Discovery of Saxon Aged Canoe (edited version)
Written for the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society Newsletter
by Heather Wallis, Archaeologist
Major flood defence works, which are subject to an archaeological watching brief, are being undertaken along the Rivers Ant, Bure, Thurne, Yare and Waveney. This involves the excavation of new dykes up to 18m wide and 3m deep. In July 2010, during the excavation of one such dyke near Ludham Bridge, one of the machine drivers realised that he had pulled part of a wooden boat from the ground. He reported this find immediately. [Soon] plans were put in place for an excavation to uncover, record and lift any other remains of the boat. Over a period of 12 days in August [of that year] a small team[of archaeologists) worked hard through the sun, rain and mud to achieve this end.
The boat proved to be 3m long in total and had been created out of a single trunk of oak. It was in remarkably good condition and, until disturbed, had survived complete. Tool marks were clearly visible, and initial inspection suggests little wear to both the inside and outside of the hull. The stern or transom of the boat had been carved as one with the rest of the boat.
The excavation revealed that the boat lay within a small creek, or channel, to the south of the River Ant. The line of this was identified by augering and close inspection of the dyke sides. The boat appeared to lay at an angle across the creek and, therefore, would have caused an obstruction within it. Fascinatingly a number of animal bones were also retrieved from the site. Skulls of horse, cow and deer were found within the spoil removed during the dyke digging (prior to excavation) and further animal bones, found during the excavation, appear to be stratigraphically associated with the deposition of the boat. The ‘blocking’ of the creek with the boat, and the deposition of animal skulls, perhaps leads to the question as to whether this was a ‘structured’ deposit; perhaps a ‘closing’ deposit within a rapidly silting creek. It is hoped that examination of the environmental indicators such as pollen, insects and macrofossils will show the environment within which the boat was deposited and perhaps throw some light on its interpretation.
Throughout the excavation the date of the boat was unknown. Examination of the tool marks on the vessel could do no more than indicate it was constructed by narrow blade technology which was used from the Bronze Age through to the medieval period. Since then two samples of wood have been radiocarbon dated. One came from a position stratigraphically earlier than the boat and returned a date of Cal AD 650-780 while the other was from the upper deposits of the silted creek and was dated to Cal DA 890-1020, indicating a Middle to Late Saxon date for the boat.
This is a rare find, only 12 records of boats (of all dates) exist in the Norfolk Historical and Environmental Records and of these most relate to finds made in the 19th and early 20th-centuries. Several of these reports are of dubious quality. Only three are of logboats of which just one survives.
Since the excavation, the boat has been moved to York Archaeological Trust where it will be fully recorded and conserved.
The archaeological team comprised Heather Wallis, Sarah Bates, Mick Boyle, Giles Emery and John Percival. Richard Darrah provided information on wood technology.
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