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What’s in a name

19 October 2016

Perusing the summer 2016 newsletter of the Prehistoric Society (see www.prehistoricsociety.org) I came across the reason why and how the name of Doggerland was applied to the watery former habitat below the southern North Sea basin by archaeologists. It came about as the result of a paper by Bryony Coles on wetland environments in Europe in 1998. She applied the term from the Dogger Bank, the area that is most shallow in that basin and from which evidence of Mesolithic activity has been dredged. What is the origin of the term Dogger (bank) – which must have still been an island until a few thousand years ago. She theorises it is related to the word 'dogwood' (in English) – and the Dogger Bank was once an area where dogwood was harvested. This is interesting as she also notes that in Danish the word is 'dag' = with the meaning of dagger wood (wood used to make daggers, arrow shafts, fish spears etc). Dogwood was also used in the Mesolithic period to make fish traps.

The letter is on page 14 and 15 of the newsletter (June 2016) and can be downloaded from the web site in pdf format. Now, I am assuming she is thinking along the lines that the English word dogwood came with the Viking and Danish invasions of the first millennium AD (including the Angles) but it is interesting to note that in the Mesolithic period there was a common culture between northern France and lowland England, and from the Low Countries across the North Sea basin to southern Scandinavia, Poland and the north German plain, as far east at least as far as Estonia. This implies the term dogwood may have more ancient roots than the Vikings or Angles and may in fact go all the way back to the early and middle Holocene period.  Is this possible? Can an innocent word for a shrub or small tree have such an ancient pedigree?

However, having said all that there is a perfectly good reason for the name given to dogwood – it is not exactly the sweetest of fragrances. In cultivars such as the red stem variety, the more obnoxious aspect of the fragrance has been neutralised and it can be used in winter flower arrangements.

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