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Neanderthals in the North Sea

7 February 2021

At www.geolsoc.org.uk/Geoscientist/Archive/June-2009/Early-migrant-fell-asl… … this site archive is proving to be something of a treasure trove and well worth exploring with a beady eye. This time it is about the discovery of a fragment of a Neanderthal skull, caught 15 km off the coast of the Netherlands. It was buried in sediments from an extraction zone located on the Zeeland Ridge. It was found among animal remains from the Pleistocene, with some flint flakes and small hand axes typical of Neanderthal craftmanship. We are told that during cold episodes in the Pleistocene sea levels fell and the bottom of the North Sea basin became dry land [with lots of bogs, rivers, and lakes etc]. This is of course a uniformitarian explanation as it is thought more ice locked up at the poles equals lower sea levels on a global scale. This is a hypothesis in order to explain obvious sea level changes at the end of the last Ice Age. Alternative explanations are possible but usually ignored as the mainstream one is preferred – and the alternatives raise doubt about other mainstream theories, even the nature of ice ages themselves. What we have is the fact that on occasions the North Sea basin has been flooded, and on other occasions was dry. They are the only facts. Anything else is  guesswork. One might call it an educated guess – but a guess it is. When scientists around the world get to time the lower sea levels in one part of the world with lower sea levels at various other locations around the world, one might get a better idea. If there is a universality in lower sea levels and then the educated guess has substance. If the lower sea levels are endemic to Europe and North America without knowing for sure what sea levels were like, off the coast of China for example, or along the Pacific coast of South America, it remains a calculated guess. 

Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London and author of Homo Britannica said that a substantial area of the North Sea basin was dry land over the last half a million years. That includes a lot of cold periods such as stadials, and a lot of warm periods, such as interstadials, as well as the ups and downs of ice ages etc. That is a long period of time. He added, at 60,000 years ago, Neanderthals were hunting and fishing over on the strip of land between the British Isles and the near continent, adding that the southern basin is primarily just 50m deep, on average. It is in fact a rich area for mammal fossils. Human remains, so far, are scarce. We might also bear in mind the previous post, on the rift running down the  spine of the North Sea, going back to the Jurassic. Did that rift stretch as far south as the Netherlands and East Anglo? If so, was it filled with sediments in the southern basin?

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