Prehistory: Many, many years ago in a seaside town near you...
What's under your feet, have you ever given it much thought? Probably not, it's not something we need to concern ourselves with too much because while Kent does occasionally have the odd minor earth tremor, the ground beneath our feet is pretty solid and we live, confident in the knowledge, it's not likely to give way and swallow us up!
The reality is that the ground upon which we walk has been built up over millions of years - layer upon layer of different rocks, sediments and rotted organic matter have been formed ever since our planet was born some 4.6 billion years ago, give or take 50 million years. What is in those layers has been determined by what was going on on the planet's surface and with its weather , climate and the influence of natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and even meteor strikes.
Most of the earth's core is a mix of molten or semi-molten rock, minerals, silicates and volatile gasses and as we reach the earth's crust, things have cooled-down and solidified somewhat. The thickness of the crust and the depth of the crust under our feet varies considerably across the globe but here in Kent it's around 22 kilometres down and it's on that crust which over thousands of millions of years the geology we see now has been formed.
Looking out from The Lees in the present day
In the present day, if you stand at The Lees and look out to the North and East, all you can see is a vast expanse of water but around just 8,000 years ago, your view would have been quite different. You would have been stood on high ground, around 40 metres high and you would have been gazing-out at lush, green and very flat lands interspersed with large freshwater lakes and rivers. Look carefully and you most likely would see stone-age settlements dotted around the lakes and rivers and a wide variety of animals such as red deer, boar and even more exotic creatures such as rhinoceros, lions and other large cats. You may have even spotted a herd of woolly mammoths! Birds would have filled the skies and fish the waterways. In short, if you were a stone-age man or woman, it would have been a pretty comfortable place to live by stone-age standards with plenty of food to eat and primitive tools and raw materials to make log boats and simple homes made from wood, rushes and animal skins. We now call that area Doggerland after the area in the North sea known as Dogger bank (after a Dutch word Doger meaning boat).
The area we now call Dogger Bank
The view you see today would have been more recognisable to you 5,000 years ago. If you'd have stood in the same spot you would see the sea, much as you can now, so what happened to the lush, sub-tropical tundra, animals and stone-age people? Well, it is most likely that some around 6,000 years ago there was a massive tsunami, a tidal wave, which originated in the North Sea between Iceland and Norway due to underwater landslides called the Storegga Slides. Such was the force of the tidal wave, it would have devastated parts of Scotland and the East of England and almost certainly have washed-over most of Doggerland taking with it human life, flora and forna. However, the waters would have subsided after a few days and the sea levels returned to normal but damage had been done and, just as they might today facing the risk of severe flooding, humans and animals alike would have moved to higher ground. This may have been just as well because in the two millennia which followed, the sea levels rose considerably due to melting of the ice caps following the last ice age. It is likely sea levels rose in Eastern England by some 5-15 metres, completely washing-away the low-laying Doggerland and forming our coastline as we know it today.
Today, as we speak, the sea is reclaiming more and more land through coastal erosion and to put it in to perspective, the point where the photo at the top of the page was taken would have been around 4-6 kilometres inland at the time of the Roman occupation some 1,900 years ago - relatively modern history - we can only guess at how the view will look in 1,900 years time!