Wooden ship may date from Stone Age: Excavators in Dover may have found the world's oldest sea-going vessel. David Keys reports

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The Independent Online
A WOODEN ship discovered in Dover 23ft below street level late last month, may date from the Stone Age.

Calculations of sea level changes since prehistoric times suggest that the 40 to 45ft long vessel may have been built as long ago as 2000 BC - towards the end of the Neolithic Period. It was found beneath the remains of a Roman quay.

So far 30ft of the craft has been uncovered, at the site of the A20 extension in the centre of the town. Half has been lifted by archaeologists and the remaining 15ft will be rescued this weekend, but the 10 to 15ft section which has not yet been uncovered may be left where it is. Eventually, the remains that are removed will go on display at Dover Museum.

Engineers at the dig, which is backed by English Heritage and the Department of Transport, are evaluating the feasibility of excavating this latter section - but risks to surrounding buildings may rule out further digging.

The approximate age of the ship should be known early next week when radio carbon dating tests are carried out at Cambridge University. Archaeologists are also speculating that a second ship - or possibly a landing stage or the stilts of a lake village may lie adjacent to the ship.

Piles used to construct a 23ft high coffer dam to protect the excavation have hit a large prehistoric timber structure. Excavations over the weekend should reveal what this is.

Large numbers of flint flakes, animal bones and a stone hammer have been found around the boat and almost certainly originate from a nearby settlement.

Archaeologists from Canterbury Archaeological Trust have now found what they believe to be the vessel's punt style stern.

The craft was probably 10ft wide, 45ft long and 3ft deep. Remnants of a possible wicker deck or shipboard platform have also been found. It would have carried up to five tons of cargo and been propelled by paddlers.

Opinion is divided on whether the vessel, which was abandoned on the shore of a prehistoric lagoon or estuary, was sea-going. If so, it is the oldest sea-going vessel found in a well-preserved condition anywhere in the world.

(Photograph omitted)