Byline: by Jim McBeth
FROM the shoreline of what we now call Scotland, our prehistoric ancestors watched as the end of the world hurtled in from the sea - a wall of water as high as a cathedral and travelling at the speed of a jet aircraft. But to Stone Age man, the approaching tsunami must have seemed like the wrath of a deity that had yet to be given a name, before which his fight-or-flight response was useless - there was nowhere to run.
And when the 100ft wave struck, approximately 8,000 years ago, he was gone, along with the plains where he had hunted, gathered and started to sow the seeds of the future of his race. The coastline of Britain was forever changed, turning the land that had lain on the fringe of the North Sea into a real-life Atlantis.
Evidence of the lost world whose existence archaeologists had long suspected has now been found by geologists working in Shetland as part of an investigation for a National Geographic Channel documenattary by a Scots scientist who has studied the undersea area for 20 years.
Until now, archaeologists had believed the loss of a land bridge known to have existed between Britain and the Continent many thousands of years ago had been as a result of a gradual rise in sea levels over a long period.
But the latest research by an international team including Dr Sue Dawson of Dundee University suggests it was caused by one of the worst catastrophes in the history of mankind.
The cataclysmic events that wiped out the coastal dwellers and plunged fertile plains beneath the sea began with the biggest submarine landslide in history, between the coasts of Scotland and Scandinavia.
The event, known as the 'Storegga Slide', caused an enormous shift in a land mass the size of modern Scotland and precipitated what was arguably one of the most powerful earthquakes the world has seen.
The combination of the two unleashed a tsunami, the like of which would not be seen again by human beings until 2004, when the Indian Ocean tsunami claimed the lives of 250,000 people.
The gigantic wave, which measured thousands of miles across and achieved heights of 100ft, fanned out from the northern Atlantic and battered the coastlines of what is now modern Europe and the eastern side of Britain, as far north as the Shetland and Orkney Islands. Huge areas of land ended up under water.
This explains why two of the main affected areas - the Northern and Western Isles - show so little evidence of settlements from the Mesolithic or middle Stone Age period. Now it seems the archaeologists who have for years sought evidence of prehistoric dwellers on the land should have been looking to the sea bed.
The clues to a Scottish Atlantis have been there for more than a century, since fishing trawler nets began picking up artefacts from the period, such as harpoons made from deer antlers and Mesolithic flint fashioned into arrowheads, knives and axes.
In the area of the North Sea between Scotland and Norway, it became commonplace for fishermen to dredge up traces of tools, fish traps and dug-out boats from the sea floor.
Dr Dawson, a geologist at Dundee University, made the breakthrough when she identified sediments left behind by the tsunami in soil deposits Maggies Kettle Loch at Sullom Voe, on the Shetland mainland.
Working with colleagues from Aberdeen and Norway, she identified gullies formed by a freshwater creek in which peat had been laid down over thousands of years. Sandwiched within the peat she discovered a layer of sea sand - and within the sand there were fragments of trees and rocks.
'These are strange things to find in a freshwater creek,' she says. 'In some places, we have sizeable boulders and gravel sitting within the sand layer. It's a chaotic mix. And the energy required to shift something like those boulders is huge, so we know now there had to be some sort of spectacular event to do that. …