|27 March 2001
The oldest Bronze Age boat
A boat found more than 40 years ago near Hull has been identified as the oldest of its kind in western Europe. New scientific research carried out on the remains shows it is at least 4,000 years old.
The boat, known as Ferriby 3, was one of three discovered by amateur archaeologist Ted Wright on the banks of the Humber at Ferriby near Hull. He first noticed three oak planks sticking out of the mud while walking with his brother in 1937. "We didn't know what we'd found to begin with, other than we'd found a boat." Mr Wright went on to find the remains of another boat in 1940 and most importantly a third in 1963 after years of dedicated shore watching.
New scientific techniques suggest the boat Mr Wright found in 1963 is 500 years older than everyone thought. Improved methods of carbon-dating have cracked the mystery of an oak planked hulk the size of an articulated lorry, which was wrongly dated by archaeologists. Described for 30 years as mid-bronze age - c 1700 BCE - the paddle powered craft has now been traced to 2030 BCE after the painstaking removal of gallons of 1960s wood preservative which confused earlier tests. That means it date backs to the early Bronze Age.
The boat would have been about 16m long, the sewn-plank method constructing an elegant but sturdy ship in the shape of a melon slice, with thick oak planks sewn together with twisted yew withies. There was room for up to 18 paddles, with nine timbers or thwarts across the boat which could have been used by paddlers or passengers to sit on. What is not clear is whether the boat had a mast and sail.
Keith Miller, a regional inspector of ancient monuments, said all three boats shed new light on the lives of our prehistoric ancestors. "These boats were the kind of crafts that were used for crossing the English Channel or the North Sea. They were large enough to carry not just people but animals as well.
The boat provides important historical evidence, but that may not be the end of the story. More fragments have been found on the shores of the Humber in the last few years and scientists believe there may be more boats waiting to be discovered.
The vessel will be unveiled as part of an exhibition at Hull and East Riding Museum for National Science Week.
Sources: BBC News, Guardian Unlimited, The Times (22 March 2001)
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