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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 September, 2003, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Dark Age boat recovered
By Carolyn Fry

A wooden boat left on a river bank in the Dark Ages has been lifted from mudflats near Portsmouth.

The logboat's timbers were badly cracked
Archaeologists hope the dug-out canoe and the sediments that preserved it for 1,500 years will shed light on past climate, sea levels and daily life in the south of England.

"It's most likely that the boat would have been used by people to go into the harbour to fish or hunt birds," explained Gavin Stone, Assistant Archaeologist at the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA).

"It's a useful find because there's little documentary evidence from the Dark Ages period."

Protruding timbers

The oak vessel was discovered last spring, when two local enthusiasts saw a piece of wood protruding from the mud in Langstone Harbour.

HWTMA planned to build a cage round the boat and lift it whole, but the wood was badly cracked so archaeologists excavated it piece by piece.

This means the sediments underneath have been relatively undisturbed and may yield valuable information about how the local environment has changed over time.

The boat, which measures roughly 1.7 by 0.8 metres (5.6 by 2.6 feet) but which is broken off at the stern, is now in storage at the British Ocean Sediment Core Research Facility at Southampton Oceanography Centre.

Tree-ring dating

Radio carbon dating has placed the canoe's age somewhere between 400 and 640 AD, a period spanning late Roman times, through the Dark Ages to early Saxon.

Logboat timbers
Only a fraction of the boat was visible when it was found
This makes it the oldest boat ever found in the Solent.

Over the coming months dendrochronologist and wood technology expert Nigel Nayling will analyse the tree's growth rings to try and obtain a more accurate age.

"Hopefully at a later date we'll also have a better idea of the size it would have been before it broke, and from that we'll be able to deduce how many people it could have taken and what kind of load it carried," says Stone.

Rob Scaife, a palaeoenvironmentalist with expert knowledge of pollen and tiny creatures called diatoms and foraminifera will also examine samples.

He may be able to see whether the local river system was freshwater 1,500 years ago, prior to being inundated by the Solent.

The remains of microscopic organisms he encounters may also indicate how warm the climate was at the time.

"Hopefully by Christmas the experts will have looked at it and will be starting to draw some conclusions," says Stone.

"There are also some other artefacts in the location, including wattle work, flint arrow-heads and pottery, and we'd like to take a closer look at those. There's a lot of archaeology out there."

Ancient boat found buried in mud
04 Sep 03  |  Hampshire/Dorset

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