Living with Sea Level Change

What did this mean for the prehistoric communities of Britain?  These early settlers were mobile hunter-gatherers with a sophisticated knowledge of the land in which they lived. Some communities lived inland and relied on hunting, others lived along the coast and the evidence indicates that they had a specialised way of life, well adapted to seafaring. While sea-level rise certainly changed the local landscape for these coastal communities, it may not have been as stressful as we might find it today. Dramatic changes rarely took place over night. While people would have been well aware of the changing landscape around them they had time to adapt. It is likely that they were as at home on the sea as on dry land.  Over time there would be new fishing grounds to be found, new landing places to seek and new currents and tidal conditions to which to adapt. No doubt stories would be told to explain these changes and preserve the memories of the older world in which their grandparents lived. But this changing world was normal, it was all that people knew, and perhaps a good example of the way in which the world around them might be understood as a living thing.

From 4000BC, however, as sea-level approached its present height, the lives of local communities changed. Farming was introduced and became the economic mainstay of life. While the pace of landscape change had slowed, the consequences were, perhaps, more dramatic. The Neolithic farmers relied on dry land in order to tend their crops and animals and survive. The loss of any coastal tracts of land would be stressful. We know little about the ways in which they made sense of it, the stories they told and legends they built.  Nevertheless, it is interesting that it is at this time that we see a rise in the building of monuments that may have served to reinforce the relationship between the farming communities and the changing landscape in which they were living.