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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 08:29 GMT
Bronze Age boat 'oldest in Europe'
Excavation of one of the boats
The boat discovered in 1963 is older than first thought
By the BBC's Rebecca Jones

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 was one of three discovered by amateur archaeologist Ted Wright on the banks of the Humber at Ferriby near Hull.

We didn't know what we'd found to begin with, other than we'd found a boat

Ted Wright

He first noticed three oak planks sticking out of the mud while walking with his brother in 1937.

"It was a tremendous thrill," said Mr Wright, who is now 82.

"We didn't know what we'd found to begin with, other than we'd found a boat.

"But we didn't know what sort of boat."

Scientific techniques

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.

He said that he loved finding things.

"It's like finding treasure but I've never found gold unfortunately yet, unlike some of the luckier archaeologists."

Instead he made one of the most significant discoveries in Britain.

Ted Wright with a model of the boat
Ted Wright with a model of the boat
Historians knew the boats were old, but only now do they know how old.

New scientific techniques suggest the boat Mr Wright found in 1963 is 500 years older than everyone thought.

That means it date backs more than 4,000 years to the early Bronze Age.

Establishing its age has not been easy though, because the remains had become contaminated.

Peter Marshall, scientific dating co-ordinator from English Heritage, said the process had been complex.

The wood had to be washed, stripped and bleached to remove contaminants.

"That's then left a material we can date with confidence," he said.

The boat would have been about 16m long, with a flat bottom like a raft with the ends and sides curving up like a large canoe.

It was made of huge oak planks sewn together with twisted yew branches.

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.

Ancestors' lives

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 certainly used in the Humber estuary and the surrounding rivers," he said.

"They were large enough to carry not just people but animals as well.

"They would have been used for trade and they could have been used by the immigrants of the early Bronze Age who came from the Low Countries and settled in the north east of England."

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.

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12 Mar 01 | Scotland
Ancient chariot found in Edinburgh
04 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Seahenge may be buried
14 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
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