Last night Tony Robinson struggled through a feature-length version of Time Team, with enough material for a 30-minute programme. His central point was that the southern North Sea and the eastern English Channel used to be part of the European land mass, linking what is now England to France, Holland and Germany. He introduced us to a handful of finds of early human bones, with remains of a sabre-toothed tiger, large elephant and other tropical creatures, dredged up from beneath the sea. One marine archaeologist found a piece of wood that could have been part of a human structure when it was on land. It implied that it used to be a lot warmer here than it is this Spring, and suggested there was much more land a few thousand years ago.
I sometimes watch Time Team in its shorter format. They do dig some interesting new sites, and bring to our attention some finds from important historic remains in the landscape. You have to put up with the irritating and formulaic TV conventions. The dig always has to take place to a tight timetable, to create an artificial impression of urgency and worry lest it is not finished in time. There always has to be a row between Tony and one of the experts, and some disagreement over interpretation at the early stages which can be resolved by the end. Despite that, it can be a worthwhile and pleasant way of absorbing some history and archaeology.
Last night plumbed new depths. The producer allowed Tony Robinson to turn it into a thinly researched piece about climate change. Having made the interesting point that climate change was nothing new, and having established or asserted that the Channel was once a huge river delta with the Thames a tributary of the Rhine, Mr Robinson then proceeded to claim we could now be about to experience something similar for very different reasons based on modern climate change theory and the role of man. He suggested we are now in a warm period, without pausing to ask why he had just revealed animal bones which implied much hotter weather in ancient Europe. He produced no evidence for any of the assertions about what might happen next. Perhaps C4 will now offer a Conservative historian a reply programme.
It is an interesting idea that Western Europeans lost a large area of river delta to the sea, in the way that the sea now seems to be threatening the low lying deltas of the Ganges in Bangladesh and the Irrawaddy in Burma. Today we are all saddened by the tragic loss of life in Burma and keen that the international community should be allowed to help bring relief to those who survived.
The Dutch have shown that it is possible to take on the sea and to prevent it from making further inroads, by building dykes and sea walls, and raising polders from the floods. They also demonstrate that sea inundation is not a recent phenomenon. We need to consider which low lying parts of the world can and should be defended, and use best technology to protect the large cities that have been built all too close to the ocean rush. We could start here in Britain by planning the next London Thames barrier, because the present one will not serve the needs for that much longer. We may also have to accept that some low lying areas will be overwhelmed, as many have been throughout recorded geological time. These should be uninhabited areas, or areas where the authorities take action for re settlement in good time.