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Loddon Clinker Boat

During flood defence works, which involves excavating a large new soke dyke, one of the machine drivers was surprised to notice some timbers within the peaty soils. These looked to form part of a boat, so works were suspended in this area in order that an archaeological appraisal of the find could be made. Once confirmed it was a boat of some antiquity an archaeological excavation of the vessel was undertaken.

A small team of up to four people .. [were] on site for three weeks [in July and August] excavating and recording the boat, as well as investigating the soils around the boat. Initially the size and age of the boat was not known but as work ... progressed answers to the mystery of the abandoned boat ... [were revealed].

Now fully revealed the boat, which is made of hand sawn oak, can be seen to be a relatively small vessel about 6m long and 1.5m wide and comes to a point at both ends. The surviving part of the boat consists of a keel plank with four strakes on either side. Between the overlapping joints of the strakes animal hair and tar had been used as waterproofing. In the centre of the boat there is a setting for a mast. Wooden pegs, iron nails and copper alloy nails had been used in the construction of the boat.

Not all of the boat has survived as only two of the wooden frames were present, although rows of nails indicate that there were originally at least two other frames. It had also suffered some damage in the past, and may have been abandoned as it was no longer river worthy.

Constructing a boat was a difficult task. The skill of the boat builder was to create the shape entirely from the shapes of the planks used. The whole shell of boat planks was fixed together before the frames were added. These frames were cut from curved branches and shaped so that they exactly fitted the inner faces of the clinker built hull planks. It is unusual to find curved pieces that were the exact fit and correct shape for the boat, so the frames were usually made up of two or more pieces scarfed together. Unusually for a small boat the keel plank on this vessel was made of two pieces of timber scarfed together end to end. The presence of this scarf and the long scarfs on some of the planks suggests a skilled builder working with relatively inexpensive materials.

The date of the boat is not yet certain, but the shape of the boat along with the type of materials used and the construction techniques indicate a probable late medieval date (1400 to 1600). One artefact was recovered from within the boat. This was a knife of a type typically used during this period. Once the boat has been removed from the ground samples of the timbers will be taken and sent for tree-ring dating. If successful this will give a date for the felling of the trees which were used to construct the boat.

We cannot be entirely sure how the boat was propelled but it is likely to have been sailed and/or rowed or quanted along the river. Its thin planking and light frames suggests that it was never intended to carry heavy cargoes but it may have carried light produce, such as butter, eggs, chickens and vegetables down the Chet possibly taking them to market.

As well as looking at the boat itself the soils around the boat have been examined and have shown that the boat is within an old river channel. As the present River Chet runs in an artificially straightened course it is probable that boat sits within an old course of the River Chet or one of its earlier tributaries. Soil samples have been taken from the channel deposits which will be examined for pollen and other evidence which will indicate the type of environment through which the river flowed. Radiocarbon dating of these soils may also indicate the date at which the channel silted up, so burying the boat.

This is an extremely rare and important find. The preservation of wooden artefacts requires very particular conditions. In this instance the waterlogged condition of the peat marsh has preserved the wooden boat. No boats of this date have previously been found in Norfolk so this has been a unique opportunity to record and recover a vessel of this date and type. It is particularly significant being located within the Norfolk Broads. This area has had a strong reliance on water transport and related industries, particularly since the creation of the Broads by peat digging in the medieval period. The importance and significance of water transport continues through to the present day with the success of the modern leisure boat industry.

The recording of the boat has been completed and it will be removed from the site ... . As the frames and nails of the boat no longer hold securely together, the boat will be taken apart and removed timber by timber. These will taken to a temporary secure store, where they will remain in water, until being moved to a laboratory for conservation. It is hoped that, in the future, the boat can be reassembled and displayed.

Heather Wallis, Archaeologist



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