Brexit – or Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – remains controversial even as Prime Minister Theresa May begins the process of leaving. But it turns out this process may not have been the first Brexit ever. Research led by Imperial College London scientists found evidence of an ancient geological Brexit – “the Brexit nobody voted for” – in the Dover Strait. According to their research a land bridge once existed between England and France.
Ancient Britain, regardless of the lack of cities and people, might have been almost unrecognizable according to geophysical and seafloor data. In this Britain, which could have existed 450,000 years ago during an ice age, the whole English Channel would have been a frozen tundra crossed only by small rivers. Britain may have been physically connected to Europe by a chalk rock ridge spanning the Dover Strait that held back a proglacial lake, or lake in front of an ice sheet according to Imperial College London, in what is today the North Sea. Giant waterfalls from the lake could have contributed to erosion that breached the ridge.
The data shows a valley system and huge holes on the seafloor. In France, there are around seven of these holes, or plunge pools, around 328 feet deep in a solid rock line between Dover and Calais. The straight line backs up the idea the holes were created by waterfalls cascading over a ridge about 328 feet high and around 20 miles long – the land bridge – to hit the ground below and erode rock.
Catastrophic flooding is thought to have finished the ancient Brexit. The researchers found evidence of megaflood processes, which could have carved the valleys.
Imperial College London professor Sanjeev Gupta, co-author on a paper published online yesterday in Nature Communications, said in a statement, “The breaching of this land bridge between Dover and Calais was undeniably one of the most important events in British history, helping to shape our island nation’s identity even today. When the ice age ended and sea levels rose, flooding the valley floor for good, Britain lost its physical connection to the mainland. Without this dramatic breaching Britain would still be part of Europe. This is Brexit 1.0 – the Brexit nobody voted for.”
Images courtesy Imperial College London and Wikimedia Commons