Radar scans reveal Viking boat beneath pub car park

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The Independent Online

In 1938, a labourer building a pub car park in Wirral unearthed part of an old boat 3 metres below ground. His foreman told him to cover it up quickly, because an archaeological dig would have slowed down construction, costing time and money. Nearly 70 years later, investigators are finally close to solving the mystery of the vessel. Radar scans have revealed the outline of a what appears to be a Viking boat beneath the car park of the Railway Inn at Meols. The only other known examples in Britain were unearthed at Balladoole on the Isle of Man and Sanday in Orkney.

John McRae, the builder who discovered the boat in 1938, told the story to his family. Before he died in 1991, his son asked him to describe the proportions of what he had seen, which he turned into a sketch. He sent the details to archaeologists at Liverpool University, who put them on record. When the pub's owner sought planning permission for a new patio, details of the buried boat emerged. The landlord mentioned the discovery to a police officer, Tim Baldock, who in turn contacted Stephen Harding, an expert on the Viking settlement which once covered much of the Wirral peninsula. Mr Baldock and Mr Harding organised a radar scan of the area, using the McRae sketch as a guide, which revealed a "boat-shaped anomaly" buried in waterlogged blue clay, which preserves wood and which ensured the survival of the few Viking vessels found in Norway.

Mr McRae was sure he had dug up a clinker boat with overlapping planks, which would date it from the Viking era or later. Dr Knut Paasche, of the University of Oslo, has examined the scan and believes the vessel may well be a "six faering", a six-oared boat which could carry 12 people. Mr Baldock said he hoped to persuade archaeologists to conduct a more detailed investigation and possibly a dig.

Wirral was an independent Viking mini-state in the 10th century. Many Viking place names remain, including Thingwall – the name of the parliament.