In two separate articles this week, archaeologists revealed evidence of extraordinarily old seafaring -- Bronze Age, and Stone Age.
As reported in the Telegraph, the cargo from a 3,000-year-old shipwreck was discovered a few hundred yards off England's Devon coast. The find consists of 295 artifacts: 259 copper ingots, 27 tin ingots, a bronze sword, "two stone artefacts that could have been sling shots," and three gold wrist torcs (bracelets). No trace of the vessel itself has been found, and probably none ever will be, but the find gives clear evidence that sophisticated trade networks existed in Europe during the Bronze Age. The bronze ingots almost certainly came from the Continent, while the tin may have come from other parts of the Continent, or from elsewhere in Britain. Either way, the quantity of material is a clear indication that merchants were aggregating materials and trading in bulk over long distances by sea. The shipwreck, in a bay near Salcombe, may have occurred at the very end of a cross-Channel voyage, or in the midst of a coastal trip. (The photo, from the Telegraph, shows one of the gold torcs in situ.)
Regarding the boat itself, the article states, "experts believe it would have been up to 40ft long and up to 6ft wide, and have been constructed of planks of timber, or a wooden frame with a hide hull. It would have had a crew of around 15 and been powered by paddles." I'm not aware of evidence of true plank-built boats in Europe from the boat's estimated age of 900 BC, but the newspaper reporter may have been simplifying things. More likely, I think, would have been something similar to the Dover Bronze Age Boat, which I've written about previously. This was a transitional technology, between the dugout and the plank-built boat, in which logs where hewn into shapes that constituted longitudinal sections of a boat, then joined together with a combination of wedges and sewing with withies. Cross-Channel use of the Dover boat has been speculated, and now we see that Cross-Channel trade was in indeed process at a time not more than about 600 years after the Dover boat -- plenty of time for the elaborate trade networks to have been worked out.
But that's a mere yesterday compared to exciting but indirect evidence of European seafaring some 130,000 years ago! That's not a typo, and it's more than double the age of the previously earliest evidence of seafaring anywhere: that of the original settlers of Australia some 60,000 years ago. According to an article in the New York Times, archaeologists have found hundreds of stone tools on Crete that have been provisionally dated to at least 130,000 years old. Given what is known about sea levels at the time, the conclusion is that the people who first settled Crete must have done so by boat. Of course there's no direct evidence of the boats themselves, but they sure didn't swim! And what fun it is to speculate about the boats that our hominid ancestors were capable of conceiving and building with the simplest of tools.