Early History of the

English Channel



Between the English and French coasts lies an area of submerged lands, now covered by the English Channel.  This area had a significant role to play during the prehistory of north-west Europe (Long & Roberts 1997, 25).  Human behaviour was heavily influenced by the extents, terrain and climate of the coastal plain during the Holocene.  Not least was the availability of land here for settlement, migration, raw materials, flora and fauna during the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene.
This project seeks to explore the changing coastal plain of the English Channel during the Holocene.  By modelling the alterations in sea-levels and land availability, a range of archaeological questions can be addressed.
Christchurch Harbour from the top of Warren Hill
Christchurch Harbour, Dorset, UK
The nature of sea-level change during the Holocene and the extents of the coastal plain are dependent upon several variables.  In the case of the English Channel, two of the most significant are the increase in the global volume of water at the end of the Pleistocene (glacio-eustasy) and land movements in response to the ice sheet removals (glacio-isostasy).  In addition, regional differences in crustal movements cause significant spatial variations in the rate and chronology of sea level rise during the Holocene.
Sea level changes which occurred during the Holocene indicate that extensive, now-submerged areas of the English Channel would have been available for human exploitation during the early millennia of the last 10,000 years. It is therefore vital to assess the uses to which this land was put (eg: as settlement territories and/or migration corridors), while considering the impact the changing landscapes may have had upon contemporary populations. These goals require a shift in the focus of investigation away from the coastal zones in isolation and out into the English Channel to consider it as a totality.

Coles (1998) has begun this process with her recent review of Doggerland in the North Sea Basin. This work also re-focused archaeological attention upon the potential of so-called ‘land bridges’ to act as habitable landscapes. Following earlier works (Reid 1913; Clark 1936), Coles (1998, 45) emphasised the importance of perceiving land as a place to be, considering its significance to contemporary populations and the implications of its loss. This approach contrasts with Jacobi (1976), who focused upon the role of the North Sea land as a link between Britain and continental Europe during the earlier Mesolithic.

This research combines Coles' (1998) approach to the North Sea Basin with Jacobi’s (1976) ‘land as link’ framework, and the concerns of coastal zone archaeology (assessment, management and investigation of the archaeological resource). It therefore seeks to follow the middle ground adopted by Wymer (1991), who highlighted the North Sea plain as both a land corridor and a place in which to live.

Clark J G D,1936. The Mesolithic Settlement of Northern Europe. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Coles B J, 1998. Doggerland: a speculative survey. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 64, 45-81

Jacobi R M, 1976. Britain inside and outside Mesolithic Europe. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 42, 67-84

Long A J & D H Roberts, 1997. Sea-level change. In: M Fulford, T Champion & A Long (eds). England’s Coastal Heritage. 25-49. London, English Heritage

Reid C, 1913. Submerged Forests. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Wymer J J, 1991. Mesolithic Britain. Princes Risborough, Shire Archaeology

Much of the text of this page is derived from the draft paper prepared by Dr R Hosfield during Phase One of this project.

] Introduction ] Phase Two: Database ] Bibliographies
] Aim and Method ] Project Personnel
] Phase One: GIS ] Opportunities to get Involved

Comments and enquires should be addressed to Dave Parham
School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus, Poole, Dorset, BH12 5BB, UK

This page was compiled by Eileen Wilkes and is maintained by  Dave Parham, School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University.  Last Updated February 2003
All images are copyright Bournemouth University unless otherwise stated.