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The Ancient Mariners – Prehistoric seafarers of the Mesolithic

The exact time and circumstances of when our Ancient Mariners took to the waters of Northern Europe is unclear to both Archaeologists and Historians alike, although they are aware that the materials used to build the earliest boats, such as wood and reed, have been about since the dawn of time.  However, until the experts dig up physical proof in the form of a complete ship, they will resist the temptation to accept that ten-thousand-year-old boats existed and accept an earlier date than the oldest partially constructed boat, dated 4,000 years old, found along the banks of the Humber at Ferriby near Hull in 1937. (The Ancient Mariners).

In recent years, some more enlightened archaeologists have started to accept earlier dates for boat construction, as they recognise that the ‘dating’ for ancient sites in Ireland and the Scottish Isles are far older than the remains found in Hull, and therefore, some boat must have existed at an earlier time with the remains having yet to be discovered.  If the radiocarbon dating evidence used in Ireland is correct, it will show conclusively that sea travel must have been invented a further four thousand years earlier than the Ferriby discovery in a period called the Mesolithic dated around 6,000 BCE if not before. 

As a compromise, historians now imagine that these earliest boats were probably not constructed of wood or reed but a design consisting of an oval shape similar to half a walnut shell, with the structure made of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods tied with willow bark. The outer layer was originally an animal skin such as horse or bullock hides with a thin layer of tar to be thoroughly waterproof.  This type of boat is called a ‘Coracle’ and is still used in parts of Ireland and Wales to travel over small rivers and placid lakes.

Coracle would not get across the Irish Sea - The Ancient Mariners
Coracle would not get across the Irish Sea – The Ancient Mariners

The problem with this mad idea is that no respectable seafarer would attempt to paddle’ across such harsh waterways such as the Irish Sea with twenty-foot waves (on a good day) in such a flimsy craft unless they were either insane or had decided to set sail on their final voyage!

Another oversight by archaeologists is that the first mariners did not have maps or any idea of anything that existed over the horizon, especially when you realise that Dublin (the nearest point to Anglesey from Wales) is 55 nautical miles away way beyond ‘naked eye’ visibility.  The only other route to Ireland would be to ‘hop scotch’ 85 miles along with the Scottish Islands on the West Coast, which will still leave you with a 12-mile paddle across the Irish Sea.  The other dilemma for historians and archaeologists is that most prehistoric remains in Ireland are not where you would expect them in the North East or East – the closest shoreline to Scotland and Wales.  But in the SW region, over 250 miles further away from where the first Irish settlers are supposed to have landed, with little to no sites showing historical movement in-between. (The Ancient Mariners).

Tungabhadra River and Coracle Boats
You’re seriously going to sail that across the Irish Sea?? – The Ancient Mariners

But most importantly, what was the motivation to set sail to an unknown point over the horizon in the first place?

Anthropologists estimate that in 6 000 BCE Britain was occupied by bands of simple ‚hunter gatherers’ armed with spears chasing wild pigs and picking berries.  This population was estimated to be a mere 50,000 people on an island of 120,000 sq. miles – giving every man, woman and child on average the freedom to roam 2.5 sq. miles each to hunt and pick fruit and roots their heart’s content. Remembering everything in those days was free, and land ownership was another four thousand years time.

So why risk your life to travel to another place when you have no idea if it even exists or is habitable?

The reality is that the first mariners were exploring our seas and shorelines in a more substantial and suitably designed craft, long before historians are leading us to believe. Any mariner’ worth his salt’ can see this reflected in the hills of Britain with ancient monuments called a ‘Long Barrow’ if he knows what to look for – they are over 100m long, 20m wide and had a chamber covered with chalk or soil, so it sat some 4m – 5m high.  It has two moats on either side of a ‘wedge shaped’ sloping mound, with the larger end to the rear and the chamber entrance.  Long Barrows has always been the archaeologist’s greatest mystery and appear in abundance on most ordinance survey maps, denoted by a small oval black star.  The first thing we should note about these Long Barrows is that they are unique and only built-in in Northern Europe, unlike Round Barrows, which are found worldwide. (The Ancient Mariners).

West Kennet Long Barrow - original construction - Ten thousand-year-old boats
West Kennet Long Barrow – original construction – The Ancient Mariners

Archaeologists all agree that the Long Barrows are the oldest monuments to exist in our landscape. 

This belief originates from the fact that the structure is elaborate and includes huge ‘megalithic’ stones in their construction, as seen in the best-preserved Long Barrows at Avebury called West Kennet and Belas Knap Gloucestershire, which was found with human bone remains inside its stone chambers.  It is believed that these remains have been collected rather than buried (as only the larger bones have been found), probably from a process called ‚excarnation’ where the bodies of the dead are laid out to rot naturally, and the bones are then collected for burial inside the tomb.  This process is very different from the individual graves and cremations that are seen at a later date in history.

These objects are connected to boats and a marine society because of their size and shape.  For example, the Long Barrows mound originally had two deep ditches built on either side of the exterior; this ditch would have flooded with water giving the impression that the bank was surrounded by water.  We know that these ditches would have become moats is because, at the time of construction, the waterways of Britain and Northern Europe were much higher than today; this rise in ‘groundwater’ levels was due to ‘post-glacial flooding’, a by-product of the process our last ice cap undertook when it melted on the landscape some fifteen thousand years earlier. (The Ancient Mariners).

ten thousand year old boat
Ten thousand year old boat found on Northern Europe’s hillsides – The Ancient Mariners

Furthermore, the shapes of these mounds are not square, round or oblong – they are boat-shaped!

If these Long Barrows existed in Egypt, archaeologists would have no problem in identifying what these objects were or represented, as they look like the giant boats used by the Egyptians and are depicted on their temple walls.  Moreover, the act of placing bones inside the Long Barrows would then make perfect sense as it was recreating the person’s last voyage to the afterlife.  Consequently, Long Barrows prove a marine society (a civilisation that lives and trades upon water) in existence directly after the last ice age in Northern Europe, who lived in boats and later chose to be buried within a ship. Even today, there still is an old Celtic custom of placing money over a dead person’s eyes to ‘pay the ferryman’, and we lay out our loved ones in strange, unnecessary eight-sided coffin ns tapered at the shoulders that look remarkably like boats – to take them on their last voyage to the afterlife.

But it also gives us a fantastic insight into the design of the boats used in this period of ancient history, which has not survived the ravages of time. 

Long Barrows look more like barges than canoes, with the stern (back end) being where the boat was steered and the cabin was placed. The particular size and shape of Long Barrows (similar to Thor Heyerdahl’s reed boat ‘Ra’ that successfully sailed across the Atlantic in 1970) indicates that these vessels had sails and were not rowed or paddled.  Moreover, a sailed boat would have a greater range than a canoe as the boat’s front is round, like an archer’s bow – hence the name?  Not flat or wedged, this is a design constructed for manoeuvrability, speed and distance, clearly indicating these ancient mariners’ knowledge of advanced boat design. (The Ancient Mariners).

Long Barrow
Design of a Long Barrow is the same as a Barge Boat – The Ancient Mariners

The other noteworthy aspect of Long Barrows is the size and construction of the monument. At West Kennet and other Long Barrows, giant megaliths were used to highlight the entrance of the chamber; these boulders are over 15 tonnes in weight and four to five metres in height.  They are an unnecessary addition to the construction, but they are visible even a couple of miles away on a clear day.  Long Barrows, when first constructed, would have been covered not with grass as today, but with the sub-soil that came from the ditches they dug that surrounded the monument; in the case of West Kennet, it would be bright white chalk.  The massive size of these monuments must also be taken into consideration as they are over 100m in length – five times longer than the chambers they hide within them, and they are tapered from the helm 4m high to the bow, just 1m tall. Thus, making them (from a distance on the waters) look like a gigantic direction indicator. (The Ancient Mariners).

The appearance of the bright white Long Barrow would act as a directing indicator from a great distance against a green grass background.

West Kennet long barrow original colour copy
Long Barrows were built halfway up a hill to show direction – The Ancient Mariners

Another remarkable aspect of Long Barrows is its location and position on the landscape.  If we look at the extensive river ways after the last ice age, we notice that these monuments are built parallel to significant rivers and appear at junctions where rivers converge. Moreover, they don’t occur on the top of the hills surrounding the rivers but appear just over halfway up – so that they cannot be seen over the top of the hill on the opposite side.  Because of their size and construction materials, these ‘markers’ are visible for miles like white pointers in daylight, but because they are pure white, they can also be seen at night with ‘moonshine’.

However, these objects are not in Egypt; they are in Northern Europe, and within the Mesolithic period, our ancestors are supposed to have been primitive‚ hunter gathers’ that lived in temporary shelters.  The concept of boats (according to the experts) would not become common for another four thousand years.

If this was a marine civilisation that lived so long ago, who were they, and why have we not found any evidence of them?   

Astonishingly, we have, and it’s in the form of myths, wooden planking and wall paintings.  As we have already shown, the voyage to the afterlife is a well-known myth and practised belief. Even today, yet another tale connecting us to our marine ancestry and ritual of death is moonlight as well as headstones and raising spirits.  Stonehenge is a ‘world heritage site’ made of stone, and when it was first constructed, our ancestors surrounded it with a circle of 58 (four tonnes) ‘Bluestones’ dug into round chalk holes (called Aubrey Holes, named after their discoverer).  You can flawlessly track the moon’s seasons (like a calendar), connecting a link between the Stones and the moon. (The Ancient Mariners).

Egyptian boat
Voyage to the afterlife as seen by the Egyptians – The Ancient Mariners

voyage to the afterlife as seen by the Egyptians – Ten thousand-year-old boats

 But where did the body lay before the bones were collected?

Archaeologists have found that initially, in the centre of Stonehenge lay two rows of stone holes (Q & R) two metres apart in a crescent shape open to the NW segment of the monument. These holes held stone slabs for the dead, on which they laid in a ceremony known as an ‘Excarnation’, where the dead are left to rot naturally. Stonehenge is surrounded by no less than ten Long Barrows, which would have taken the dead bodies over two thousand years.  Each of the Long Barrows were built on the shorelines of the Mesolithic waterways (which were 30m higher than today), and at least two barrows have had ‘canals’ created from the shorelines to the entrance of the barrow. 

These constructions show that the ceremony of taking the bones by boat from Stonehenge to the Long Barrows for final burial probably undertaken at sunset or in the dead of night under a full moon,  where the bones and spirit of the departed rise for the last time and go on their final voyage?

More information on Prehistoric Britain can be found on our WEBSITE or VIDEO CHANNEL.

Further Reading (The Ancient Mariners).

For information about British Prehistory, visit for the most extensive archaeology blogs and investigations collection, including modern LiDAR reports.  This site also includes extracts and articles from the Robert John Langdon Trilogy about Britain in the Prehistoric period, including titles such as The Stonehenge Enigma, Dawn of the Lost Civilisation and the ultimate proof of Post Glacial Flooding and the landscape we see today.

Robert John Langdon has also created a YouTube web channel with over 100 investigations and video documentaries to support his classic trilogy (Prehistoric Britain). He has also released a collection of strange coincidences that he calls ‘13 Things that Don’t Make Sense in History’ and his recent discovery of a lost Stone Avenue at Avebury in Wiltshire called ‘Silbury Avenue – the Lost Stone Avenue’. (The Ancient Mariners).

Langdon has also produced a series of ‘shorts’, which are extracts from his main body of books:

The Ancient Mariners

Stonehenge Built 8300 BCE

Old Sarum

Prehistoric Rivers

Dykes ditches and Earthworks

Echoes of Atlantis

Homo Superior

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(The Ancient Mariners).