20th anniversary of the discovery of the Dover Bronze Age Boat

This article is by Ray Duff, first published on the Hawkinge Gazette local news website

The 20th anniversary of the discovery of an ancient boat from 1550BC was marked at Dover Museum in September 2012.

Commemorations took place on the day (28 September) and at the Museum on Saturday when a Family Open Day was held and Dr Peter Clark delivered the last of a series of lectures about the historic craft.

At the talk, Dr Clark recounted how in 1992, archaeologist Dr Keith Parfitt, of Canterbury Archaeology Trust, was on site during the redevelopments in Dover beside Bench St and A20 with a watching brief in the deep pit at the road junctions. Almost at the point of leaving he was watching the base sediments drain out when the first signs of a wooden structure were seen. Several urgent phone calls were made and other archaeologists rushed to the site.

Over that weekend the existence of something extraordinary began to appear; between the pit filling with seawater at high tides; this being what was later identified as the remains of a large wooden (oak) built boat dating to the Bronze Age around 1550BC. The eventual excavation, in sections, of this boat was followed by the battle to have it displayed in a purpose built museum area in Dover.

Its discovery and further researching also greatly helped changed the perceptions of early peoples activities across the Channel all across Europe.

Before its discovery there was little attention paid to what happened on the channel coast. In the UK studies tended to concentrate on inland sites and in France, the studies ignored Britain..
On the back of this momentous discovery though, over the last twenty years much more has been discovered and investigated about this history of travel and trade across the Channel.

This includes that the base of the original boat was covered in a layer of glauconitic crystals which form the ‘green’ basis of Greensand. This rock is only found locally at Copt Point, Folkestone beside what has now been identified, at East Cliff, as a series of ancient settlements and likely trading port.

Corn-grinding stones, called ‘Quernstones’, are known to have been hewn from Copt Point and have been found both around the UK and across on the continent. This suggests the Bronze Age boat, and others like it, may well have transported them across the Channel and around the coast along with other goods and people as well.

Dr Clark then related that after much discussion and following all the discoveries the building of a half sized replica was undertaken and this was launched earlier in 2012. The replica boat is now on display at Boulogne Museum, in the castle.

The tale of the difficulties of just getting the replica into the castle and hall for exhibition are now rather legendary in themselves; but in November it will be moving to Oudenard for another exhibition over the winter period. The replica boat returns to Dover next year for exhibition and possible further touring, after final adjustments to allow it to be taken to sea as originally intended.

Details of the replica boats return and related activities in 2013 will be announced nearer the date, but in the meantime everyone is invited to see the original and other artefacts that are always on display at Dover Museum.

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