The Mediterranean's First Mariners: 7,000-Year-Old Boats Reveal Unexpected Skills

New research sheds light on the impressive seafaring skills of Neolithic people in the Mediterranean. 

Over 7,000 years ago, these early farmers navigated the sea using technologically advanced boats, a finding that rewrites our understanding of their capabilities.

The Mediterranean, a cradle of European civilization, has long been a vital waterway. But this new study focuses on a lesser-known chapter: its role in Neolithic migrations. Around 7,500-7,000 BCE, farming communities from the Near East gradually spread across the region, reaching Portugal by 5400 BCE.

The key evidence comes from La Marmotta, a Neolithic lakeside village near Rome. Here, archaeologists unearthed five dugout canoes, meticulously crafted from various wood types (unusual for such finds) and incorporating advanced features like reinforcements. Additionally, T-shaped wooden objects, possibly for fastening sails, were found with one canoe.

These well-preserved vessels, along with past reconstruction experiments, suggest they were fully functional for seafaring. This conclusion is further bolstered by the presence of tools linked to nearby islands at the site.

The researchers highlight the remarkable aspects of these boats. Building them required not only in-depth knowledge of wood properties and structural design but also specialized labor. 

The similarities between these canoes and later nautical technologies suggest significant advancements in sailing during the early Neolithic period.

This discovery not only reveals the oldest known Neolithic canoes in the Mediterranean but also offers a glimpse into the unexpected sophistication of these early communities. 

Their expertise in woodworking and complex boat construction challenges our previous assumptions about their technological capabilities.


Published March 20, 2024 in the journal PLoS ONE; The first Neolithic boats in the Mediterranean: The settlement of La Marmotta (Anguillara Sabazia, Lazio, Italy)

doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0299765