended initially against the advancing sea, probably between 9000 BP and 8000 BP, and the extension of the dykes from these points could be followed as the water level rose. It would however be necessary to have positioned the river courses at these early dates. The maximum height of the dykes, believed to be of the order of 30 metres, could also be checked against the sea level at 4500 BP.

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