Isle of Wight Shipwrecks: Ancient and Roman Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Isle of Wight Shipwrecks: Ancient and Roman

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Isle of Wight Shipwrecks
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The Stone Age

There are very few remains of early ships and shipwrecks, mainly due to weathering over the last few thousand years. The earliest evidence of the waters around the Island being used by sea vessels is from the Neolithic Period, from 3500-2500 BC. Pots made from the same clay have been found not only on the Island, but also near Salisbury. Pots made from Island clay have also been found near Winchester. Axe heads, too, made from Cornish greenstone, and even one made from rock from County Antrim, Ireland, have been found on the Island. Several continental axe heads have also been found.

How often the Henge and Beaker peoples sailed, and the design of their ships, is unknown, yet it is likely that there were several shipwrecks during this period.

The Bronze Age

We know that seafaring continued in the Bronze Age, since a jar made in Armorica, France, has been found in a burial mound on Gallibury Down. A burial mound in Puncknowle, Dorset, was found to have contained a mound of more than 1.5 tonnes of Bembridge Limestone, stone found only on the Island. There is also evidence of finely decorated bronze arm rings and neck rings made in the Seine and Somme valleys, and found at Portsmouth and on the Island. There is evidence that an Island potter living near Week Down on the Island learnt her skills on the tip of Cornwall.

Seafaring therefore continued, and with so many ships sailing, shipwrecks would have been inevitable.

The Iron Age

By the first millennium BC, imported Italian wine was finding its way to the waters around the Island. It is from this period that the first written records exist. Strabo described the voyages of the Veneti during the 1st Century BC, with Armorican traders landing at an emporion or market that may have been on the Island, or possibly at Hengistbury. We know that Bembridge Limestone continued to be used and traded, as it has been found near Basingstoke. Trade in the area continued to develop, with tin increasing in importance. Several Iron Age coins have been found on the Island.

A Pre-Roman Shipwreck

The earliest found remains of a shipwreck have been from this period. Although the ship itself no longer exists, a team of archaeologists have discovered a large amount of pottery dating from the 1st Century BC, pottery that comes not only from France, but also from the Mediterranean and all over the Roman Empire, over 100 years before the Roman conquest of Britain.

The Roman Empire

For the first three centuries AD, after the Roman conquest of the Island, the waters surrounding the Island were busy with cross-Channel trade. Many villas were established on the Island. Both Newport and Brading Roman Villas were sited near major rivers. And when the waters of Brading Haven were reclaimed in 1878, the remains of an ancient ship, which was believed to be Roman, were discovered. Unfortunately this find was not fully documented, and its Roman origin is not proven. Some local historians believe it may have been a Saxon boat, but sadly nothing remains of it to study. What is known is that Brading Haven was used for Roman trade, and is likely to have been the site of Alfred The Great's sea battle against the Danes in 897 AD.

There are also remains of a Roman shipwreck on Goose Rock, where several Roman coins have been discovered.

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