Friday, 5 March 2010


What then did the announcement that was made in the middle of last month that marine archaeologists had been working on what is left of a Bronze Age vessel that was wrecked off Salcombe have to do with our Estuary? This wreck has been billed as ‘one of the world’s oldest’. The long boat, not a longboat, foundered, so they believe , three thousand years ago. She was big enough to have a crew of perhaps fifteen and to carry the 259 copper and 27 tin ingots that have been recovered. This has led to the usual ooh aahing to the effect that prehistoric men were so very much more ‘sophisticated’ than we thought. And so it would seem.

Of the vessel itself there is next to nothing to be salvaged and if she had not been laden with the vital ingredients for making bronze she would probably never have been ‘discovered’. Such a boat carrying fabrics or furniture or passengers or beasts would have left next to no trace. The metal on board had been collected from several different sources in Europe and, according to a Telegraph column, it ‘provides new evidence about the extent and sophistication of Britain’s links with Europe in the Bronze Age as well as the remarkable seafaring abilities of the people during the period.’

What has this to do with our Estuary? Well, if such trading boats were being paddled across the Channel into local waters it seems likely that the people of the Exe were in on the deal. Woodbury Castle was originally a Bronze Age fortress. A bronze axe head was found in Woodbury; a Bronze Age sword was found on Exmouth beach and there are a dozen tumuli or round barrows between the castle and the Estuary to establish that, here and then, many men were living and dying. No doubt they were also trading.

It would seem that Professor Hoskins’ much challenged idea that cross Channel traders came up the Exe three centuries before Christ might need to be set back a further six or seven hundred years.

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