Recent excavations by the Maritime Archaeological Trust off the coast of the Isle of Wight in the south of England have revealed the world’s oldest boatyard, dating back about 8,000 years.
Archaeologists have discovered a platform consisting of 60 to 70 split timbers, several layers thick, resting on horizontally laid round-wood foundations. The craftsmanship shows that the timber was cut tangentially (in straight lines, like modern planks) rather than radially (from the centre). This is a skill which nobody thought existed before the Neolithic period, about 4,500 BC. It suggests that Mesolithic communities already had advanced woodworking skills thousands of years earlier than previously suspected.
The site is now 11 metres below sea level but at that time in prehistory the Isle of Wight was still connected to the mainland and this site would have been in a valley. It is now covered by the waters of the Solent (which separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland) and this is what has preserved it.
Ancient wood will degrade quickly if it is not kept in a dark, wet and cold setting. This is important because archaeological information, such as cut marks or engravings, is most often found on the surface of the wood and is lost quickly when timber degrades.
The Maritime Archaeological Trust used state of the art photogrammetry techniques to record the remains. The first task was to create a 3D digital model of the landscape so it could be experienced and examined by non-divers. The site was then excavated and revealed a platform made of split timbers, several layers thick, resting on horizontally laid round-wood foundations.
Garry Momber, director of the Maritime Archaeology Trust, said: “The site contains a wealth of evidence for technological skills that were not thought to have been developed for a further couple of thousand years, such as advanced wood working.”
The Maritime Archaeological Trust is working with the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) to record and study, reconstruct and display the collection of timbers.
The oldest known boat in the world was found in a peat bog in the Netherlands and can now be seen in the Drents Museum in Assen. This predates the new discovery, dating from roughly 10,000 years ago, but it is made from a single hollowed out tree trunk rather than being the work of a skilled carpenter.
Source Heritage Daily and The Daily Telegraph
Text Alun Harvey