A boat from the High Middle Ages unearthed near Bordeaux

It is a rare archaeological find of its kind. A wreck whose origins date back to the VIIe and VIIIe centuries, according to radiocarbon dating. One of the only two copies of this type dating from this period found in France. A discovery that could say a lot about the modes of navigation of the time, a subject about which we still know little.

The wreckage was found in 2013 in the town of Villenave-d’Ornon (Gironde) near Bordeaux, at the site of an old stream that led to the Garonne. A diagnosis was carried out on this site by the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), in anticipation of a vast real estate project. “The boat quickly emerged as a major relic that needed to be excavated and cleared”, says Laurent Grimbert of Inrap. The archaeologist was then designated as responsible for the excavations. Work began in 2019, but was interrupted by the collapse of site infrastructure. They resumed in April 2022.

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The treasure, which was presented to the press on Tuesday June 14, has since finally been unearthed: a boat preserved in remarkable condition over 12 of its approximately 15 meters of original length. Covered in sediment and silt, it was spared contact with oxygen, heat and light which would have led to its degradation. “The main obstacle to the conservation of the boat, now, is us, who degrade it by searching it, explains Mr. Grimbert. That’s why we have to move quickly and complete the operations in September. »

An uncertain fate

The structure of the boat shows a sturdy sailboat, capable of supporting heavy loads. It was able to navigate maritime areas, presumably for the transport of goods. But its origins remain obscure. Written sources testifying to this period are rare. “We will try to find other similar examples in Europe in comparable areas of influence or similar chronological periods to see if we can see any clues”says the head of the excavations.

The species of wood used and the manufacturing technique of the sailboat could be associated with certain populations of the time

The other major clues will come from the dismantling of the boat which is in progress. “Each piece of wood that we dismantle gives us different information, supports Laurent Grimbert. That’s why it’s exciting. » The species of wood used and the manufacturing technique of the sailboat could, for example, be associated with certain populations of the time. A few telltale objects were also found during the disassembly, including pieces of ceramics, animal bones, a wooden spoon and a piece of leather.

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