The world’s oldest boatyard dating back nearly 4,000 years has been uncovered by archaeologists at the site of a new housing estate in Wales.
The site, believed to be the first prehistoric boat building site ever to be discovered, was found when developers came upon the edge of a long-vanished Ice Age lake.
Work on the housing estate in Monmouth, South Wales, was stopped for six months as a team of archaeologists unearthed the remains of the ancient boat building site used by prehistoric man.
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Archaeologist Stephen Clarke said the discovery of the site, which dates back to 1700 BC, was of ‘international importance’.
Mr Clarke, 71, said: ‘I have been digging for 55 years and I have never seen anything like it.
‘No one in the world has ever identified a prehistoric boat building site before.
‘They have found fragments of boats but never a boat building site – this is of international importance.’
Excavations at the site have revealed three 100ft-long channels which run parrallel to each other and at right angles to the ancient lake.
The ‘dead-straight’ metre-wide channels are shaped like the bottom of wooden canoes. They are also cut through a mound of burned earth carbon-dated to the early Bronze Age.
Mr Clarke said they showed a twin-hulled boat with an outrigger being dragged into a huge Ice Age lake.
The discovery was made on the newly built Parc Glyndwr housing estate on the edge of the historic market town of Monmouth, South Wales.
Monmouth Archaeological Society moved onto the site soon after the edge of the post-glacial lake was uncovered by unsuspecting builders.
Mr Clarke said: ‘It’s a hell of a site – within 60 yards of it we had Stone Age artefacts and six Bronze Age sites.
The three channels turned out to be 100ft-long and all perfectly parrallel, level and at right angles to the edge of the post-glacial lake. The channels show they built a boat made out of twin canoes with an outrigger.
DEVELOPMENT OF EARLY BOATS
The oldest boats found by archaeologists are dugout canoes from around 7,000 to 10,000-years-ago.
The Pesse canoe is the oldest ever to be recovered. It was made from the hollowed trunk of a Pinus sylvestris tree.
It is believed to have been built between 8200 and 7600BC.
Elsewhere, a 7,000-year-old reed boat was discovered in Kuwait while they are also known to have been used between 4000 and 3000BC in ancient Egypt and in the Indian Ocean.
Logboats meanwhile also survived in Europe until modern times and are still made in the Tropics.
Planked boats are believed to have developed from extended logboats or rafts.
In Egypt, a method of using mortises and tenons to develop edge-fastening, instead of using stitching or sewing, became the method throughout the Mediterranean and lasted throughout the Greek and Roman times.
‘There was no sign of the wooden boat but there was evidence of wood working on the site – with sharp flakes of imported flint found alongside the channels.’
He said the boat was built on what was a huge prehistoric lake which became a home to hunter gatherers – and slowly drained away over thousands of years.
Prehistoric cave drawings in Scandanavia have been discovered depicting outrigger boats like the one built at Monmouth.
And they were still being used in places like Fiji in the 19th century.
A large boat of a similar date and form to the Monmouth remains was recently recovered from a peat bog at Lurgan, Ireland.
Monmouth Archaeological Society have previously won the highest award in their field – the Silver Trowel for the Greatest Initiative in Archaeology.
But after uncovering the prehistoric shipyard the archaeologists had to give it back to housing developers Charles Church.
Mr Clarke said: ‘The prehistoric site is now mostly under a flood pond and the parts that aren’t have been built on.
‘We have preserved it by recording it to the best of our ability before it was developed on. Unfortunately there just isn’t the money to preserve and protect all these sites.’
Mr Clarke added: ‘I am hoping other archaeologists will have seen similar channels on other sites and realise what was happening there.
‘This is the first site that has been recognised in the world but there must be others out there.’