Maritime Archaeology Trust

Canoe to Cannon

The Canoe to Canon project is a Heritage Lottery funded project (HLF) run by the Friends of the Maritime Archaeology Trust (MAT). It focuses on the significance of maritime archaeology and history tracing Britain’s development as an island and trading nation and encompasses possible trade in the Mesolithic (c8000 years ago) through to modern defence of the nation's trade routes.
Surrounded by rivers during Prehistory, settlers used watercraft to reach Britain. As sea levels rose, developing trade routes required larger, sturdier craft. MAT has discovered a possible logboat at Bouldnor Cliff, a site now submerged off the Isle of Wight. The discovery of domesticated wheat (einkorn) at this Mesolithic site, 2,000 years ahead of elsewhere in Britain, demonstrates that trade with European farmers may have taken place via river/sea during this period.
Over time, trade with other lands necessitated advanced watercraft to carry cargos on lengthier routes. Competition between nation states developed, leading to the use of weapons to keep trade routes open protecting goods from marauding vessels. By the 15th century cannon became commonplace on ships and by the 17th Century the Royal Navy were being called upon to protect trade routes.
This project uses the maritime story to engage local people with their heritage, from the earliest trade through to the development of trade routes and the inevitable development of weapons for protection of cargo. 
Participants will visit heritage venues, and attend hands-on demonstrations and workshops. 
The project is also hoping to promote the Friends of the Maritime Archaeology Trust within the community encouraging a wider diversity and greater number of people to become involved. Contact the Friends of the Trust if intersted in taking part through jan.gillespie[at] 

 Visits and events

A visit to Exbury saw demonstrations of woodworking techniques using ancient ‘tools’ that would have been used to build boats.  Participants had a chance to try out the tools and see a flint knapping demonstration.  

 Wood working techiniques being practiced

Soap carving

 Trying out rock carving copying examples of portable antiquities that have been discovered (using soap as the medium as much easier!) 

 The section of ‘log boat’ found at Bouldnor Cliff, the 8,000 year old submerged Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) site, would probably have been for use along rivers and lakes surrounding the area possibly for fishing. The Mesolithic people were hunter gathers, they were self-sufficient and not depending on the exchange of food or items such as tools (of which there have been hundreds discovered at the Bouldnor Cliff site, and many of a type that may have come from further afield). 

The sophistication of some of the woodworking at Bouldnor demonstrates a technique not seen in the UK until the Neolithic (new Stone Age) over 2,000 years later. Also discovered at this site through the extraction of sedimentary ancient DNA was the existence of wheat (einkorn) which indicates that farmed wheat that emanated from the Middle East was here 2,000 years before it has been found elsewhere in the UK.  As this seems to be a discrete sample it does not seem that it was cultivated here, but there is the possibility that it may have been brought from Western France where the cultivation of wheat has been recorded around 7,400 years ago.  As sea levels were lower at this time it is possible that goods and influences reached the Isle of Wight from France along coastlines via estuaries with the aid of watercraft.


Impression of life at Bouldnor Cliff (drawing by M Greeves)


Butser Ancient Farm

 At Buster Ancient Farm near Petersfield Ryan Watts demonstrated experimentalArchaeology he has been carrying out on the construction of ancient log boats/canoes.  He gave an informative talk to the group, and we discovered that they are growing the ancient wheat, einkorn, of the type recorded at Bouldnor Cliff through sedimentary DNA.

 Ancient crop einkorn being grown at Butser ancient farm
and the group learn about construction of log boats
Shapley Bottom Event - Burley

A trip to Burley to the Shapely Bottom heritage event saw more participants learn about ancient craft and practice woodworking skills and other ancient arts such as rock carvings (carried out in soap in this case) and spear throwing (particulaly popular!)




Woodworking experience

Spear thowing, note the target, an Auroch (ancient cow) 

Sunken Secrets

Sunken Secrets is situated at Fort Victoria on the Isle of Wight, it houses the Alberghetti gun which is believed to have come from the Santa Lucia which was shipwrecked off Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight in 1567.  Santa Lucia was a Spanish ship carrying a cargo of Wool to Flanders.   As mentioned earlier, from the 15th century cannon became common place on ships to protect them from being hijacked for their ship and/or the cargo so it was no surprise to find that this ship had been carrying such a weapon in the 16th century.  The beautiful bronze gun is a splendid example of how even the guns themselves might invite trouble from marauding vessels looking for 'bootie'. A mixed group went along to view the gun and take part in activities at Sunken Secrets.



Examining the markings on the gun that indicate where it originated from 

Cleaning ancient wood to observe markings

Wood sampling workshop

A rare opportunity to help record some of the actual timbers that have been found at the 8,000 year old submerged landscape was offered through the Canoe to Canon project. Those lucky enough to attend (as spaces were limited) enjoyed learning about cleaning,  identifying and conserving ancient waterlogged wood from wood experts.


Wood sampling workshop

Participants get to work on the Bouldnor Cliff samples under instruction

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