Press releases and latest news

Replica Bronze Age boat struggles to stay afloat

15 May 2012

A critical stage of an extraordinary multi-national archaeological research project took place at Dover Harbour on Saturday 12 May 2012, but unfortunately things didn't quite go to plan.

Boat 1550 BC is placed into the water at Dover Harbour
Boat 1550BC is placed into the water at Dover Harbour

‘BOAT 1550 BC’, a project supported by the European Union (through its Interreg IV A ‘2 Seas’ programme), brings together seven partners from France, Belgium and Britain. Canterbury Christ Church University and Canterbury Archaeological trust play key roles in the project, with the University leading the educational activities.

The public launching ceremony saw the replica of the Dover Bronze Age Boat placed onto the sea for the first time, however sadly the seams of the boat began to take on water and it failed to stay afloat.

Despite disappointed faces and a crowd of onlookers, including Tony Robinson from Channel 4 documentary series, Time Team, the Boat was instead hoisted out of the water and displayed on Dover promenade on a trailer.

The half scale replica has been built by a team of specialist archaeologists for the past three months on the Roman Lawn at Dover Museum, just metres away from the underpass where the Bronze Age Boat was discovered in 1992. The boat had lain hidden for more than 3500 years deep under the centre of Dover and sparked several frantic days of rescue excavations to save it from destruction.

Boat 1550 BC has been built by a team of specialist archaeologists
Boat 1550 BC has been built by a team of specialist archaeologists

The ‘BOAT 1550 BC’ replica has been carefully replicated by expert archaeologists using replica Bronze Age tools thought to have been used during the initial construction over 3500 years ago. The build has taken place on the grounds of the museum where the now fully conserved vessel is housed in its own special environmentally-controlled gallery.

This piece of experimental archaeology will teach the team a great deal about the technology and capability of the Dover boat, one of the great archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century and a symbol of the close cultural links that existed between peoples on either side of the English Channel three and a half millennia ago.

Boat 1550 BC will now form part of an international touring exhibition
Boat 1550 BC will now form part of an international touring exhibition

Despite the set-back, the boat will still be taken to France, where it will form the centrepiece of a major multilingual, international exhibition ‘Beyond the Horizon: Societies of the Channel and North Sea 3,500 years ago’, which opens in Boulogne-sur-Mer on 30th June 2012, before moving to Belgium on the 16th December 2012 and to Dover on 1st July 2013.

Dr Anne Lehoërff, of the University of Lille 3 and chief co-ordinator of the project commented on the importance of the launch for the project: ‘The BOAT 1550 BC project is an exceptional opportunity to share the results of the most recent archaeological research in the Transmanche region with the public and in particular with children.  The boat is a material symbol of a very ancient community that we have the chance to bring back to life in our three countries.  The launch of the boat is a highlight of the project, an icon of the renaissance of these early connections’.

Talking prior to the launch, joint project leader and Canterbury Archaeological Trust Deputy Director, Peter Clark, said: “This is a red letter day for the people of Dover and indeed for all the communities living on either side of the English Channel.  For the first time in over thirty centuries a boat of Bronze Age design will ply the waters off the coast of Dover, giving us a glimpse of the kind of vessel that helped bind the peoples on either coast into a single community three and a half millennia ago.

“Already we have learnt so much about the technological skills and sophistication of our Bronze Age ancestors by building the boat, and by launching it into the sea we hope to learn even more.”

Accompanying the exhibition will be an ambitious programme of educational activities and public outreach, aimed at increasing awareness of the common cultural heritage in the three countries.  Teachers in France, Belgium and England are working closely together to deliver a wide range of events, involving classroom projects, competitions, public lectures and academic conferences among many other initiatives. The project is intended to capture the popular imagination of those living in the ‘Transmanche’ region, especially children and young people, and inspire them to explore our shared ancient past and common heritage.

William Stow, Head of Postgraduate Initial Teacher Education at Canterbury Christ Church University, which is part of the international team focusing on education, said: “Seeing the replica boat even just placed into the water in Dover, just metres from where it was originally found, is still a significant moment for history and archaeology in Dover and the region.

“The University is delighted to be involved in such an important project for people in this area, especially children who will be able to learn about vital parts of Bronze Age history through specially designed educational Bronze Age kits, including replica Bronze Age objects and original finds.”

The series of events will take place throughout 2012 when the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the boat takes place. 

Spanning three countries, the seven partners involved in the project include: the University of Lille 3 and the Maison européenne des sciences de l’homme et de la société (France), acting as Lead Partner, the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (UK), l’Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (France), Canterbury Christ Church University (UK), the University of Ghent (Belgium), the Conseil général du Pas-de-Calais (France) and the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer (France).

The project has also benefited from the financial support of the Conseil regional of Nord-Pas-de-Calais in France.

Visit http://boat1550bc.meshs.fr/for more information on the project.

Notes to Editor

Notes to editors

I. Canterbury Christ Church University

Established in 1962, Canterbury Christ Church University has about 20,000 students spread over a number of sites. Archaeology is taught in collaboration with other institutions in Kent, notably the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. CCCU has long-standing links with Canterbury Archaeological Trust through the Faculties of Education and Arts and Humanities. The university has flourishing links with universities, national governments and nongovernment organisations across the world and has a long track-record of partnership on research and development work funded by the European Union.

II. LILLE 3 /MESHS

Founded in 1896, the University of Lille was divided into three campuses in 1968: Lille 1 (Science and Technology); Lille 2 (Law and Medicine) and Lille 3 (Arts and Humanities), with around 65,000 students. The site of Lille 3 has around 18,000 students and over 800 teachers providing a very diverse range of courses and international collaborations with over 120 universities worldwide. Archaeology has been taught since its inception, though it has diversified considerably. A ‘Learning Centre’ focussed on Egyptology and Archaeology should soon see the light of day.

III. Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Created in 1975 with around 55 staff, the principal purpose of CAT as set out in its Memorandum and Articles of Association is ‘to promote the advancement of public education in field of archaeology’. The Trust is committed to maintaining the highest possible standards of archaeological knowledge and actively engaging all sectors of the community in its work so that the citizens of Kent as well as visitors from elsewhere may enrich their quality of life through a better appreciation of our mutual heritage. CAT carried out the excavation of the boat in Dover in 1992.

V. INRAP

Established in 2002 under legislation relating to preventive archaeology (2001), INRAP has over 2,000 employees.The Institute ensures, at a national level, the detection and study of archaeological heritage affected by planning development. It disseminates information to the scientific community and contributes to cultural diffusion and the promotion of archaeology to the public. It also collaborates in a number of international projects. Since the development of preventive archaeology, INRAP has carried out a large number of interventions in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais which has revitalised our understanding of the region’s history.

VI. University of Ghent

Created in 1817, with 32 000 student, the Ghent university has more than 130 departments across 11 faculties, offering high-quality research-based educational programmes in virtually every scientific discipline. Every year Ghent University issues more than 8,500 internationally recognised Bachelor’s diplomas, Master’s diplomas, post-graduate diplomas and approximately 430 doctoral degrees. Archaeology in Ghent has an important place in Flanders with different collaborations in Europe with archaeologists and Universities

VII. Conseil general du Pas-de-Calais

The Departmental Centre for Archaeology was established in 1986 as part of the Conseil Général du Pas-de-Calais. With a staff of 29, the centre works for the conservation and enhancement of the department’s archaeological heritage, including a very active programme of outreach with schools and the public. Since 2007, when it received its license for preventive archaeology, it has concentrated on the survey, study and promotion of the archaeological heritage affected by planning development.

VIII. Ville de Boulogne-sur-Mer

Boulogne museum was established in 1825 and moved in 1988 to the old Count’s Castle, a listed historical building. The château Musée of Boulogne-sur-Mer has the status of museum in France ; as such, it has a responsibility to conserve, restore, study and enrich its collections. Antiquities and local archaeology are displayed in temporary exhibitions mounted regularly. These events always include an outreach element which ensures equal access for all to culture. The archaeological service of the town, established in 1990, carries out excavation programmes, publishes the results and works closely with the museum in organising exhibitions.

For media enquiries:

Katie Scoggins
01227 782826