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The archaeology of the earliest seafaring. An integrated review of the western Mediterranean and the English Channel/North Sea

A Study Day at the French School of Rome, 20th March 2014.
Mar 20, 2014 from 10:00 AM to 08:00 PM (Europe/Paris / UTC100)
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The archaeology of maritime navigation has experienced an unprecedented dynamism in recent years. In the Mediterranean and on the shores of the English Channel and North Sea, exceptional discoveries now attest to travel across the seas of Europe. Archaeologists have long known the reality of the movement of people, goods and ideas by sea in ancient times. Thus the Neolithicisation of the western Mediterranean, like that of the British Iles, cannot be understood without sea travel. However, for a long time this has been inferred from the study of archaeological artefacts or cultural and social practices, without tangible 'evidence' that could be studied. The existence of Neolithic riverboats demonstrated an ancient craft expertise in this field but one that that could not be applied to the maritime domain.

Rock carvings in Northern Europe allowed us to guess at the shape of Bronze Age boats of the second millennium BC, but without supplying technical details. Some old discoveries of very poorly preserved sewn plank boats in the British Iles gave us a glimpse of the importance of marine woodworking. In the Mediterranean, a number of Bronze Age wrecks found on eastern shores confirmed the importance of navigation hinted at by texts and iconography, albeit still fragmentary and with a notable absence of finds from the western Mediterranean.

In more recent periods, richly documented by texts or iconography, seafaring remained archaeologically under-represented considering the importance it actually had, such as the Greek colonization of the Mediterranean. The information available was at the same time very stimulating because of the glimpses they provided, but also rather frustrating in terms of actual finds for the research community and the knowledge of the history of navigation in Europe.

The 1990s brought a new impetus with the discovery of abandoned vessels or wrecks in different parts of Europe of all periods: an exceptionally well preserved boat over nine metres long, dated to 1550 BC was discovered at Dover (England) in 1992; in Marseille, excavations at ‘la place Jules Verne’ in 1993 revealed two sunken archaic Greek vessels from the sixth century BC, also exceptionally well-preserved, we can also include the Ibero-Punic wrecks of seventh century BC from Mazarron (Spain). Today, more systematic attention is being paid to this type of find and new discoveries continue to enrich both the corpus of finds and their discussion. In this way, a late Bronze Age wreck has been discovered in Istria and nearly a dozen ancient Greek shipwrecks are now known which map out a whole section of the development of shipbuilding and pose new questions about navigation in the western Mediterranean.

Beyond scientific results, maritime archaeology raises the pressing question of the preservation of antiquities and the historic environment along with their access by the public.

At Dover as at Marseille, archaeologists adopted a very broad approach in difficult conditions: a rescue excavation, with tight deadlines, fragile materials, and extensive studies conducted by international teams; a desire to restore the original boat leading to an experimental approach based on seagoing replicas, a willingness to share the results of research and the presentation of the wrecks, after conservation, in a museum context.

In both cases, the research community came together in the context of large-scale projects, supported by national and international funding to meet the challenges

This event, held at the French School in Rome, aims to present the state of ancient maritime archaeology of the Bronze Age and the Archaic period in Northern Europe, the Western Mediterranean and the Adriatic, by way of an integrated view of a number of initiatives that are currently at different stages: the European project ‘BOAT 1550 BC’ comes to an end in June 2014; the ‘Protis’ project will see the launch of the replica Gyptis and its initial sea trials in the autumn of 2013; the project relating to the Xlendi wreck or the most recent discovery, in Istrie, the Bronze Age boat of Zambratija.

This meeting will be the opportunity to review not only results, historical lessons and new research perspectives, but also address questions of methodology in this type of research, notably the definition of protocols, the role of experimental archaeology and the methods of dissemination.

Program available soon.



Par-delà l'horizon, l'exposition archéologique multisensorielle, grand public et familiale...

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Galerie photographique

L'équipe du projet vous propose de retrouver des photographies du projet dans sa galerie Flickr.

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Qu'est-ce que BOAT 1550 BC ?

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BOAT 1550 BC est le nom du projet de valorisation lié à la découverte, en 1992 dans le port de Douvres, d'un très ancien bateau de l'Âge de bronze...

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