Jon here, author of Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland.
Recently I read a fascinating thread on twitter about natural but incorrect assumptions about historical fact. I learned so much researching Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland, and I so I shared a thread of my own amazing facts I learned through researching Maskwitches. I’d said on twitter these were all new to me, which wasn’t entirely true – but the specific applications of these factoid was often new.
With the longer form format available to us here on the blog, let’s unpack these a bit more, and also report some of the ensuing discussion, which was excellent!
So random fact 1: NO BEES. Bees don’t move into what we now call Northern Europe for ages after the Doggerland mesolithic era. Honey is an easy assumption to add into that kind of rustic diet, as is gathering honey comb. Nope. No bees.
Well, this sparked a really interesting discussion, and further research. It turns out this is not as clear cut a topic as I had assumed from my initial reading. Indeed, it’s a furiously debated topic. My research came from the school of thought that (among other things) tracks the progress of lime trees into the British Isles, which doesn’t really allow for bees to be in Northern Europe at the times Maskwitches is set.
But there are other highly reasonable and reasoned arguments, which have been fiercely put forward by historians who disagree with this method of tracking the likely spread of bees after the ice retreats in the holocene era. Who knew? Well, loads of people. But I didn’t. And it’s good to start here, with a “fact” which seemed clear cut from the reading I’d done, but in fact is still hotly debated.
Fact 2: it’s very likely from the more recent research that everyone in Doggerland and Northern Europe was dark skinned, with green and blue eyes. Pale skin moves north with agriculture way later. Search “Cheddar Man” for more details.
This one has been debated, but not very successfully. We do have a limited number of sequenced genomes from this period. We do also have lighter skinned genes coming in to the north of Europe – but it seems fascinatingly there is evidence to show the people who carried those genes are not related to modern day Scandanavians.
There is also the theory that differing exposure to UV light, and absorption of Vitamin D played a part in lightening skin tones in what we now call Northern Europe. And this is the case. But there seems to be little doubt that the genes for lighter skin moving northward with agriculture thousands of years after the Doggerland period were necessary for the widespread pale skin we see in Europe today. Doubtless this topic will see lots more research over time. But we can say with some degree of certainty that a lot of inhabitants of Doggerland 8000 years ago were likely to be darker-skinned than we might have imagined even ten years ago.
Fact 3 of ??? No sheep = no wool = no felt. OR DOES IT?!
Naturally felt is a really fascinating topic (well it is to me, ok? I did a fine art degree in the 1990s, so Joseph Beuys etc)
Felt made from beaver fur is a thing. Other fur is less suitable, but you can felt up them beavers. But no sheep or goats was surprising to me. I had to research every animal to check whether it was a species present in Northern Europe during the time of Maskwitches. Sheep and arguably goats move north with agriculture and the Neolithic era. Again, a debated topic, and more research will doubtless come to light. It’s fascinating how much we take fibres like wool for granted.
Fact 4: no riding horses. You may sense a theme. But horses are around, (or at least, one suspects, ponies) but no one appears to be riding them yet. (I’m talking about 8000 years ago)
I like to imagine the mesolithic pony as being very fierce and ungovernable. Good eating though.
Fact 5: Highly regionalised language. We don’t know what people spoke in the mesolithic, but it’s strongly suspected by boffins who understand how people lived, that it was many different languages. There are thought to be tiny traces left in Basque and Saami languages. Cool!
To add to this, the reminder that lifespans seem to be significantly shorter – and not just averages based on a high degree of infant mortality. We’re talking about ages of remains discovered. It appears people just didn’t get to be that old in the Mesolithic. There’s a wide margin on dating the incomplete remains we have. But nonetheless “old people” as we think of today were not really around. This means that with shorter life spans, generational change is happening arguably faster, but is innovation occurring slowly because of a lack of even middle-aged experience? How that relates to regionalised language is very interesting to think about.
This is a highly speculative topic, like so many in this era. Fascinating though.
Oh! Bonus factoid! A red deer can feed five people for ten days. Or so I read. (I dunno, I only hunt the wild tofu). So if the hunting is good, you have spare time to get up to DISTURBING SUPERSTITIONS. Or you know, making some cool beads and stuff like that.
Disclaimer: please do research everything I’ve said here. I urge you to read into all the topics here. When it comes to genetic research, do double check the dates of any original material cited. For example Wikipedia has a lot of citations to material from the early 2000s around the topics surrounding Cheddar Man. His genome was fully sequenced in 2018, but an earlier sequencing had occurred in 1998, which older equipment and reportedly contaminated samples. Things move on very rapidly when it comes to genetic research, and ideas are changing all the time. Don’t take my word for anything!
About Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland
Typical to a Handiwork Games game, Maskwitches is a flight of fantasy, but we hope it is a well-read one. In Maskwitches you’ll play the eponymous witches battling spirits released by disharmony in the hunter gatherer communities of Forgotten Doggerland – the land that is now under the North Sea. Our setting is clearly a fantastical one, but it inspired by a lot of reading and research into the history. We do it so that you don’t have to. But you can if you like, and we certainly recommend it!
Maskwitches is also a conversation between the creator Jon Hodgson and the Midjourney AI. All the images in the book are created with Midjourney.