One of the world’s oldest shipwrecks has been discovered off the coast of Devon after lying on the sea bed for almost 3000 years.
The trading vessel was carrying an extremely valuable cargo of tin and hundreds of copper ingots from the Continent when it sank.
Experts say the ”incredibly exciting” discovery provides new evidence about the extent and sophistication of Britain’s links with Europe in the Bronze Age, and reveals the remarkable seafaring abilities of the people during the period.
Archaeologists have described the vessel, which is thought to date back to about 900BC, as being a ”bulk carrier” of its age. The copper and tin would have been used for making bronze, the primary product of the period which was used in the manufacture of weapons, tools, jewellery, ornaments and other items.
It is believed that the copper – and possibly the tin – were being imported into Britain and originated in a number of different countries throughout Europe, rather than from a single source, demonstrating the existence of a complex network of trade routes across the Continent. It is the first time tin ingots from this period have ever been found in Britain, a discovery which may support theories that the metal was being mined in the south-west at this time. If the tin was not produced in Britain, it is likely it would have come from the Iberian Peninsula or Germany.
The wreck was found in between eight and 10 metres of water in a bay near Salcombe, south Devon, by a team of amateur marine archaeologists from the South West Maritime Archaeological Group. In total, 295 artefacts have so far been recovered, weighing more than 84 kilograms.
The cargo recovered includes 259 copper ingots and 27 tin ingots. Also found was a bronze leaf sword, two stone artefacts that could have been slingshots, and three gold wrist torcs, or bracelets.
The team has yet to uncover any of the vessel’s structure, which is likely to have eroded away. But experts believe it would have been up to 12 metres long and up to 1.8 metres wide.
The artefacts are to be handed over to the British Museum next week. They will be independently valued and the museum will pay the team for the items.