Over 7,000 years ago, people were navigating the Mediterranean Sea using technologically sophisticated boats, according to a groundbreaking study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The research, led by Juan F. Gibaja from the Spanish National Research Council and his colleagues, sheds new light on the history of maritime technology and the early civilizations that thrived along the Mediterranean coast.

The Neolithic period, marked by the rise of farming and settled communities, saw a significant increase in travel and trade across the Mediterranean. Evidence of this maritime activity can be found in the archaeological record, with the presence of settlements on coasts and islands, as well as the remains of ancient boats.

Gibaja and his team focused their study on the Neolithic village of La Marmotta, located on the shores of a lake near Rome, Italy. Excavations at this site have uncovered five dugout canoes dating back to 5700-5100 BCE. These canoes, made from hollowed-out tree trunks, showcase advanced construction techniques and provide valuable insights into the seafaring capabilities of Neolithic communities.

The researchers discovered that the La Marmotta canoes were built using four different types of wood, a finding that is unusual among similar archaeological sites. The boats also featured transverse reinforcements, indicating a high level of craftsmanship and understanding of structural design.

Intriguingly, one canoe was associated with three T-shaped wooden objects, each with a series of holes likely used to secure ropes for sails or other nautical elements. These unique characteristics, along with previous reconstruction experiments, suggest that the La Marmotta canoes were well-suited for navigation.

This conclusion is further supported by the presence of stone tools at the site, which have been linked to nearby islands. The authors of the study describe the canoes as exceptional examples of prehistoric watercraft, highlighting the detailed knowledge of structural design and wood properties required for their construction.

The similarities between these ancient boats and more recent nautical technologies support the idea that many important advancements in navigation were made during the early Neolithic period.

The discovery of the La Marmotta canoes not only reveals the remarkable technological sophistication of early agricultural and pastoral communities but also underscores their skills in woodworking and complex boat construction.

The authors suggest that there may be more well-preserved boats waiting to be discovered near La Marmotta, offering an exciting avenue for future research. As the oldest known canoes in the Mediterranean, the La Marmotta finds provide invaluable data on Neolithic navigation.


Sources

Public Library of Science | Juan F. Gibaja, Mario Mineo, et al., The first Neolithic boats in the Mediterranean: The settlement of La Marmotta (Anguillara Sabazia, Lazio, Italy). PLOS ONE 19(3), doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0299765


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