A voyage to the past

Dover Museum, Kent

This September marks 30 years since the discovery of one of the world’s oldest-known seagoing vessels: the Dover Bronze Age Boat, whose remains are pictured here on display in a dedicated gallery at Dover Museum.

IMAGE © Alex Hare

The 3,500-year-old vessel was first located in 1992 (below), when its timbers were identified by Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) during the development of a new section of road running through Dover’s old town. CA followed the story from the off: the find was reported in issue 132, and a feature-length article followed in CA 133, written by CAT’s Keith Parfitt, one of the boat’s original excavators.

IMAGE © Canterbury Archaeological Trust

The vessel – constructed using oak planks sewn together with yew wood – seemed to have been abandoned, and its form was soon compared to the plank-sewn boats found at North Ferriby in Yorkshire (CA 191 and 200). As Keith noted in issue 133, ‘The Ferriby boats consisted essentially of three planks which formed the bottom of the boat, a long central keel plank and two outer bottom planks. By contrast, the Dover boat had four oak timbers, the long central plank being replaced by two planks. These were held together with the help of the “rails” that form the most prominent parts on the photographs running along the length of the boat.’ As Keith told CA more recently, however, ‘As I would now see it, Dover’s two outer curved planks are not really base planks as such… A lot of the vessel’s interpretation has moved on since those early days.’

Part of the boat is still buried at its original findspot, but a substantial 9.5m-long section was recovered, and is now on display alongside further Bronze Age material and interpretative installations at Dover Museum. CAT also went on to create a half-size reconstruction, launched in 2012, which prompted further insights into prehistoric seafaring. As Keith reflected after a trip aboard the modern replica (CA 287), ‘I see no reason why Bronze Age people could not have made regular trips across the Channel.’

Admission to Dover Museum is free. For opening times and further details, see www.dovermuseum.co.uk.

Text: H Blair
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