Dover Bronze Age Boat
Dover Bronze Age boat is one of fewer than 20 Bronze Age boats so far found in Britain. It dates to 1575–1520 BCE. The boat was made using oak planks sewn together with yew lashings. This technique has a long tradition of use in British prehistory; the oldest known examples are from Ferriby in east Yorkshire. It is currently on display at Dover Museum.
Laid to Rest
Little is yet known about the boat in use as few clues were left with it. According to the UK television programme, A History of Ancient Britain, the boat was laid to rest, still in good condition, in a smaller channel off the Dour river and the yew stitches were deliberately cut, leaving it unusable. It was preserved by being covered quickly in silt.
Discovery and excavation
On 28 September 1992, construction workers from Norwest Holst (who were building the new A20 road link between Folkestone and Dover), working alongside archaeologists from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, uncovered what remained of a large prehistoric boat thought to be 3,500 years old. This would place its origin around 1500 BC, in the Middle Bronze Age in England.
The boat was buried under a road and the burial site stretched out towards buildings. It was decided that it would be too dangerous to dig too near the buildings, so an unknown length of the boat has had to be left under the ground.
Previous attempts to remove such boats whole have been unsuccessful, so it was decided to cut the boat into sections and remove it and reassemble it afterwards.
After nearly a month of excavation 9.5 metres of the boat was eventually recovered. Depending on different views of the true size of the complete boat this 9.5 metres could be up to two thirds of the full size of the boat.
Oldest sea-going boat?
The Dour leads staight into the English Channel, so speculation has been made ever since its discovery about whether the Dover boat went to sea and sailed to the Continent. There is plenty of evidence that there was cross-Channel communication, but it is not known what kind of boats actually sailed across. Keith Miller, a regional archaeologist told the BBC that the older Ferriby Boats would have been used to cross the North Sea and certainly the Ferriby Heritage Trust describe Ferriby Boat 3 as Europe's first known seacraft. The BBC television programme Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath Pt 2, broadcast on BBC Two in September 2014, describes the boat as seagoing and describes the tons of cargo it could have taken across the Channel. However, The Dover Museum consider that the Dover Bronze Age Boat is the oldest seagoing boat known, at only 1550 BC. They are backed by a different channel and programme from the BBC- Neil Oliver in the Bronze Age episode of A History of Ancient Britain . They are also backed by the Time Team Special, broadcast in September 2014 on UK Channel 4, which stated that to be a proper sea-going, cross-channel vessel the boat would have to have the curved 'rocker' bottom and the (unproven) pointed bow that only the more modern Dover boat possesses. Confusingly, the Oakleaf reproduction of the Ferriby boats was given a pointed bow and the Ferriby boats are described by the museum that houses them as having curved rocker bottoms, which sounds much the same as the Dover boat.
As part of the boat remains underground and there is no proof of the boat's overall shape and size, much speculation as to its total length and its shape has been made. The museum shows suggestions, but the boat could easily be little more than has been removed from the ground, or perhaps many metres longer.
The width of the boat is significant, being around 2 Metres wide it is much wider than dugout canoes of the time and can easily seat two people next to each other. It is wider than the Ferriby boats, for example.
The boat was constructed of oak planks, stitched together with yew withies and also fixed together with wooden wedges. This makes it similar to the Ferriby boats, which are also stitched planks. It is, however, quite different to the Must Farm dugouts, which are not only dug out of one trunk, but the smaller, lightweight ones are made of lighter linden trunks.
Conservation and re-assembly
Whilst in the ground the boat was significantly protected from being destroyed by waterlogging and a cover of silt which protected it from bacteria. After being removed from the ground the boat was kept in a waterlogged state at the Mary Rose Trust at Portsmouth. After a long process of preservation the boat returned to Dover Museum to be re-assembled in 1998.
The boat is displayed in a glass case as the centrepiece of a whole floor in the museum devoted to archeology. With the boat itself is a modern reconstruction of a section of the boat, to assist in the visitors interpretation of the boat itself. The display won an award in 2000 for archeological display.
First, a full-size three-metre section of the boat was built, experimenting with techniques etc. This is also housed in the Dover Museum with the original.
Then a half-size reconstruction of the Dover Boat was completed in Dover in 2012. Hopes to launch it at the time failed when the boat immediately shipped a lot of water, but the boat has nevertheless been touring around the Channel area in different countries and plans are well on their way to improve its seaworthyness.
The boat, initially named BC 1550 has since been officially named after one of its builders, Ole Crumlin-Pederson.
As of 2014, the boat has now been sailed out from Dover Harbour and was filmed for a Time Team Special for the UK Channel 4.
Reconstruction of a Ferriby boat in Falmouth
An almost full-size reconstruction of a sewn plank boat was created in the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, in 2012-13,and launched in March 2013. Unlike the Dover reconstruction, this boat was sailable, and was successfully paddled around Falmouth harbour, indicating that the technology represented by the Dover boat works well. For health and safety reasons, it has not yet been possible to take the boat onto the open sea.
- Ferriby Boats – comparable Bronze Age boats from Northern England
- http://www.ferribyboats.co.uk/ retrieved 19 September 2014
- http://www.dovermuseum.co.uk/Bronze-Age-Boat/Bronze-Age-Boat.aspx retrieved 19 September 2014
- Clark, P. 2004. The Dover Bronze Age Boat. Swindon: English Heritage.
- Dover Museum's website about the discovery, excavation, preservation and display of the boat
- Article describing story of discovery and extraction of boat in Archaeology magazine