Under the Waves
The Story of Doggerland
An exciting history of a drowned land, which also appeals to readers’ imaginations
Linda Dielemans takes her readers to the bottom of the North Sea, where around a million years ago there were forests and people roamed around. This passionate archaeologist alternates between fascinating non-fiction chapters and exciting fictional accounts. Supported by Djenné Fila’s evocative pictures, this results in a vivid depiction of the place known as Doggerland.
The starting point for this book is well chosen: a mammoth’s tooth that Dielemans found while on a beach walk near The Hague. And she explains that her find wasn’t just a fluke. Prehistoric bones and tools often turn up in the sand from the seabed that is used in Dutch coastal-protection schemes: irrefutable evidence that people once lived where the North Sea now reigns.
Covering a period of a million years, Dielemans gives a clear and enthusiastic account of how successive ice ages and warmer periods changed Doggerland and how, just like now, people had to adapt to climate change. She does not shy away from complex matters such as the concept of carbon dating. At the same time, she draws the reader in with fascinating historical facts. Who doesn’t want to find out about hippos swimming to England through the Strait of Dover 100,000 to 125,000 years ago? Or about the volcanic eruption in Southern Germany around 13,000 years ago, or how ancient reindeer hunters decorated their tools with zigzag lines?
Fila, who has provided beautiful illustrations of archaeological finds and rugged landscapes in appropriately earthy colours, repeats this zigzag art on every page, symbolising the unifying power of history. Dielemans also subtly emphasises this sense of continuity: every fictional story begins where the previous one ended. Her sensual language also stands out. As night falls, for example: ‘the moon rises, its pale light stroking our skin.’ The scene in which a nomadic clan comes to ‘the soft land’ is also evocative: ‘It smells different,’ someone remarks. ‘Green and fresh but also brown and musty at the same time. […] And when I look down, I see mud curling up between my toes.’ This brings our ancestors very close.