Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Stone Age Tsunami! Whatever next?

with 17 comments

Channel 4’s Time Team logo

Tony Robinson is probably best known to most people (over the age of 40 at least) for playing the character of ‘Baldrick’, alongside Rowan Atkinson, in the Blackadder series of brilliant comedy series in the 1980s.  However, since then, he has carved out a niche for himself presenting numerous Time Team programmes about archaeology.  They are almost invariably excellent and the latest programme – all about a tsunami that hit the East coast of Britain about eight thousand years ago – was broadcast in the UK last night.

I am very pleased to discover that the broadcaster, Channel 4 Television, has uploaded the programme to YouTube and, therefore, I have embedded the video at the end of this post.  I cannot recommend watching it highly enough but, if you need some encouragement, please allow me to summarise its content:

Tony Robinson open’s the programme from a helicopter above Flamborough Head in North Yorkshire and – in the course of the programme – visits places up and down the East Coast of England and Scotland.  Using computer generated animation, the programme reveals that the tsunami was caused by an enormous underwater landslide on the edge of the continental shelf off the coast of Norway.

The programme also presents an amazing array of artefacts recovered from a site in North Yorkshire, called Star Carr, where peat has preserved all manner of objects – bone, wood, leather, etc – thereby painting a picture of a much more sophisticated and stable society in what is known, in anthropological terms, as the Mesolithic era.

With the help of experts, Robinson demonstrates how, unlike people in the Iron Age who tended (for reasons that will become clear) to live on hill-tops, people in the Mesolithic era lived next to rivers.  Far from being hunter-gatherers, they lived in settled communities and, with the exception of fish, allowed their food to come to them.  However, in terms of geography, the programme focussed on the fact, because sea level was much lower at the time, the UK was connected to Europe (from Denmark all the way round to Brittany in the northwest of France).

Probably the most fascinating artefacts presented in the programme are those that look very similar to things that, in modern times, early European explorers of Siberia found local Shamen using in their religious ceremonies.  However, so as to encourage you to watch the video, I will not say any more than that!

So then, you may well be thinking, what has this got to do with concern for the environment and/or climate change?  Well, having watched the programme, I was left feeling that Robinson had, to use a soccer-based analogy, dribbled the football up to an open goal and then, almost inexplicably, managed to fail to score a goal.  It left me feeling that, although  Robinson clearly accepts that the Earth’s climate has changed in the past, he does not believe that humans are the main driver of change today.  If he did, he would not have closed the programme by suggesting that we might be heading for another Ice Age!

To me, this was completely at odds with all of the facts about palaeoclimatic changes presented in the programme:
— Sea Level was120m lower than it is today at the end of the last Ice Age (about 12k years ago).
— The tsunami probably resulted in a decision by humans not to live near sea level about 8k years ago.
— The sudden emptying of the enormous, North American, Lake Agassiz about the same time, which resulted in the UK being separated from Europe by the current expanses of water known as the North Sea and the English Channel.

I am quite sure that I cannot have been the only person to watch all this and think:  “Holy Cow!  We are already in an inter-glacial warm period and we are now moving into temperature conditions not seen since Antarctica first became glaciated in the Eocene era (35 million years ago)”.  Therefore, although it may take hundreds of years, very significant sea level rise is now inevitable (because Eocene-like levels of atmospheric CO2 are now driving the Earth back towards Eocene-like temperatures).

As I said, the one conclusion I did not reach was: “Oh well, change happens.  Ice Ages come and go and, if sea level drops again, travel to Europe will be much easier!”

Tony Robinson, yes, I am talking to you now!  You seriously need to wake up!  There will never be another Ice Age unless or until humans become extinct.  Even if the Earth was to suddenly start to cool down (i.e. because we now understand why it has happened repeatedly in the past million years this is not expected to happen for many thousands of years), if humans were lucky enough to still be around, all they would have to do to stop this happening is release some of the CO2 they had managed to remove from the atmosphere (and buried underground like nuclear waste).

Despite my frustration at all of this, I would, as I said, heartily recommend that you invest the time in watching the video.

17 Responses

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  1. I will watch that video this evening. Agree with your penultimate paragraph!

    Paul Handover

    31 May 2013 at 16:07

    • Thanks Paul. Given the wide-ranging nature of the subjects covered in the programme, I am sure you will enjoy it. You may even decide to go and out make yourself some Mesolithic ceremonial headgear!

      Martin Lack

      31 May 2013 at 17:58

  2. Thank you for the summary, I’m not able to see the programme, it’s not accessible from the US.


    31 May 2013 at 17:00

    • So the YouTube video is not accessible in the USA? That is a shame. Thanks for letting me know of that limitation. The programme implied that there must be a great deal of evidence for this tsunami on the East coast of North America too. In the UK, it has left a distinctive sandy layer, about 20 cm thick (within a much bigger sequence of clays), which contains large numbers of damaged microscopic organisms. It would seem probable, therefore, that any Mesolithic inhabitants in North America would have decided to move away from the coast there as well…?

      Martin Lack

      31 May 2013 at 17:53

      • Sadly not available here in Spain, either


        7 June 2013 at 14:47

        • Thanks for taking the trouble to visit, Catalanbrian. Even if you cannot watch the video, I hope you will take note of the physical reality acknowledged by the programme – that very significant sea level rise occurs when large amounts of terrestrial ice melts. Just because we have not seen much evidence of it yet does not mean it is not going to happen. This was the point I was trying to make to Me-Again on Roger Helmer’s blog. However, judging by his subsequent response, I fear I may have been wasting my time.

          Martin Lack

          8 June 2013 at 10:50

        • Thanks for your response, Martin. I am fully aware of the problems that are waiting around the corner as a result of sea level rise and am.equally concerned as to the other effects of global warming, which is, of course, not happening if you read the various commentators on Roger Helmer’s blog and the majority of the UK press. I fear that both of us are wasting our time in attempting to put the other more realistic view, however that will not stop me, nor, I suspect will it stop you. Keep up the fight!


          8 June 2013 at 11:01

        • Thanks Brian. When I re-read your comments in that other place, I realised you are not actually sceptical! However, this exchange of comments may be useful for those who are yet to decide whether they should allow ideology to prejudice their attitude towards science and/or scientists.

          Martin Lack

          8 June 2013 at 11:34

    • Same here in Oregon.

      Paul Handover

      31 May 2013 at 17:55

    • With any luck, someone other than Channel 4 will post the video on YouTube, which you should then be able to watch.

      Martin Lack

      31 May 2013 at 18:02

  3. Reblogged this on lslhopkins and commented:
    the world is moving to a new diaster every day maybe everyone should read to bible in the book of revelation tells all an tells everyone how to live i shall do the same


    31 May 2013 at 23:15

  4. California is still waiting for the video!
    BTW, that tsunami story could happen again, any time, as the depths get warmed up, and methane hydrates bubble up explosively. A miniature version of the same devastated Lake Geneva in historical times. Causing a 15 meter wave withing twenty minutes at Lausanne. Now some Swiss company think of exploiting those befoire they explode again, although, come to think of it…

    Patrice Ayme

    1 June 2013 at 21:28

  5. Reblogged this on Vanaland.


    1 June 2013 at 23:31

  6. And the Little Ice didn’t happen? Yes it did and it will happen again. You, not Robinson, are scaremongering but, then, how many of you know anything about science and in holding a proper qualification? Yes, we need to clean our act up but to suggest that we are influencing a dynamic continuum to the extent you infer is erroneous. The Sun – yes that great big shiny thing in the sky -influences the climate and the weather here on the planet. But when, a few years ago, we scientists said as much, you “greenies” ridiculed us. Now you accept what we were saying all along. Global warming ended the ice age about 12000 years ago Climate Change is what we have and have to live with on a daily basis as it is a dynamic continuum. BTW, the Little Ice Age coincided with the Maunder Minimum which was a period of minimal sunspot activity on the Sun. But, of course, the Sun doesn’t do much to Earth does it – sun burn, sun stroke, droughts, weather… The list goes on and on.

    gerard valleljies

    26 November 2013 at 12:04

    • The LIA is an historical fact, Gerard. It is just not a very significant one. There will never be another Ice Age as long as humans are around. All we would have to do to stop one is burn a bit more fossil fuel or release CO2 from geological storage.

      I think you need to stop stating opinion as if it were fact; and stop stating things that appear to indicate that:
      (1) you believe the majority of climate scientists are either muppets, mistaken, or mendacious (which is it?); and/or
      (2) you believe in a political or scientific conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism upon a credulous public.

      You (Gerard) also need to explain who or what are the “you” and “us” in your comments. If you bother to investigate, you will find that I am not a socialist, liberal, or progressive. However, unlike you (Gerard), it seems, I do not allow my ideological bias to prejudice my acceptance of climate science. BTW, do you get as angry (as you seem to be about this) with cosmologists and particle physicists?

      The fact that most people who insist on disputing climate science are libertarians and/or business people suggests that the problem is not scientific uncertainty, it is ideologically-driven reluctance to accept the policy implications of that science.

      Sunspot cycles may help to explain the recent ‘hiatus’ in surface warming but they cannot explain the multi-decadal warming trend in global average temperatures.

      Once again, please try and make your comments polite, brief, factual and relevant. If you cannot – or are unwilling to – do this, your comments are likely to be moderated and/or deleted.

      Martin Lack

      26 November 2013 at 13:05

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