The Northland Trilogy
Alternate history at its most mindblowing-from the national bestselling author of Flood and Ark.
Ten thousand years ago, a vast and fertile plain exists linking the British Isles to Europe. Home to a tribe of simple hunter-gatherers, Northland teems with nature's bounty, but is also subject to its whims.
Fourteen-year-old Ana calls Northland home, but her world is changing. The air is warming, the ice is melting, and the seas are rising. Then Ana meets a traveler from a far-distant city called Jericho-a city that is protected by a wall. And she starts to imagine the impossible...
The comet swam out of the dark. Its light bathed the planet that lay ahead‚ reflecting from a hemisphere that gleamed a lifeless bone-white.
Vast ice caps covered much of North America and central Asia. In Europe a single monstrous dome stretched from Scotland to Scandinavia‚ in places piled kilometers thick. To the south was a polar desert‚ scoured by winds‚ giving way to tundra. At the glaciation’s greatest extent Britain and northern Europe had been abandoned entirely; no human had lived north of the Alps.
At last‚ prompted by subtle‚ cyclic changes in Earth’s orbit‚ the climate had shifted—and with dramatic suddenness. Over a few decades millennia-old ice receded north. The revealed landscape‚ scoured to the bedrock‚ was tentatively colonized by the gray-green of life. Migrant herds and the humans who depended on them slowly followed‚ taking back landscapes on which there was rarely a trace of forgotten ancestors.
With so much water still locked up in the ice‚ the seas were low‚ and all around the world swathes of continental shelf were exposed. In northern Eu¬rope Britain was united with the continent by a bridge of land that‚ as it hap¬pened‚ had been spared the scouring of the ice. As the thaw proceeded‚ this north land‚ a country the size of Britain itself‚ became rich terrain for humans‚ who explored the water courses and probed the thickening forests for game.
But now‚ in the chill nights‚ eyes animal and human were drawn to the shifting light in the sky.
The comet punched into the atmosphere. It disintegrated over North America and exploded in multiple airbursts and impacts‚ random acts of cosmic violence. Whole animal herds were exterminated‚ and human sur¬vivors‚ fleeing south‚ thought the Sky Wolf was murdering the land they had named for him. One comet fragment skimmed across the atmosphere to detonate over Scandinavia.
In time the skies cleared—but the remnant American ice caps had been destabilized. One tremendous sheet had been draining south down the Mis¬sissippi river system. Now huge volumes of cold water flowed through the inland sea that covered the Gulf of St. Lawrence‚ chilling the north Atlantic. Around the world the ice spread from the north once more‚ and life retreated to its southern refuges. This new winter lasted a thousand years.
But even as the ice receded again‚ even as life took back the land once more‚ the world was not at rest. Meltwater fueled rising seas‚ and the very bedrock rebounded‚ relieved of the weight of ice—or it sank‚ in areas that had been at the edge of the masses of ice and uplifted by its huge weight. In a process governed by geological chance‚ coastlines advanced and receded. The basic shape of the world changed around the people‚ constantly.
And to north and south of the rich hunting grounds of Europe’s north land‚ generation on generation‚ the chill oceans bit at the coasts‚ seeking a way to sever the land bridge.
The Year of the Great Sea:
The day of Ana’s blood tide‚ with her father missing and her mother dead‚ was always going to be difficult. And it got a lot worse‚ early that very morning‚ when the two Pretani boys walked into her house.
Sunta‚ Ana’s grandmother‚ sat with Ana opposite the door. Ana was holding open her tunic‚ the skin of her exposed belly prickling in the cold air that leaked in around the door flap. Sunta dipped her fingertips in a thick paste of water‚ menstrual blood and ochre‚ care¬fully painting circles around Ana’s navel. The sign‚ when finished‚ would be three big concentric circles‚ the largest spanning Ana’s ribs to her pubis‚ with a vertical tail cutting from the center down to her groin. This was the most ancient mark of Etxelur‚ the sign of the Door to the Mothers’ House—the land of ancestors. Later this paint¬ing would be the basis of a tattoo Ana would carry through her life.
Thus they sat‚ alone in the house‚ when the two Pretani boys pushed through the door flap.
They looked around. They just ignored the women. There was snow on their shoulders and their boots. Under fur cloaks they wore tunics of heavy‚ stiff hide‚ not cloth as the Etxelur women wore. The boys dumped their packs on the floor’s stone flags‚ kicked at pallets stuffed with dry bracken‚ walked around the peat fire in the big hearth‚ tested the strength of the house’s sloping wooden supports by pushing at them with their shoulders‚ and jabbered at each other in their own guttural language. To Ana it was as if two bear cubs had wandered into the house.
For her part Sunta didn’t even look up. “Pretani‚” she murmured.
Fourteen years old‚ Ana had only a blurred memory of the last time Pretani had come to Etxelur‚ a memory of big men who smelled of leather and tree sap and blood. “What are they doing in our house? I thought the snailheads were coming for the midwinter gathering.”
Sunta‚ sitting cross-legged‚ was stick-thin inside a bundle of furs. She was forty-seven years old‚ one of the oldest inhabitants of Etx¬elur‚ and she was dying. But her eyes were sharp as flint. “Asses they are‚ like the last time they were here‚ like all Pretani‚ like all men. But it is custom for the chief Pretani to lodge in my house‚ the house of the Giver’s mother‚ and here they are. Oh‚ just ignore them.” She continued working on the design on Ana’s belly‚ her clawlike finger never wavering in the smooth arcs it drew.
But Ana couldn’t take her eyes off the Pretani. She tried to re¬member what her mother had told her about them before she died. They were younger than they had looked at first. Boy-men‚ from the forests of Albia.
Under tied-back mops of black hair‚ both of them wore beards. The older one had a thick charcoal-black line tattooed on his fore¬head. But the younger one‚ who was probably not much older than Ana‚ had a finer face‚ a strong jaw‚ thin nose‚ high brow‚ prominent cheekbones. No forehead scars. He peered into the stone-lined hole in the ground where they kept limpets for use as bait in fishing‚ and he studied the way the house had been set up over a pit dug into the sand‚ knee deep‚ to give more room. These were features you wouldn’t find in houses in the woods of Albia‚ she supposed‚ where nobody fished‚ and drainage would always be a problem. The younger boy was similar enough to the other that they must be brothers‚ but he seemed to have a spark of curiosity the other lacked.
He glanced at Ana‚ a flash of dark eyes as he caught her watching him. She looked away.
His brother‚ meanwhile‚ raised his fur-boot-swathed foot and swung a kick at the wall‚ not quite opposite where the women sat. Brush snapped‚ and layers of dried kelp fell to the floor. Even a little snow fell in.
At last Sunta rose to her feet. She wore her big old winter cloak‚ sealskin lined with gull down‚ and as she rose stray wisps of feath¬ers fluttered into the air around her. She wasn’t much more than two-thirds the size of the Pretani‚ but she looked oddly grand. “Stop that.” She switched to the traders’ tongue. “I said‚ stop kicking my wall‚ you big ass.”
The man looked down at her‚ directly for the first time. “What did you call me?”
“Oh‚ so you can see me after all. Ass. Ass.” She bent stiffly and slapped her bony behind‚ through the thickness of her cloak.
Ana sought for the words in the unfamiliar tongue. “But then‚” she said‚ “grandmother calls all men asses.”
The Pretani’s gaze flickered over her body‚ like a carrion bird eyeing up a piece of meat. She realized she was still holding open her tunic‚ exposing her throat and breasts and belly. She fumbled to close it.
Her grandmother snapped‚ “Leave that. You’ll smudge the paint.” In the traders’ tongue she said‚ “You. Big fellow. Tell me your name.”
The man sneered. “Get out of my way.”
“You get out of my way.”
“In my country the women get out of the way of the men‚ who own the houses.”
“This isn’t your country‚ and I thank the mothers for that.”
He looked around. “Where is the Giver? Where is the man who owns this house?”
“In Etxelur the women own the houses. This is my house. I am the oldest woman here.”
“From the shrivelled look of you‚ I think you are probably the oldest woman in the world. My name is Gall. This is my brother Shade. In our country our father is the Root. The most powerful man. Do you understand? We have come to this scrubby coastal place to hunt and to trade and to let you hear our songs of killing. Every seven years‚ we do this. It is an old custom.”
Sunta said‚ “And did you travel all this way just to kick a hole in my wall?”
“I was making a new door.” He pointed. “That door is in the wrong place.”
“No‚ it isn’t‚” Ana said. “In all our houses the door faces north.”
The younger boy‚ Shade‚ asked‚ “Why? What’s so special about north? There’s nothing north of here but ocean.”
“That’s where the Door to the Mothers’ House lies. Where our ancestors once lived‚ now lost under the sea—”
Gall snorted. “We have doors facing south-east.”
“Why?” Sunta snapped at him.
“Because of the light—it goes around—something to do with the sun. That’s the priest’s business. All I know is I’m not going to stay in a house with a door in the wrong place.”
Sunta smiled. “But this is the Giver’s house. It is the largest in Etxelur. If you don’t stay here you’ll have to stay in a smaller house‚ and it would not be the Giver’s house. What would your father think of that?”
Gall scowled. “I ask you again—if this is the Giver’s house‚ where is the Giver?”
Ana said‚ “In the autumn my father went to sea to hunt whale.”
Shade looked at her. “He has not come back?”
Gall sneered. “Then he’s dead.”
“He’s dead and you have no Giver.”
“Kirike is not dead‚” Sunta said quietly. “Not until the priest says so‚ or his body washes up on the beach‚ or his Other‚ the pine mar¬ten‚ says so in a human tongue. Anyhow we don’t need a Giver until the summer. And even if he returns‚ even if he were standing here now—”
“Even then‚ Pretani ass‚ you would do as I say‚ here in my house.”
Enraged‚ he ran a dirty thumbnail along the line on his forehead. “See this? I got this scar when I first took a man’s life. I was fourteen years old.”
Sunta smiled. “If you like I’ll show you the scars I got when I first gave a woman her life. I was thirteen years old.”
Complicated‚ baffled expressions chased across Gall’s face. He was evidently grasping for a way out of this while saving his pride. “This house is evidently the least unsuitable in this squalid huddle for sons of Albia. We will stay here. We will discuss the issue of the door later.”
“As you wish‚” Sunta said‚ mocking. “And we will also discuss how you are going to fix my wall.”
He was about to argue with that when Lightning burst in. The dog’s tail was up‚ his eyes bright‚ tongue lolling‚ his fur covered in snow. Excited by the presence of the strangers‚ the dog jumped up at them‚ barking.
Gall cringed back. “Wolf! Wolf!” He drew a flint-blade knife from his belt.
Ana stood between Gall and the dog. “You harm him and I’ll harm you back‚ Pretani.”
Sunta laughed‚ rocking. “Lightning is Kirike’s dog—oh‚ come here‚ Lightning! He chose him because he was the runt of the litter‚ and gave him his name as a joke‚ because as a puppy he was the slow¬est dog anybody had ever seen. And you big men cower before him!”
Shade looked nervous‚ but he was smiling. “Pretani don’t keep dogs.”
“Maybe you should‚” Ana said‚ petting Lightning.
Gall‚ trying to regain his pride‚ put away his knife and strutted around the house. “I am hungry from the journey.”
“Are you indeed?” Sunta asked. She gave no sign she was going to offer him food.
He paused by the hearth. “What kind of fire is this? Where is the wood?”
“This is not your forest-world. Wood is precious here. We burn peat.”
“It is a stupid fire. It gives off smoke but no heat.” He hawked and spat on the inadequate fire. “Come‚ Shade. Let’s find a less ugly old woman who might feed us.” And with that he walked out of the north-facing door. His brother hurried after him‚ with a backward glance at Ana.
When they were gone the space suddenly seemed huge and empty.
Sunta seemed to collapse‚ as if her bones had turned to water. “Oh‚ what a fuss. Give me your hand‚ dear.” Ana helped her back to where she had been sitting. Sunta’s seal-fur cloak fell open‚ scatter¬ing feathers and exposing her body; the only flesh on her was the mass that protruded from her belly‚ the growth that so horribly mimicked a pregnancy. “All men are asses. Do something about that hole in the wall‚ would you? The wind pierces me.”
Ana took handfuls of dry bracken from a pallet and shoved them into the broken place. “You can’t be serious.”
“About letting them stay here!”
Every seven years the Pretani hunters come to the winter gath¬ering. And they always stay in the Giver’s house. I am your grand¬mother‚ and I remember my grandmother telling me how this was the way when she was a girl‚ and her grandmother told her of it when she was a girl‚ and before that only the sun and moon remem¬ber. This is custom‚ like it or not.”
“I don’t care about custom. I live here. All my things are here . . .”
“They won’t touch you‚ you know.”
“That’s not the point. And why today‚ of all days?” She felt tears prickle her eyes. Her grandmother didn’t approve of crying; she dug the heels of her hands into her eyes. “It’s my blood tide. And now them. If only my father were here—”
“But he isn’t‚” Sunta said. Her voice broke up in a flurry of dry‚ painful-sounding coughs. She sat back and dipped her finger in the paint once more. “Now let’s see how much mess you’ve made.”
Ana turned away‚ breathing hard. She was no longer a child; her blood tide marked the dawning of adulthood. She had to behave well. Deliberately she calmed herself and opened her tunic.
But when she turned back Sunta had fallen asleep. A single thread of drool dripped from her open mouth‚ the stubs of her worn teeth.
In 1931 a fishing trawler called the Colinda‚ working forty kilome¬ters off the eastern coast of England‚ dragged up a lump of peat. Inside‚ the skipper found an elegantly barbed spear point made from a deer antler. Entirely unexpected‚ it was a relic of a country now lost beneath the ocean.
In 8000 BC sea levels were much lower than today‚ as vast quan¬tities of water were still locked up in the ice caps‚ and around the world ocean floors were exposed. Britain was not an island. The bed of the North Sea was a vast plain now known as “Doggerland‚” a country larger than modern Britain whose northern coast ran di¬rectly from England to Denmark. The present Dogger Bank was a shallow upland (called the First Mother’s Ribs here)‚ and to its south was a salt-water estuary the size of the Bristol Channel‚ now known as the Outer Silver Pit (and here called the Moon Sea). With twenty-four major lakes and wetlands and sixteen hundred kilometers of river courses‚ Doggerland was a rich‚ well-watered landscape that would have been very attractive to human hunters‚ more so than the surrounding higher land—and probably the center of north Eu¬rope’s culture at the time.
But as the last ice melted the sea levels rose‚ and the land itself‚ released from the ice’s weight‚ rose and fell in a complex geometry of rebound. Doggerland began to drown. The sea rise may have been punctuated by sudden events such as storm surges—or even by tsu¬namis‚ as depicted here. In c.6200 BC a massive undersea landslip
occurred off the coast of Norway at Storegga (see Bondevik et al.‚ Eos‚ vol. 64‚ pp. 289–300‚ 2003). My earlier tsunami originates in the same undersea area.
By c.6000 BC Britain was severed from continental Europe‚ by c.4000 BC the last islands were submerged‚ and that was the end of “Doggerland‚ a country that had been central to the cultural devel¬opment of north-west Europe for perhaps twelve thousand years” (chapter five of Europe’s Lost World: The Rediscovery of Doggerland‚ V. Gaffney et al.‚ Council for British Archaeology‚ 2009). The question asked in this series is: what if this northern heartland‚ on the brink of the Neolithic‚ had not been lost to the ocean?
Doggerland’s existence was suspected long before the Colinda’s chance find. Observations of submerged offshore forests—“Noah’s woods”—had been recorded since the twelfth century. Geologist Clement Reid‚ in his Submerged Forests (Cambridge‚ 1913)‚ was the first to speculate that a drowned landscape might once have joined Britain to the continent. A key survey was published in 1998 by Professor Bryony Coles (Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society‚ vol. 64‚ pp. 45–81)‚ who coined the name “Doggerland.” This built on data about the North Sea gathered by geologists‚ environmentalists‚ ma¬rine engineers and others. (The Northland map in this volume is based on Coles’s projections.) A recent work led by the University of Birmingham utilized two decades’ worth of geological data‚ gath¬ered by the oil and gas companies‚ to produce a detailed study of a large area south of the Dogger Bank (see Mapping Doggerland by V. Gaffney et al.‚ Archaeopress‚ 2007).
The importance of Doggerland is now recognized. Doggerland is one of the three largest preserved drowned landscapes in the world‚ the others being Beringia‚ under the Bering Strait‚ and Sundaland‚ between Indochina and Java. Archaeologists are seeking World Heritage status for the site‚ and there are proposals for further work with undersea archaeology and sea-bottom coring. My portrayal of Doggerland here‚ inspired by the excitement of the “discovery” of this lost country‚ respectfully draws on the work done by these gen¬erations of researchers.
In the Netherlands people have been struggling to keep their land from the sea since before Roman times. Their earliest efforts‚ as in the novel‚ were to build artificial hills called terpen or werden in flood-affected areas‚ from about 500 BC. If anybody really did try to save Doggerland by building polders and dykes and drainage channels‚ the evidence is lost beneath the North Sea.
This book is set in Britain’s Mesolithic period‚ c.10‚000 BC–4‚000 BC. For an overview see Late Stone Age Hunters of the British Isles‚ C. Bark‚ Routledge‚ 1992. The Mesolithic roughly corresponds cultur¬ally to the “Archaic” period in the Americas; see Prehistory of the Americas‚ S. Fiedel‚ Cambridge‚ 1992. My Doggerland Mesolithic cul¬ture is an invention‚ but draws on evidence of comparable cultures around the world (see Mesolithic Studies at the Beginning of the 21st Century by N. Milner et al.‚ Oxbow‚ 2005).
My depiction of permanent dwellings is derived in part from the archaeology of a “house” in Howick‚ Northumberland‚ dating back to c.8000 BC (see Ancient Northumberland by C. Waddington et al.‚ English Heritage‚ 2004). There is no evidence I know of regarding clothing worn in the Mesolithic. However‚ there is evidence of so¬phisticated clothing woven from vegetable fibers from much earlier epochs‚ even the depths of the Ice Ages (see for example‚ www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/02/000203074853.htm). Hunting people observed in the modern age have shown themselves capable of remarkable feats of medicine‚ including Caesarean sections‚ which may be anesthetized with opium derivatives (see for example‚ chapters eight and nine of Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age by R. Rudgley‚ Century‚ 1998).
Some speculate that of languages spoken in modern Europe only Basque remains of a very ancient language super-family known as Dene-Sino-Caucasian‚ which was later mostly supplanted by Neo¬lithic language groups including Uralic-Yukaghir‚ which includes Finnish‚ and the Indo-European which includes the Celtic‚ Ger¬manic and Italic languages (see L. Trask‚ The History of Basque‚ Rout¬ledge‚ 1977). This is controversial‚ however. And even the language group from which Basque derived must surely have been only one of many hundreds scattered across a sparsely populated Mesolithic Europe. I have respectfully borrowed or adapted some Basque words for names and place names. My name for Ana’s home‚ “Etxelur‚” is inspired by the Basque words lur‚ land‚ etxe‚ home. My names for Britain‚ “Albia‚” and the British‚ “Pretani‚” derive from records made in antiquity that appear to be based on the journey of Pytheas in the fourth century BC (see The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek‚ B. Cunliffe‚ Allen Lane‚ 2001).
My mythology of Northland is an invention‚ though it is assem¬bled in part from fragments of Norse‚ Celtic and other lore.
“Rock art” based on “cup-and-ring” circular forms is common in northern Britain and Ireland (see British Prehistoric Rock Art by S. Beckensall‚ Tempus‚ 1999). It is unusual in that‚ unlike art found in other parts of the world‚ it is almost all abstract. The dominant mo¬tif is a set of concentric circles with a radial “tail‚” but many variants are found. The rock art is difficult to date (there is no organic com¬ponent to allow carbon-dating). It is generally assumed to be Neo¬lithic or perhaps Bronze Age‚ but it has been speculated that the art has Mesolithic origins.
The legend of Atlantis derives from Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias‚ written c.360 BC. Atlantis scholars have suggested dozens of possible locations for the lost island‚ including the bed of the North Sea‚ for example by a Professor F. Gidon in 1935. The plan of the principal city on Atlantis as described by Plato in Critias does indeed bear some resemblance to some examples of British rock art. How¬ever‚ my linking of my lost land of Etxelur with Plato’s Atlantis is pure‚ and mischievous‚ invention on my part‚ solely intended for the fictive purpose of this novel.
Ice Dreamer comes from a remnant of the Palaeo-American cul¬ture called the “Clovis people‚” with their characteristic large‚ fluted spear points‚ which was displaced by Archaic cultures—“the Cow¬ards” in Dreamer’s language. Evidence that a cold snap at c.l0‚000 BC called the “Younger Dryas” was triggered by a comet impact in North America was presented by researchers from the University of California to a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in May
2007 (New Scientist‚ 26 May‚ 2007)‚ and additional evidence in the form of a global scatter of “nano-diamonds‚” produced by the high temperatures and pressures of the impact‚ was presented more re¬cently (Science‚ 2 January‚ 2009). The theory remains controversial (see New Scientist‚ 7 February‚ 2009). I have invented the detail of a secondary comet impact in northern Europe‚ which perturbs the complex sequence of landscape sinking and rebound.
The “Leafy Boys‚” inhabitants of the forest canopy that once blanketed much of Britain‚ are my invention. There was surely an ecological niche to be occupied here‚ however‚ and the conditions of the forest would have made it unlikely that any fossil evidence would have been preserved.
The suggestion that Jericho’s wall was not for defensive purposes but a defense against floods and mud slides was made by O. Bar-Yosef (Current Archaeology‚ vol. 27‚ pp. 157–62‚ 1996). Novu and Chona‚ walking from Jericho‚ follow the natural cross-European trade routes that appear to have been used in prehistoric times (see B. Cunliffe‚ Europe Between the Oceans‚ Yale‚ 2008). The place Chona calls the “Narrow” is based on the site known as Lepenski Vir.
This is a novel‚ intended as an impression of an intriguing age‚ and not meant to be taken as a reliable history of the Mesolithic. Many of the dates are uncertain‚ many key landscapes are locked under the waters of the North Sea‚ and even on modern dry land the peoples of the time left scant traces of their presence. However‚ any errors or inaccuracies are‚ of course‚ my sole responsibility.
Winter Solstice‚ 2009
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