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Vessel Offers Insight Into Life 7,000 Years Ago : Danes Study Clues From Ancient Boat

Reuters

Danish experts have started on the jigsaw puzzle of a lifetime--piecing together the remains of a 7,000-year-old Stone Age fishing boat, the oldest vessel to be discovered in Scandinavia.

The dugout boat, 16 feet long and two feet wide, was accidentally discovered last year by divers in shallow waters off Korshavn, on the Danish Baltic island of Funen.

The boat, found in an area where Stone Age flint tools and signs of ancient settlements abound, is giving scientists and historians a valuable insight into life in paleolithic Europe.

Its paddles and ballast stone have been recovered, along with evidence of a stone fireplace with clay insulation at the stern, a typical feature of Stone Age dugouts.

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Traveling With Fire

“Stone Age Danes took their fire with them when they traveled--just like red Indians,” said Tinna Damgaard-Soerensen, curator in charge of the project.

“There are also indications of moss deposits on the boat, possibly used as fuel for a fire which served as an aid on nocturnal spear-fishing expeditions in Denmark’s misty pre-historic era,” she said in a recent interview.

“Dugout boats have been found in other sites used as graves, so they may have also had a religious significance,” she added.

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The Danish boat, which would have been hollowed out by flint axes and deer antler chisels, is long, slender, and built of limewood. It was used for hunting, fishing and trade between coastal settlements.

It has a pointed bow and a board inserted on its cut-off stem to form a bulkhead.

Sea Level Rose

The sea level in Denmark rose in the 5th Century BC as a result of a milder climate melting Ice Age glaciers, flooding large stretches of land and submerging the Korshavn settlement, which is now under six feet of water.

The excavation of the Korshavn boat was carried out using a revolutionary “deep-freeze” method of salvaging.

An underwater frame was dug by divers on the seabed and liquid nitrogen pumped into the dug-out through copper pipes to freeze the craft.

The boat was coated in this way with ice, before it was raised to the surface in a block of deep-frozen seabed.

Storm Damages Frame

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A freak summer storm damaged the frame and shattered the boat only hours before it was due to be raised last year, and divers were forced to bring it up in hundreds of small chunks, an operation which took a whole day.

The intricate task of piecing together the fragments of toffee-like wood soaked in polyethyline for preservation purposes is being carried out by conservation experts at Denmark’s National Museum in Copenhagen.

The project is expected to take three years to complete, throwing invaluable light on the boat building techniques of Denmark’s Stone Age hunters.

More than 250 ancient hollowed-out vessels have been found in Denmark, but the Korshavn boat is the oldest, carbon-dated back to 5,250 BC.

One Older Craft

Only one other old craft in Europe--the Pesse dugout on show at Assens in the Netherlands-- is older, dating to 6,200 BC, but the Dutch boat is only half the length of the Korshavn find.

“It is incredible to think that the Korshavn boat was already 3,000 years old when the Ancient Egyptians were building the pyramids,” Damgaard-Soerensen said.

“It is amazing that it has survived for more than 7,000 years in Denmark’s harsh climate. Time has naturally left its mark on the vessel, the wood is mainly rotten, making the task of preserving the vessel exceedingly complex for the conservation workers.”

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