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The Dover Bronze Age Boat, when first discovered in 1992 during a road-building scheme and construction of an underpass, sparked several frantic days of rescue excavations to save it from destruction.

It was dated as being some 3500 years old (cue museum curator joke “I guess that makes it 3521 years old now then”). 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 (upon which the recent Falmouth Log Boat reconstruction was based).

Unfortunately, as the remains of the boat continued under a nearby building, the entire boat could not be rescued as part of the excavation, leading to speculation as to it’s true size. In total 9.5 metres of boat were excavated for preservation. At it’s widest point, the boat was 2 metres wide, ample room for two rowers to sit abreast.

In its buried situation, the boat was in an anaerobic environment, which meant that the wood was largely preserved. However, once uncovered, like the timbers of the Mary Rose and the ‘Seahenge’ timber circle,  the wood started to decompose.

However, this process seems to be well understood, the timbers were kept in a waterlogged state and shipped to the Mary Rose Trust  in Portsmouth for conservation. The preserved timbers were eventually returned to Dover for reassembly and display in 1998.

In March of 2012, a project was launched to build a half-sized replica of the boat, using mainly tools which would have been available at the time of the original (1550 BCE). Sadly, unlike the Falmouth project which launched successfully in 2013, the Dover boat did not fare so well.  It would seem that the Falmouth project learned valuable lessons from the Dover experience.

The Dover Boat Reconstruction in progress

The Dover Boat Reconstruction in progress

The replica boat has since been ‘on tour’ in museums in France and Belgium, but has now returned to the UK where a Kickstarter project has recently been launched to raise funds to enable the replica to be ‘reworked’ to make it more watertight. The project will only be funded if at least £5,000 is pledged by Wednesday Jul 31, so visit the Kickstarter page, watch the video and make your pledge!

The eventual hope is to see it ply along the Kent coast, and possibly even across the Channel, as it no  doubt used to do all those years ago. A new exhibition ‘Beyond the Horizon’ has also opened recently in Dover Museum. It celebrates the cross-channel connections of 3,500 years ago, when the coastal communities in Kent probably had far more in common with communities on the other side of the channel than with most of the rest of Britain.

Update: The original goal of £5000 funding pledges has now been reached, with more than a week to go to the end of the funding period. Additional ‘stretch’ goals have now been added, with additional benefits for funders if these new goals are reached. See the KickStarter page for current details . 

Useful links:
Wikipedia article
Current Archaeology magazine article
Canterbury Trust publication


July 2013

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