Atlantis and Paleogeography
Paleogeography and Prehistory:
From Ice Age to Iron Age

Paleogeography offers a way of analyzing the past. It's sources are geology, geomorphology, geography, archaeology, and historic data. While mythology is not a good source of information, the result can be compared to mythology. Thus, paleogeography can help explaining the origin of myths—and occasionally, myths can teach us just how disastrous the effects were of past geologic events.

Modern man came to Europe during the last ice age. Since he arrived, the major dramatic changes have been dramatic increases in temperature during two occasions, and dramatic transgression in most of Europe. Also, Scandinavia first got completely covered in ice, and then became ice free again. Since the deglaciation the land has been rising from the sea.

During the late Ice Age, the southern North Sea was dry land where mammoths grazed on a large plain, protected by the hills of Dogger from the cold northern winds. 11,500 years ago large parts of it were flooded. This global transgression may have been very sudden, triggered by the drainage of a gigantic ice lake over Canada to the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi, which had huge spin-off effects on all ice sheets ending in the ocean.

Ice sheet in northern Europe 20 C14 kBP
The extent of the Scandinavian ice sheet during LGM, 20 kBP 14C. The southern North Sea was above sea level, but there was an ice lake fringing the ice sheet (not shown).
Temperature curve during the past 30 ka
Temperature development on Greenland the past 30,000 years. Note the sudden warming called B¯lling starting 14,600 BP, and another one at the end of the ice age about 11,600 years ago. Data from GRIP. The Late Glacial Maximum (LGM) occurred about 25 to 20 kBP.

This may have caused an increase in the warm surface waters from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean that followed the Gulf Stream to Europe. Maybe this is why the Ice Age ended so suddenly. The rising sea turned the hills of Dogger into Dogger Island.

The global sea level rose by about 125 m from LGM. This transgression drowned almost all coastal areas of the world. The transgression was not completely steady and even; there were one, two, or even three occasions with such a fast transgression that we only know the minimum rate. In each of these events the sea level rose by several to many metres within at most a few centuries.

The exceptions, the coastal areas that were not drowned, were some shores in the immediate vicinity of a melting ice sheet. The Norwegian coast is an example. The isostatic, rise due to the loss of the ice overburden pressure, was very similar to the global transgression in those areas, so the relative sea level stayed relatively stable, within some tens of metres.

On the other hand, the areas that had been under a thick ice sheet were rising isostatically much faster than the eustatic sea level rise. They thus experienced regression, not transgression. Large areas around the Baltic Sea, for instance, came out of the ice covered by deep water, and rose from the water after the end of the ice age—and are still rising. The regression is so fast around the Bothnian Sea that a person can not use the same bridge for his boat when he is old as he did when he was young.

There have also been some dramatic events. The Baltic Sea has experienced several stages, some as part of the ocean, some as a lake; and at least once, perhaps several times, the lake has drained catastrophically. Due to the differential rise lakes are also tipping. Many have changed threshold since deglaciation. This includes Ladoga and Saimaa. After the ice age Saimaa in Finland drained through Kymmenjoki to the Gulf of Finland, and Ladoga drained through Vuoksen to the gulf. But then Saimaa changed threshold and drained to Vuoksen, and Ladoga changed threshold to Neva, so that the water of Saimaa now is flowing through Ladoga to Neva.

One of the most dramatic events in northern Europe after the ice age was a tsunami, though. Perhaps it was the warm Gulf Stream that melted the methane hydrate on the continental slope off Norway, so that the Storegga submarine slide was set off 8,100 years ago. The tsunami it created must have completely devastated Dogger Island.

At about the same time the last of Lake Agassiz, an ice lake over Canada, was drained through Hudson Strait, causing the sea level to rise by 0.2 to 6.5 m depending on whom you ask. The island sank and became Dogger Bank. The advanced Kongemose culture disappeared, the quality of tools fell dramatically, as did the food supply, and wars appeared - all according to conclusions from archaeological studies in southern Sweden.

This double event, the sudden transgression and the tsunami around 6100 BC, coincided closely with the final sinking of Dogger Bank in the North Sea. In my book I speculate that it was a memory of this event, albeit perhaps very distorted by being told and retold through the ages, that surfaced in Plato's tale of the sinking of Atlantis. It is a theme that may have been used and re-used over and over again, like the theme of Gog and Magog, but Dogger Bank and the Storegga tsunami may be at the root.

Storegga tsunami hits Dogger Island
The Storegga tsunami around 6100 BC was a very large tsunami, reaching tens of metres up on land on nearby coasts. It was triggered by a huge submarine slide.
Inclination map of northern Europe
Inclination map of northern Europe. 1 degree classes, with blue as 0ƒ. The end moraines of the Valdai glaciation in Russia can easily be seen, where the low flat clay-covered area meets the much darker colour. Volga is clearly visible since its two banks have markedly different relative topography. Note also the central plain on Ireland. Developed from DTM with 1 km resolution. From Global Change frÂn en geografs perspektiv.

European prehistory has for over 100 years been divided into three main periods: Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. The old Greeks had a different division, the five ages of man: the Golden Age; the Silver Age; Bronze Age I in which brazen-armed, savage, pitiless men fell from the ash trees; Bronze Age II which included the heroes who fought at the walls of Thebe and Troy; and the Iron Age, consisting of the inferior decendants from the age of heroes. Their Iron Age is also our Iron Age, although we call it Antiquity in the Greek part of the world.

As regards the ages of gold and silver, those metals were known before bronze, during what we call the Stone Age. They are at a lower technological level than bronze, and especially iron made from ore. So they tend to be exploited first, and thus also over-exploited first. The old scheme of Hesiod makes perfect sense; resources became increasingly hard to find, so that they eventually had to be replaced by a substitute when the need had become so great that the technology had to be developed. We tend to focus our attention on the technological development, Hesiod focused on the need that necessitated the development.

I wrote before that the Storegga tsunami could have been one of the most dramatic events. Why not the most dramatic, considering its proportions? Because there is ample evidence for another, perhaps even more dramatic, disaster: meteorite impacts. The finest crater in Europe, Kaali, is located on the Estonian island Saaremaa (Ösel) in the Baltic Sea. It has been dated to 800 - 400 BC, which hints at the divide between bronze age and iron age in Scandinavia. The metorite probably brought a lot of iron, and the crater became a center for iron working.

At the opposite end of the time scale, we have the sudden flooding around 9600 BC. Since this coincides with the drowning of a meteorite impact crater structure in the North Sea, Silver Pit, whose size matches the dimensions of Atlantis according to Plato, and the time also matches, one may hypothesize that also this is an ancient tradition. The time frame is very large, but not beyond the possible, compared to what has been deduced from other cultures. Take a look at the video for an illustration of this site.

Sea-Level Change
Scandinavian QTVR
Captured Ice Shelf
Plato's Atlantis
The Atlantis Myth
Essay on Myth
Lindorm & Unktehi
Book teaser
Fourknocks QTVR
Haväng QTVR
The Book
Author Bio
På svenska
Ditto in transl.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright Ulf Erlingsson, 2004-2007