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Three Bronze Age boats were discovered in Ferriby in the mid-1900s. Today, we look at why they are such significant finds in maritime archaeology.
In 1937, brothers Ted and Christopher Wright spotted three exposed oak planks poking out of the Humber foreshore at North Ferriby. Thanks to shifts in the tidal currents, the first of the Ferriby boats was found.
Originally, this antique vessel was thought to have been from the Viking era. However, after extensive analysis, it was confirmed that the remains dated back two and a half millennia.
The next 25 years would see the brothers discover two more ships. Each was around 16 metres long and built of strong oak planks.
The third vessel, Ferriby 3, is the eldest of the trio and in fact the oldest sewn-plank craft discovered in Europe.
Thanks to carbon dating, we now know that these boats were originally made and used between 2000 and 1800 BC.
It is thought that during this time there may have been a shipyard in North Ferriby. This is supported by the evidence of tools and other maritime artefacts close to the site.
The use of these boats is still heavily debated. Their structure points towards a suitability for travelling up and down the Humber trading and exchanging goods.
Nevertheless, a half-scale reconstruction suggests that these crafts were able to cross the North Sea, making them some of the first seafaring crafts.
This is why their discovery is so vital to maritime history. The sheer size and advanced technology of the ships led experts to reevaluate the whole of Bronze Age society.
The Ferriby boats were publicly acclaimed as Europe’s earliest sea craft in March 2001. This could mean that man was capable of crossing oceans more than 4,000 years ago.
Another explanation is that the boats were used for cross-channel trade, rather than travelling to the Continent.
In 2012, a full-scale and fully functional replica of the first Ferriby boat was built. This was the result of collaboration between the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and the University of Exeter.
The following year on 6 March, the boat launched and experimental archaeologists began to learn more about the age and capabilities of the craft.
Morgawr, as it was named, successfully sailed into Falmouth Harbour a week later. You can see this replica today outside the Cornish Museum. Meanwhile, small parts of the original vessels can be seen at Hull Maritime Museum.
Overall, the Wright brothers’ incredible discovery changed everything we knew about nautical heritage. If the Ferriby boats did cross the open seas, it could mean that our Bronze Age ancestors were a lot more technologically advanced than we first assumed.
You can find Hull Maritime Museum in Queen Victoria Square. Entry is free and the museum opens 10am-5pm Monday-Wednesday, 10am-7pm Thursdays, 10am-5pm Friday-Saturday and 11am-4:30pm Sundays.