The Mystery of Doggerland: Atlantis in the North Sea

The Mystery of Doggerland: Atlantis in the North Sea

Graham Phillips
Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2023. 198 pp., paper, $20.

Lost continents have long featured in lore, but until recently they were derided as mere legends.

That picture is rapidly changing, as archaeologists are unearthing discoveries that point to civilizations that sank underwater in comparatively recent times. Although the last Ice Age is generally deemed to have ended in the tenth millennium BC, large—and inhabited—territories were submerged only thousands of years later.

Graham Phillips explores one of these submerged civilizations in The Mystery of Doggerland. The name is taken from the Dogger Bank, a submerged sea bank in the North Sea. Doggerland was an enormous territory in that sea, to the east of Britain, and at one time connected the island to the mainland European continent.

Phillips chooses to focus on another, smaller island, called North Doggerland, northeast of the coast of Scotland. He prefers to call it Fairland, not only because the name is more evocative but because the last part of it to remain aboveground is Fair Isle, a 2.5 x 3‒mile territory between the Orkney and Shetland islands with sixty inhabitants.

 The great megaliths and stone circles scattered around the British Isles have long been a source of wonder, but until recently it was believed that the oldest ones were in the south (such as Stonehenge and Avebury). It turns out that the opposite is the case: the oldest circles and standing stones are in the Orkneys, off the north coast of Scotland, and the custom of erecting them slowly spread south.

Despite their age, Phillips says that the circles and megaliths of the Orkneys were themselves mere outposts of the civilization of Fairland, and the islands may have been settled in part by refugees of that country as it began to be submerged. One megalithic complex that is now twelve feet below the surface off the Bay of Firth, began sinking in 4000 BC, according to Phillips.

Consequently, “during the fourth millennium BC, a completely new, far more advanced culture than anything that came before suddenly came from the Orkney Islands . . . the characteristic megalithic monuments began to be erected, and the technical innovations of pottery, weaving, and farming suddenly appeared. The Orcadians began building stone houses—the first anywhere in Europe.” These were all the legacy of Fairland.

Myth did not forget the lost country, which, says Phillips, was known in ancient sources as “Tu-lay,” “Tyle,” “Thule,” and “Thoule”; “Tule” was another variant. In the fourth century, the Greek explorer Pytheas followed such legends of this mysterious and bounteous land, but all he found is what we see today—the small, sparsely populated islands of the Orkneys.

Although Phillips does not mention this fact, there is another tradition about Tule, known from the works of the French esotericist René Guénon, who posited a primordial circumpolar tradition that he connected with the Greek legend of Hyperborea. The Greeks regarded Hyperborea as a real but inaccessible country in the far north, but Guénon contended that it no longer existed. (Still another picture of Hyperborea is the one known from H.P. Blavatsky, but it is quite different from both the Greek and Guénonian views.)

All genuine esoteric traditions, said Guénon, were descended from that of Hyperborea. Furthermore, this spiritual center became “occluded” so that our present connections with this primordial tradition can only be weak and tenuous. We might, if we liked, connect this occlusion with the submergence of Fairland.

One may wonder about how all of this came about in such a dismal climate, but Phillips makes the startling claim that “until around 1200 BCE the British climate was warmer than it is today, more like what we would now find in southern France or northern California.”

This book examines myths of other lost continents, such as Atlantis, first discussed in Plato’s Timaeus and Critias. According to Phillips, evidence suggests that a landslide off the coast of southern Greenland around 6500 BC caused a giant tsunami, “hammering the coasts of southwest Europe and northwest Africa with a wave about 30 feet high.” Hence, he concludes, “an island, perhaps sustaining an early city . . . did exist exactly where Plato and his contemporaries had in mind. And it appears that it was completely inundated by a gigantic wave in a single day as Plato describes.” But he is much more skeptical about the legends of Mu in the Pacific and Lemuria in the Indian Ocean.

Phillips takes his investigation into a number of other directions, for example, about traditions of medicinal uses of herbs. Traces of noxious herbs are found in the box tombs of the ancient Orcadian elite, which he says can only have been for medicinal purposes. These plants could only be harvested at certain specific times and seasons, he argues, because the amount of poison they secreted varied at different times: “The organism has evolved to deter some creatures and attract others when it is ready to be pollinated.” Hence “many of the substances utilized in the making of remedial potions need to be extracted at a very specific time,” even “on very particular days.”

Phillips’ suggestions cast a different light on the much-derided old traditions requiring harvesting of plants and herbs at specific days and times and at specific phases of the moon. Here as in other situations, superstitions may contain relics of a very precise ancient knowledge.

Phillips’ book has an unsettling relevance. Sinking islands are no longer risible myths but realities that many parts of the world have to face. The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, for example, is expected to be completely submerged by the end of this century. Coastal regions of the United States are by no means exempt. Twelve thousand years from now, skeptics will probably sneer at legends of a magnificent but sunken city known as New York.

Richard Smoley

For more on lost continents, see Richard Smoley’s YouTube lecture “Atlantis Then and Now.”