Sunday, 14 February 2010

Bronze Age shipwreck (Salcombe Devon)

A Bronze Age shipwreck has been discovered near Salcombe, Devon. It appears to have been carrying tin and copper as part of an international trading network. Dated to 900BCE this is a key archaeological discovery by the SW Maritime Archaeological Group, now being assessed at Oxford.

Fascinating - but yet again the dominant influence of sea and rivers in the shaping of early cultures is distorted. In this case we have experts saying wow! we need to recognise that people were boating around really quite early.
From what I've read the structure of the ship is based on generalised guesswork as nothing has yet been brought up of the actual ship.

The guesswork suggests a prehistoric canoe or curragh, of lightweight wooden construction. Paddles are mentioned but not sails. But even quite a narrow boat (estimated at 40ft long and 6ft wide) would have had at least small sails. There's no way it could have crossed from France purely on musclepower: well it could have but it would have needed a lot more than 15 sailors to provide power. Why do it with wind to help?

The issue that really annoys me is how experts speak of a maritime or water based trade network as if this is such a weird idea.

Land based travel networks are an anachronism when looking at ancient or indeed early history. Until the invention of railways only properly in use about 160 yrs ago, land travel was slow, expensive and risky. Narrow lumpy tracks, with trees on each side to conceal robbers were extremely inefficient. A few empires with great effort kept roads open cutting back on undergrowth to each side. But this was in recorded history, and even then exceptional.

The travel of choice would have been water, which was fast (under sail) and in skilled hands relatively risk free.

Our whole idea of geography is skewed by modern land travel. Cultures spread along coasts and river banks, with other cultures of a very different type clustered inland. A powerful example of water based culture is the Celtic Crescent which stretches from the Hebrides across Ireland and Wales, Cornwall, north west France, around the coast of Spain and into north Africa and southern France.

In these regions we find common language roots, common legends, similar music/ instruments, and shared philosophy e.g. not representing the gods in art.

Curraghs/ coracles were tough boats and coastal peoples would have early got skilled at navigation. Start thinking of the sea and large rivers as like modern motorways and cultural boundaries start to look very different.


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