The Cromer Forest Bed Formation, aged between 500,000 and 2 million-years-old and stretching from Weybourne on the north Norfolk coast to Kessingland in north Suffolk, is rich in fossils, including the 650,000-year-old West Runton Mammoth, a 500,000 year old flint axe and the 850,000 year old footprints of early man – the first humans to enter Britain.
This area is called the Deep History Coast because it has pushed back archaeologists’ understanding hundreds of thousands of years and also because, like Deep Space, we don’t yet know what else might be out there.
Much of the Forest Bed is now obscured by coastal defences, but in some areas it continues to be eroded, revealing more fossils, such as mammal bones and teeth, jaw bones and deer antlers. If you know what you’re looking for, you might even find a mammoth tooth on the shoreline.
The landscape had changed dramatically, from the time when Norfolk was the last part of Britain to be land-linked to the Continent at Holland up to Jutland. A million years ago the Thames flowed into the North Sea at Happisburgh, while the bigger, now-extinct River Bytham flowed through the county from the Midlands.
The Continental link, called Doggerland after 17th century Dutch fishing boats, was lost around 7500 years ago after the last Ice Age. This ancient country was once home to thousands of stone age settlers who hunted mammoths, deer and bison across hills and by lakes and rivers – a land now hidden under the waves.
As the North Sea is very shallow where Doggerland once existed trawlermen fishing around Dogger Bank continue to trawl up Mesolithic finds, including remains of lions and mammoths as well as prehistoric tools and weapons.
Amazing to think that the sea you look at from the cliffs of Norfolk was once a land that looked like African savannah.