I have a Scandanavian name and, for most of my life, my hair has been blonde (now going grey), so often people ask whether I have any family here in Denmark. The answer is no, my origins are Australasian (Aussie and Kiwi). Where I come from the land is more red and yellow, not green; the water is warm, not freezing; there are sharks and stingers (jellyfish) in the water; there are no thick peat (gyttja) deposits, it’s mostly carbonate; and there are no known submerged prehistoric marine archaeological sites. Therein lies the reason we are here.
We are here to excavate the only known submerged prehistoric midden site in the world, and learn how we might apply such knowledge in an Australian context. As if that isn’t daunting enough, getting into the 15°C water. Not helping are the unseasonably cold and windy conditions – the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
In the first snorkel over the site, during a brief window of sunshine, we see flint artefacts everywhere! Perhaps not surprising given we have already observed numerous flint artefacts just washed up on the shoreline. Our Danish colleague, Peter Moe Astrup, swims up to me holding a bit of a wooden handle that he has just found – probably hazel he says. A few minutes later he shows me a worked reindeer bone, showing an edge on which an axe head was hafted. On another day, Peter picks up a bit of an early Ertebolle (c. 6.8 – 6.4 ky BP) ceramic – made from a mix of granite and the glacial marine clay over which the midden site has accumulated. It’s almost ridiculous but, then again, people have been researching submerged Mesolithic settlements in Denmark for over 40 years. We are mere novices in Australia.
As we dive and begin to excavate the midden site itself, we observe a dense layer of large, flat oyster shells, with patches of black charcoal and ash – a hearth. I’m having to rethink how I’m going to get an undisturbed profile or sample any sediments under water. It’s all new territory and we are all learning as we go. I am constantly aware of the privilege we have here, but all the time wishing it could just be a little bit warmer!
Dr Ingrid Ward is a geoarchaeologist. She is also a trained commercial diver and experienced Australian archaeologist now focused on the submerged continental shelf. Ingrid is the dedicated DHSC Postdoctoral Researcher and will work on both European and Australian components of the project.