Monday, 12 December 2011

Boats in the Bronze Age - never!

Diggers at work on a boat

As with many other aspects of the media everything has to be definitive. So, according to most reports, the finding of several intact boats on the River Nene in East Anglia means that it "provides possibly the most detailed view yet of what life was like 3,000 years ago". This is after the last 'most detailed view' and before the next 'most detailed view'. They even used wooden cutlery! Who would have guessed. This is a very rare and significant find, but it is just one more piece in the infinitely complex fabric of human development over the last 3 million years.

One of the boats post excavation
The survival of wooden artefacts depends on them being in anaerobic conditions since they were deposited, thus microbes cannot set off the decay process. Usually you may be lucky to find a few small items or even parts of human beings (as in the 'bog bodies'). To find 6 boats is quite remarkable. They range from 2-8 metres in length and as with other examples they were made by hollowing out the trunk of a tree, in this case oak. Some of these boats have been decorated.

Digging quite deep
Other finds are swords and spears, in this case with wooden handles intact rather than just the metal parts surviving. I have found shoes from the Roman and Medieval periods and here they found part of a cape. This really gives the finder direct contact with past people when one thinks that someone wore the this garment as well as using the boats and weapons. 

There is some indication that the weapons are similar to Spanish ones. It is no surprise that these Bronze Age people has extensive trading contacts with the south and the Med generally. Such links had been established for many centuries. Again the newspapers stated: "It (the finds) also indicates people were more mobile than previously thought". Not really. Archaeologists have known for some time that trade was international since the Stone Ages.

Keeping a boat wet until removal
It is great that the diggers have possibly located the settlement associated with the boat site. This is the real significant find and would link in the living space with the 'port' that they would have used to travel and trade from. Also the finding of eel traps similar in design to those still used today underlines the old adage that 'if it is not broken don't fix it'.  

So, it is a good thing to have archaeology in the news but always take what is reported with a 'pinch of salt' and wait for the archaeologists report.

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