Brits might scoff at the suggestion they’re from the same continent as their mainland European neighbours. But a new report claims the two masses are linked by a low-lying range of hills that flooded over thousands of years, leaving the English Channel that separates England and France today.
Thousands of layers of sheet (ice)
An Anglo-French study (would you believe it) has revealed that the hilly range ran between Kent and Artois, in northern France, some half a million years ago. Yet ice ages beginning 450,000 years ago coated northern Europe in thick layers of ice, trapping water in a giant lake between Kent and France’s Artois region.
Many of the region’s great lakes, such as the Thames and Rhine, flowed into this massive lake, which overflowed, sending vast torrents of water and sediment crashing down towards the Atlantic Ocean. The water, which scientists have named ‘Fleuve Manche’, carved a path through the chalky rock as it went. Eventually the river, and rising tides, would tear Britain from France permanently, creating ‘La Manche’ or ‘The Sleeve’ – the French name for the Channel.
The Door to Prehistoric Britain
Using sedimentary deposits, the team have been able to calculate when the Fleuve Manche had existed during three ice ages: 450,000, 160,000 and 90-30,000 years ago. Each time the surge of debris into the Bay of Biscay increased, showing how the Channel – and no shortage of national stereotypes – were literally being cut deeper into the European landmass.
Professor Phil Gibbard from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Geography says the work could be a vital clue in understanding how Britain was populated. “Essentially we are talking about the colonisation of the British Isles,” he tells the Daily Mail. “One of the things that arises from this study is our ability to understand what arrived in Britain and when.”
“It provides the final piece in the puzzle,” Prof Gibbard adds, “forming a complete record that reconstructs the dramatic events that cut Britain off from Europe and gave it its island status.”
The early population of Britain and Europe has been one of anthropology’s biggest questions for decades. Recent DNA evidence seems to show the continent’s first farmers, in central Europe, weren’t related to Stone Age hunter-gatherers or Near Eastern Neolithic revolutionaries (though Scandinavians are thought to be Stone Age immigrants).
Recent studies have shown that the North Sea was a prehistoric highway for our early ancestors some 60,000 years ago. Yet this report drives deeper into the divisions separating Britons from their French neighbours for thousands of years. Why, for example, Hugh Grant is perpetually employed; or why some feel it’s ok to reach the World Cup by cheating shamelessly. Les petits ruisseaux faissent les grand rivieres – ‘the smallest streams make the biggest rivers’ – as they say a few dozen miles from here.