Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Italian lake yields Stone Age canoe


August 07, 2005

Rome - Italian archaeologists have uncovered a Stone Age canoe like those probably used by Europe's first farmers at a lake near Rome .

The 8,000-year-old pirogue - a canoe made from a hollowed tree trunk - was discovered on the bed of Lake Bracciano at a depth of just 12 metres .

The lake is a popular destination for modern-day Romans who go there during summer weekends to swim, sunbathe or hire a pedal boat when they want to avoid the crowded beaches on the coast .

The experts who carried out the excavation, led by local Prehistory Superintendent Antonietta Fugazzola Delpino, said the find will reveal a great deal about Neolithic sailing and boat-building .

Archaeologists think the Stone Age inhabitants of the area did not use pirogues just to move around Lake Bracciano - a large expanse of water filling an enormous volcanic crater. They say they were also used to take to the high seas .

Indeed, some argue Europe's first farmers arrived from the more advanced Near East by sea in these canoes. Their arrival ushered in the Neolithic Age as it changed the hunting and fishing societies bordering on the Mediterranean into agricultural ones. The founders of the Neolithic village of Marmotta, the site the pirogue was found at, are thought to have been among the first to make this trip .

The settlers probably chose this area because, with the lake and surrounding forest, there was plenty of food and wood for boats and houses .

Marmotta was a huge village-on-stilts at the time - a sort of Neolithic Venice. Archaeologist say something mysterious happened in the 53rd century BC and the settlement was abandoned .

As well as boats, underwater excavations have uncovered a wide variety of tools, ceramics and utensils in recent years .

Only a fraction of the village has been excavated so far. The pirogue, which is 9.5 metres long, is not complete. This has led experts to surmise there was a boat yard in the area at the time .

A similar vessel was found in the lake in 1994 .

The new find is currently being treated with special substances to conserve it, now that it has been taken from the muddy home which looked after it so long. Officials said the pirogue will be officially presented to the press in September, at the opening of a new archaeological centre.

"The restoration will be undertaken by a specialist firm," said Carmelo Capone, an executive councillor of the nearby town of Anguillara .

"But it will be possible to organize special visits and school excursions, so people can see the restorers at work."


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