There is one final frontier, however, that still remains largely unknown —the uncharted depths of the world’s oceans. For many divers, the possibility of discovering the planet’s last submarine secrets is one of the sport’s greatest attractions, and for two UK divers, that fantasy recently became a reality. While carrying out a survey of marine life off the Norfolk coast last summer, Sea Search volunteers Dawn Watson and Rob Spray stumbled across something completely unexpected, the remains of a submerged forest that experts now believe dates back to the Mesolithic period, approximately 10,000 years ago. Concealed for millennia by tons of silt and sand, the forest was only uncovered last winter in the wake of severe storms that ravaged the UK’s east coast. According to a television interview with Watson, she and her buddy had not planned to dive that specific area on the day the discovery was made, but after their plans to visit a shallower site were interrupted by rough conditions, the pair made the decision to venture deeper to escape the resulting surge.
It was Watson who made the initial discovery when she came across a strange, wave-shaped aberration on the seafloor. Upon closer inspection, the blackened ridge appeared to be made of wood, and at first, she thought that perhaps she had stumbled upon an old wreck. However, as she and her buddy explored further along the ridge, they realized that they were looking at a tree trunk, complete with branches and knots, and now inhabited by crabs and starfish. More trunks appeared, each one lying in the same position. It later became clear that they had discovered the outskirts of a forest that would once have covered much of a prehistoric landmass known as Doggerland, which has been described by geologist Martin Warren as a country that Europe has forgotten it once had, a land mass so huge that the hunter-gatherers who lived there would have been able to cross on foot from England to mainland Europe. With a landscape of salt marshes, hills, estuaries and extensive woodland, Doggerland was lost beneath rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age. Evidence of Doggerland’s existence has previously been suspected by mammoth and lion fossils salvaged from the sea, as well as tools and weapons used by the region’s prehistoric tribes. However, Watson and Spray’s discovery provides tangible proof of the lost landmass.
That the trees are all positioned in the same way suggests that they were felled simultaneously, with Watson hypothesizing that perhaps they succumbed to a great wave of glacial melt water. Now, the trunks have been repopulated by the marine life of the present-day English coast. Their discovery proves that even in the least glamorous of dive destinations, you never know what you may find; as Watson told the UK newspaper the Daily Mail, “You certainly don’t expect to go out for a quick dive and find a forest.” Warren emphasized the ocean’s incredible capacity for the unexpected, too, when he commented that “the more you look, the more you find. There are bound to be things that are still to be discovered.”