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Neolithic people navigated the Mediterranean Sea using sophisticated boats

A study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, proposes that Neolithic communities living along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea utilised technologically sophisticated boats for travel and trade 7,000 years ago.

Archaeologists from the Spanish National Research Council, Barcelona, have conducted a study of canoes found at the Neolithic lakeshore village of La Marmotta, located near Rome, Italy.

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The researchers have identified that five recovered canoes were crafted from hollowed-out trees, utilising four distinct varieties of wood: Pinus sylvestris, Populus tremula, Quercus sp, Alnus sp, and Tilia sp.

According to the study, the canoes date from between 5700-5100 BC and indicate an advanced understanding of construction techniques such as transverse reinforcements.

One canoe is also associated with three T-shaped wooden objects, each with a series of holes that were likely used to fasten ropes tied to sails or other nautical elements.

Such features, along with reconstruction experiments, indicate that the canoes were seaworthy vessels, a conclusion supported by the presence of stone tools linked to nearby islands.

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Similarities between the canoes and more recent nautical technologies support the idea that many major advances in sailing were made during the early Neolithic. The authors suggest there may be more boats preserved near La Marmotta, a potential avenue for future research.

The authors add: “Direct dating of Neolithic canoes from La Marmotta reveals them to be the oldest in the Mediterranean, offering invaluable insights into Neolithic navigation. This study reveals the amazing technological sophistication of early agricultural and pastoral communities, highlighting their woodworking skills and the construction of complex vessels.”

Header Image Credit : Gibaja et al., 2024, PLOS ONE

Sources : PLOS ONE – Gibaja JF, Mineo M, Santos FJ, Morell B, Caruso-Fermé L, Remolins G, et al. (2024) The first Neolithic boats in the Mediterranean: The settlement of La Marmotta (Anguillara Sabazia, Lazio, Italy). PLOS ONE 19(3): e0299765. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0299765

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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