Clip | After Stonehenge - Discovery of the Bronze Age Boats

The Must Farm site sits in a landscape crisscrossed by a network of waterways. One of the big questions the team wants to answer is whether European Bronze Age villages like this were isolated — or if they had contact with the wider world.

The archaeologists discovered eight pristine log boats — the biggest single collection ever found in Europe — suggesting these villagers were travelers. These people used rivers as highways, and boats were their means of transportation. How and with what tools did the villagers build these boats, and how did they preserve them?

Secrets of the Dead: After Stonehenge premieres Wednesday, October 26 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

Transcript Print

NARRATOR: ONE OF THE BIG QUESTIONS IS WHETHER EUROPEAN BRONZE AGE VILLAGES LIKE THIS WERE ISOLATED, OR IF THEY HAD CONTACT WITH THE WIDER WORLD.

THE SITE SITS IN A LANDSCAPE CRISS-CROSSED BY A NETWORK OF WATERWAYS.

IN AN EARLIER DIG, MARK KNIGHT AND HIS TEAM MADE AN EXTRAORDINARY DISCOVERY-- 8 PRISTINE LOGBOATS, THE BIGGEST SINGLE COLLECTION EVER FOUND IN EUROPE.

SUGGESTING THESE VILLAGERS WERE TRAVELERS.

KNIGHT: WHEREVER YOU GO ALONG THIS CHANNEL, THERE ARE BOATS, AND THAT IS A--IS A-- IF EVER THERE WAS A TESTAMENT TO THE RICHNESS BUT ALSO THE SCALE OF-- OF HUMAN ACTIVITY ALONG THIS CHANNEL, THEN THAT'S IT'S FOR ME.

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO US IF, IN THIS MODERN WORLD, WE DIDN'T HAVE THE INTERNET?

HOW--HOW CONNECTED WOULD WE BE?

AND YOU FEEL IN A WAY THAT THE LOGBOATS ON THE RIVERS WAS THAT--THAT SORT OF NETWORK, REALLY, THAT SORT OF CONNECTION.

NARRATOR: THESE PEOPLE USED RIVERS AS HIGHWAYS AND BOATS WERE THEIR MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION.

BUT WHAT TOOLS DID THEY USE TO BUILD THESE BOATS?

RYAN WATTS WANTS TO FIND OUT.

WE'RE WORKING ON BUILDING A DUGOUT BOAT, OR A LOGBOAT, WHICH IS SOMETHING THAT WE FIND IN THE ARCHAEOLOGY ALL THE WAY FROM THE STONE AGE THROUGH TO THE BRONZE AGE, IRON AGE, AND ALL THE WAY TO THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD.

IT'S A VERY SIMPLE TYPE OF BOAT, AND AS THE NAME SUGGESTS, IT'S CREATED FROM A LOG, BUT OBVIOUSLY, IT NEEDS LOTS OF SHAPING AND HOLLOWING OUT.

NARRATOR: WATTS IS TESTING A VARIETY OF DIFFERENT TOOLS THAT WOULD'VE BEEN AVAILABLE AT THIS TIME.

WATTS: OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, I'VE BEEN WORKING ON DIFFERENT WAYS OF HOW THESE BOATS MIGHT HAVE BEEN BUILT, TESTING OUT DIFFERENT METHODS, DIFFERENT TOOLS.

AT THE MOMENT, WE'RE USING WOODEN WEDGES TO REMOVE THE VAST BULK, RATHER THAN BRONZE TOOLS, BECAUSE WOODEN WEDGES CAN SPLIT OFF BIGGER SECTIONS AND BIGGER CHUNKS AS THEY GO.

IT'S A LOT LESS LABOR-INTENSIVE.

NARRATOR: WHEN THE BOATS WERE DISCOVERED, IT APPEARED THEY'D BEEN DELIBERATELY SUNK INTO THE RIVERBED.

WATTS HAS A THEORY AS TO HOW AND WHY.

WATTS: WHAT YOU CAN ACTUALLY DO IS REMOVE THE TRANSOM OUT FROM THE BACK AND ALLOW YOUR BOAT TO FLOOD, AND IT WILL SINK, AND ALL THE EXAMPLES FROM MUST FARM DON'T--WHERE WE HAVE THE GROOVE, WE DON'T ACTUALLY HAVE THE TRANSOM, AND YOU DON'T--YOU RARELY FIND THE TRANSOM.

AND WHAT THAT DOES IS IT SINKS THE BOAT.

THE WATER CAN RUSH IN AND THAT WILL ALLOW IT TO PRESERVE, SO, THE SAME WAY THAT WE FOUND IT THOUSANDS OF YEARS LATER, THEY COULD'VE DONE THAT JUST FOR A YEAR OR TWO.

SO, YOU DON'T HAVE TO MAKE THEM EVERY YEAR OR EVERY SEASON THAT YOU WANT TO.

YOU GET TO PRESERVE YOUR BOAT FOR MUCH LONGER.

NARRATOR: LIKE MANY CAR OWNERS TODAY, IT SEEMS THE VILLAGERS TOOK GREAT PRIDE IN THEIR BOATS.

WATTS: THE EVIDENCE FROM MUST FARM IS THE FIRST EVIDENCE WE HAVE FOR DECORATION ON THE OUTSIDE OF LOGBOATS.

BEFORE THAT, THEY'D JUST BEEN PLAIN LOGS, WHEREAS THIS IS THE FIRST TIME WHERE WE HAVE CARVINGS ON THE OUTSIDE.

THEY'RE VERY LINEAR AND GEOMETRICAL, BUT THEY ARE THERE.

AS TO WHY, THERE'S NO REAL PRACTICAL REASON FOR THEM, SO, THE ONLY REAL REASON WOULD BE, ACTUALLY, JUST TO MAKE YOUR BOAT LOOK PRETTY OR AT LEAST STAND OUT SO THAT YOU'D KNOW IT WAS YOURS IF IT WAS IN A--IN A-- A COLLECTION OF OTHERS.

NARRATOR: THE DISCOVERY OF THE BOATS WAS JUST THE BEGINNING, AND A FULL EXCAVATION IS UNDERWAY.