In 2021, using a small plane, a team of Swiss archaeologists surveyed Lake Neuchâtel and spotted an unusual geometric shape in the water. Now, a well-preserved and intact 2,500-year-old wooden canoe has been recovered from the depths.

Lake Neuchâtel, situated in western Switzerland, has been inhabited for thousands of years by a host of diverse ancient civilizations. The range of Neolithic period and Bronze Age artifacts that have been discovered along its shores once belonging to survivalist communities who relied on the lake’s abundant resources for sustenance and trade.

Due to the area’s strategic location, the lake was a center of cultural exchange, and it served as a backdrop for the development of sophisticated ancient societies. Now, illustrating ancient life in the region, archaeologists have recovered “an extremely well-preserved boat”, an ancient canoe from Lake Neuchâtel.

Illustrating Ancient Life in a More Watery World

An article in The Swiss Reporter said the ancient boat was first spotted in 2021, during an aerial archaeological survey of the lake. Lodged in silt at around 3.5 meters (11.48 ft) deep, radiocarbon dating has determined that the canoe was built between 750 and 520 BC, at which time there were no villages on the lake shores.

At a recent press conference, Nicole Pousaz, a cantonal archaeologist, said a team of archaeologists from the Vaud canton’s archaeology department used “specialist techniques,” preparing the ancient canoe for salvage. Pousaz added that this is an archaeological discovery “of considerable importance,” as it increases the understanding of prehistory in this region of Switzerland.

Laser Blasting the Ancient Canoe

This discovery represents one of only a few boats dating from this period to have been found in Switzerland. Furthermore, this canoe has been preserved “almost in its entirety,” said Pousaz. Now, the canoe is being subjected to analysis by archaeologists, who are using photogrammetry and laser measurements to create a 3D model of the craft, to visualize what it would have looked like when fully operational.

Archaeologist Jean-Daniel Renaud told the Keystone-SDA press agency that the canoe was constructed from an oak trunk measuring about 13 meters (42.65 ft) long by about a meter (3.28 ft) in diameter. In her hay-day, this large canoe would have been used for fishing, and for transporting goods and people. However, Renaud said that after around 2,500-years buried in silt, the vessel “is a very sickly old lady.”

The Largest and Best Preserved

While this ancient boat is mainly intact, parts of its sides have been lost to storms. Furthermore, the end of the canoe that was buried in the sediment was “badly cracked,” and this is why Renaud called the artifact “a very fragile object [or old lady].” But despite these flaws, Swiss Info reported that the find “is the largest and most well-preserved canoe from this period to be found in the country,” and as such it will be important in providing archaeologists with data pertaining to lifestyles on the lake during the Iron Age.

While this canoe is attracting the interest of news outlets today, it is by no means a unique discovery in Switzerland. One of the most famous ancient watercrafts discovered in Switzerland is the “La Tène Boat,” which also dates back to the Iron Age (around 400-250 BC). Recovered from Lake Neuchâtel in the late 19th century, and carved from a single oak trunk, so too does this boat highlight the advanced boatbuilding skills of Lake Neuchâtel’s ancient cultures.

It would be wrong to leave an article such as this without mention of the “Horgen Boat,” which dates to the Neolithic era (around 3300 BC). Discovered in Lake Zürich, this is one of the oldest-known dugout canoes ever discovered in Europe. All these ancient boats reflect Iron Age people’s reliance on water for transportation, and they offer new insights into the lost skills that were utilized to harvest natural resources for sustenance, travel, and trade.

Top image: Archaeologists have found an ancient canoe in Lake Neuchâtel. This find holds significant importance in advancing our knowledge of the region’s prehistory.        Source: Cantonal Archeology of Vaud

By Ashley Cowie





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