The worn remains of the canoes, which are more than 7,000 years old, only give an idea of ​​how extensive the knowledge of seafaring must have been in the Neolithic Age. The finds near Lake Bracciano, not far from the Italian capital Rome, indicate that people were sailing the Mediterranean in technically sophisticated boats thousands of years ago, as a team of researchers reports in the specialist journal “PLOS ONE”. The finds are also an indication that many important advances in seafaring were made during the Neolithic period.

During excavations in the historic village of La Marmotta on the shores of Lake Bracciano in the Lazio region, researchers found five canoes made from hollowed-out trees. They have been dated to between 5700 and 5100 BC. One of the boats is a large dugout canoe made of oak, more than ten meters long and a meter wide at the stern. Another dugout canoe was made of alder and was possibly a fishing boat, it was said.

The excavation site is now located in the town of Anguillara Sabazia. The analysis of the dugout canoes showed that they were built from four different tree species (poplar, alder, oak, beech). Since they were all found around La Marmotta, this is unusual. It also shows that they were made using relatively advanced construction techniques such as transverse reinforcements. They were probably made with specialized tools, including axes. In addition, the interior was probably hollowed out by burning out.

Location on Lake Bracciano enabled travel to the Mediterranean

La Marmotta is an important reference point for the study of historical seafaring: its location on Lake Bracciano made it possible to travel to the Mediterranean, as the lake is connected to the Tyrrhenian Sea, i.e. the part of the Mediterranean off Italy’s west coast, by the Arrone River. The researchers suspect that there are other boats preserved near La Marmotta that could be a possible starting point for future research.

According to the researchers, what is particularly special about the finds is the technical sophistication with which the boats were built. A series of holes were found in the dugout canoe, which was more than ten meters long and were probably used to attach ropes, possibly for sails. Building the boats must have required a detailed understanding of structural design and wood properties, as well as well-organized skilled labor, it was said. The dugout canoes are the oldest known in the Mediterranean region.

In the Neolithic, also known as the Neolithic period, farming communities began to spread across Europe and North Africa. The beginnings in the Middle East date back to around 10,000 BC, and communities from this region settled the entire Mediterranean around 7500 BC.

It is obvious that the Mediterranean was used for travel and transport, as boats made it possible to move quickly and exchange goods quickly, explains the team led by Juan Gibaja from the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona. Presumably people back then would have mainly taken short journeys along the coastline.