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Dates for Ferriby Boats, as at March 2001

In 1996, a piece of oak plank with carved features surviving on it for it to be recognised as a piece of boat plank of the type similar to the Ferriby trio was found by the Hull Natural History Society on the Holderness coast at Kilnsea. It had probably been washed from an exposure of clay deposits in an extinct tidal channel connected with the estuary of the ancient Humber. It was dated by the AMS method of radioactive assay to between 1870-1670 BC, that is several centuries earlier than the age previously estimated for the Ferriby Boats at about 1300 BC. The Ferriby Heritage Group, with funds given by the Sir James Reckitt Trust Charity, then commissioned a programme to obtain revised dates for the Ferriby Boats using the same AMS process partly as a check on the earlier radiocarbon dates and partly in the hope that the very precise AMS process might make it possible to separate the ages of the three finds from each other. Only two out of the three determinations, those for F1 and F2 proved successful so that the second objective was not achieved, but figures were announced in 1998 which gave date ranges of 1890-1700 BC for F1 and 1930-1750 BC for F2, marginally outdating that for the Kilnsea plank.

The small number of determinations were insufficient to satisfy the experts and English Heritage came into the picture to initiate and fund a more comprehensive study with financial support also from the Oxford AMS Unit. The results of this were released as part of their contribution to National Science Week at Hull and East Riding Museum in March 2001. These broadly confirmed the 1998 figures and these are shown in the table below with other comparable dates for sewn plank-built boats from the British Bronze Age, the latest first:-.

"Raft" from Brigg, Lincs. - C.800 BC
Plank from Goldcliff near Swansea - After 1017 BC (by tree-ring analysis)
Dover boat - 1575-1520 BC (or 1589 by tree-ring analysis)
Severn plank - C.1600 BC
Kilnsea plank - 1870-1670 BC
Ferriby 1 - 1880-1680 BC
Plank from Caldicott, Gwent - 1880-1690 BC
Ferriby 2 - 1940-1720 BC
Ferriby 3 - 2030-1780 BC

It is clear from this that boats with common characteristics were built and used in estuaries and coastal waters around Britain from Early Bronze Age times and may have survived for a thousand years or more thereafter into the Middle and Later Bronze Age. Study of the incomplete remains discovered has led to suggested reconstructions which are thought to be seaworthy enough to ply the seaways of the North Sea coasts and the English Channel. In the Early Bronze Age there is archaeological evidence for the appearance of goods in Britain of undoubted mainland origin such as central European bronze and Baltic amber. The theory is now being advanced that such overseas exchanges became possible through the existence of craft of this kind.

Copyright - Estate of Edward Wright deceased. As extracted from his booklet 'North Ferriby and the Bronze Age Boats'

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