Some of the world's best preserved prehistoric landscapes survive in pristine condition at the bottom of the North Sea, archaeologists claimed yesterday.
Academic interest in what are being described as drowned Stone Age hunting grounds is likely to increase dramatically after the discovery of 28 Neanderthal flint axes on the sea bed off the East Anglian coast.
Dating from at least 50,000-60,000 years ago, they were found with other flint artefacts, a large number of mammoth bones, teeth and tusk fragments, and pieces of deer antler. The sea bed location was probably a Neanderthal hunters' kill site or temporary camp site.
The axes - one of the largest groups ever found - were spotted by a keen-eyed amateur archaeologist when a consignment of North Sea gravel arrived at the Dutch port of Flushing. The cache was found 8 miles off Great Yarmouth and is the most northerly point in the North Sea that Neanderthal tools have been discovered. It had been feared that the ice sheets that destroyed most pre-ice age Brit-ish landscapes had done the same to the land surfaces which existed where the North Sea is now.
But archaeologists now suspect that some Neanderthal landscapes have survived under the North Sea. What's more, they are now certain that hundreds or even thousands of square miles of post-ice age prehistoric landscapes do survive there. On land they have largely been destroyed or degraded by centuries of agriculture, later human settlement and natural erosion.
The North Sea is of immense value to archaeologists and is the largest area of drowned landscape in Europe. "It's vital that parts of it should be considered as a potential World Heritage site," said Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham, a leading authority on North Sea archaeology.
Professor Chris …