To date, the oldest boat found anywhere in the world is a canoe found in the Netherlands, in fact in the village of Pesse in Drenthe. It is a dugout canoe made from a hollowed out tree trunk, in this case a pine tree, and dates from the beginning of the Middle Stone Age, approximately 9,500 – 10,000 years ago. This means that someone in prehistory searched for a suitable tree in the forest and, having found it, chopped it down, cut it to size and then hollowed it out. The tree trunk would have been too heavy to move without hollowing it. The canoe is almost 3 metres long and about 44 cm wide. It owes its unique state of preservation to the fact that it lay in a river with a peaty bed.
This dugout canoe was found on the south side of the village of Pesse in 1955, during excavations in the Blikkenveen. It was discovered by Hendrik Wanders. In 2001 an experiment was done with a replica, and it was found that the canoe was easy to steer! The canoe can now be seen in the Drents Museum in Assen.
Apart from the Pesse canoe, the following dugout canoes are also known:
• The canoe of Hardinxveld-Giessendam which is 5.5 metres long and 55 cm wide, made of limewood, 7,000 years old (found in 1955),
• The canoe of Hazendonk made of oak, about 5,000 years old (found 1970’s),
• The canoe of Bergschenhoek made of alderwood, about 5,000 years old (found 1958),
• The canoe of Daarle, probably 3,000 – 5,000 years old in view of the axes which were found nearby;
• The canoe of Vlaardingen, around 10 metres long, 2,800 years old (found 2005),
• More recently, in 2007, a dugout canoe from the Funnel Beaker Culture was found: the canoe of the Wieringermeer See here for more information (Dutch only)
There are two ways of hollowing out a tree trunk: hack it out with axes, or burn most of the wood away and then cut the rest out with an axe. Experiments have shown that it takes seven days using axes of stone, bone, antlers or metal. In 2003 a canoe was made from a black poplar using modern tools.
Making a dugout canoe using fire
In 2015 the council in Borger-Odoorn had to cut down large chestnut trees. The Hunebed Centre quickly made known its interest in using the tree trunks for an experiment in making a dugout canoe. We wanted to find out how easy – or how difficult – it would be to use fire to hollow out a tree trunk. At first it seemed to be easy but the tools deteriorated quickly. Thanks to the work of Andre Hazewinkel and the photos by Davado, you can see here how the job was tackled …
Dugout canoe of Pesse http://www.archeoforum.nl/pdf/Pesse1.pdf (Dutch only)
VAN DER HEIDE, G.D. Scheepsarcheologie in Nederland.
GERDING, M. & H. HILLINGA, 2007. Het Drenthe Boek. Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle.
VONK, H.J., 1973. Dit land van hei en hunebedden. Westfriesland, Hoorn.
Text Nadine Lemmers
Translation Alun Harvey
Photos of the dugout canoe by Davado