Historic find in the heart of the Broads

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have hailed the "once-in-a-lifetime" discovery of a three-metre wooden vessel in the heart of the Norfolk Broads which could yield fresh clues about how our ancestors lived their lives.

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have hailed the “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery of a three-metre wooden vessel in the heart of the Norfolk Broads which could yield fresh clues about how our ancestors lived their lives.

Workmen carrying out flood defence work at Ludham, near Great Yarmouth on the River Ant between Horning Hall and Browns Hill unearthed the boat, which could date back to the Anglo-Saxon era or as far back as the Iron Age, while using a mechanical digger to clear the area.

The oak boat, which was in two pieces and could carry up to three people, was discovered in silt clay in July and now tests are being carried out to determine its precise age.

Also found beside it were five animal skulls, sparking speculation that the vessel was used in a ritualistic ceremony commonly carried out in the Iron Age. Scientists believe the vessel could provide vital archaeological clues about the way our forebears lived, worked, and traded in the area and are particularly excited by the find because it is the first time they have been able to carry out a detailed examination of such a well-preserved craft found in Norfolk using modern recording and dating techniques.

And such is the well-preserved condition of the boat that there are hopes it could form the centrepiece of an exhibition at Norwich Castle Musuem.

James Albone, archaeological officer from the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, said: “It is a very exciting discovery. You would not expect to find such a well-preserved boat in your career.

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“It is too early to say what era it is from. There are a lot of scientific tests that need to be carried out, including carbon dating.”

A series of scientific tests are now being carried out to find the age of the boat which could be from 1,000BC to 600AD - from the Iron Age to the time of the Anglo-Saxons.

After the boat was carefully excavated from 2m of silt clay it was taken to the York Archaeological Trust where preservation work and extensive dating tests, including soil and pollen dating, will be carried out to pinpoint the age of the boat which could date from

The discovery is the third major archaeological find in the region during the last few months, with evidence of a human settlement from up to 970,000 years ago being found at Happisburgh, near Cromer, and Iron Age timber posts unearthed in the Geldeston Marshes.

It is hoped the two pieces of the boat can be fitted together so it can eventually go on display at the Norwich Castle Museum.

The boat was found by workmen from Broadland Environmental Services as they carried out flood alleviation work on the Broads as part of a 20 year �120m Environment Agency protection project.

Heather Wallis, the project's archaeological expert, who was the first expert on the scene, said: “It is very, very rare to find a boat in such a preserved state like this anywhere in the country.

“There is a possibility it is from the Iron Age but then again it could easily be from the Anglo-Saxon period.

“Personally I hope it is from the Iron Age.

“The boat could have been used for fishing but at 3m long it could have been used to transport three people.”

As well as finding out the age of the boat it is hoped scientific tests will solve the reason why five skulls were found by the boat.

If the boat is from the Iron Age the skulls could have been placed by it as part of a funeral ritual.

Alternatively, they could be waste from part of a settlement.

The 20-year flood alleviation project, which is now at its halfway stage, has been key to a number of significant finds.

In July 2006 at the River Waveney by Beccles workman found timber posts thought to be 4,000 years old and part of an ancient walkway or boundary marker.

Three months ago three parallel rows of vertical oak posts were discovered in the Geldeston Marshes which were believed to be from the Iron Age.

Paul Mitchelmore, Environment Agency flood allieviation project manager, said: “This boat is the latest in a number of remarkable finds on the project.

“Everybody on the project was totally fascinated by the find.

“We are pleased the Environment Agency has been able to uncover items which contribute to the knowledge of the rich history of the area.”

In July the EDP reported how a set of archaeological finds at Happisburgh has rewritten the history books as artefacts and fossils showed humans lived up to 100,000 years more there than earlier thought - between 800,000 and 970,000 years ago.