chapter  3
Boat 3 and later developments
Pages 14

The sequence of events leading up to the finding of the third Ferriby boat-fragment F3 goes back to the early I950s. It was in 1951 that Willard Libby's revolutionary process was announced for the absolute dating of organic materials by calculating the extent of decay of their content of the radioactive isotope of carbon, CI4, and the British Museum Research Laboratory was one of the first institutions in this country to be equipped with the facilities to effect determinations. It was natural that my brother and I were eager to resolve the uncertainty about the age of the boat-finds as soon as possible; but capacity at the British Museum was limited and demand was high. It was therefore several years before Plenderleith consented to accept Ferriby material for dating. One ofthe initial problems was that only material uncontaminated by preservatives was then eligible for processing and this immediately disqualified all the wood of Fr and F2, which had by then been impregnated with glycerine. I therefore set about try.ing to find fresh material from the site which could without question be related to one or other of the boats. In 1953 I was able to locate an area some 10 m to the south-west of the excavation trench from which FI had been lifted, which yielded among other debris a regular supply of typical pieces of the oak sealing laths used for covering the seams. Quite incidentally it also produced numerous short lengths of twin-strand cord of a type represented previously by only one small frag-

ment found in the neighbourhood of F2 in 1946. I delivered a sufficient quantity of sealing lath to the Research Laboratory in 1955 and thereafter waited in high expectation for the results of the determination. This came in 1958 (Figure 3.1) and to our amazement set the age of the material at 750 ± ISO Be (BMs8), or somewhere in the middle of the local Late Bronze Age. The date was the more remarkable because a number of prominent archaeologists had been sceptical of my earlier deduction from association with what was known of comparable deposits and their artefactual contents that the boats dated from the pre-Roman Iron Age. Indeed Sir Lindsay Scott, the President of the Prehistoric Society, had argued strenuously in the discussion following my lecture to the society in 1947 that the boats hailed from what were then known as the 'Dark Ages' now termed the 'Early Mediaeval' period. In fact the new date, even allowing for due caution in building on a single isolated determination from timber probably but not absolutely certainly derived from a Ferriby boat, made better sense of the stratigraphical sequence and such artefacts from the site as were broadly datable than did attribution to the Early Iron Age. Nevertheless an indication of so great an age for constructions of such complexity was a startling development.