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16 February 2010
Bronze Age shipwreck found off Devon coast

One of the world's oldest shipwrecks has been discovered off the coast of Devon (England) after lying on the seabed for almost 3,000 years. The trading vessel was carrying an extremely valuable cargo of tin and hundreds of copper ingots from the Continent when it sank. Experts say the 'incredibly exciting' discovery provides new evidence about the extent and sophistication of Britain's links with Europe in the Bronze Age as well as the remarkable seafaring abilities of the people during the period.
     Archaeologists have described the vessel, which is thought to date back to around 900 BCE, as being a 'bulk carrier' of its age. The copper and tin would have been used for making bronze. Archaeologists believe the copper - and possibly the tin - was being imported into Britain and originated in a number of different countries throughout Europe, rather than from a single source, demonstrating the existence of a complex network of trade routes across the Continent.
     Academics at the University of Oxford are carrying out further analysis of the cargo in order to establish its exact origins. However, it is thought the copper would have come from the Iberian peninsular, Alpine Europe, especially modern day Switzerland, and possibly other locations in France, such as the Massif Central, and even as far as Austria. It is first time tin ingots from this period have ever been found in Britain, a discovery which may support theories that the metal was being mined in the south west at this time. If the tin was not produced in Britain, it is likely it would have also come from the Iberian peninsular or from eastern Germany.
     The wreck has been found in just eight to ten metres of water in a bay near Salcombe, south Devon, by a team of amateur marine archaeologists from the South West Maritime Archaeological Group. The cargo recovered includes 259 copper ingots and 27 tin ingots. Also found was a bronze leaf sword, two stone artefacts that could have been sling shots, and three gold wrist torcs - or bracelets. The team have yet to uncover any of the vessel's structure, which is likely to have eroded away. However, experts believe it would have been up to 40ft long and up to 6ft wide, and have been constructed of planks of timber, or a wooden frame with a hide hull. It would have had a crew of around 15 and been powered by paddles.
     Archaeologists believe it would have been able to cross the Channel directly between Devon and France to link into European trade networks, rather than having to travel along the coast to the narrower crossing between modern day Dover and Calais. There is evidence of prehistoric field systems and Bronze Age roundhouses on the coast near the wreck site and it is thought the vessel could have sunk while attempting to land, or could have been passing along the coast.
     Mick Palmer, chairman of the South West Maritime Archaeological Group, said: "There is more down there and we will carry on searching for it. We anticipate a lot more will be found." One other Bronze Age vessel has previously been found near Salcombe, where just 53 artefacts were recovered. Another eight Bronze Age items have also been found at a third nearby spot, indicating another possible wreck.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk (13 February 2010)

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