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French archaeologists unravel mysteries of 1,300-year-old shipwreck

Archaeologists near Bordeaux, south-western France, are trying to unravel the mysteries of an “incredibly rare” and exceptional medieval shipwreck, buried under an old arm of the Garonne river for 1,300 years.

This ship is “the second or third” dating from the High Middle Ages discovered in France, according to Laurent Grimbert, an archaeologist in charge of the excavation presented to the press on Tuesday.

According to the first dating of the wood and ceramic pieces, the wooden wreck, 12 metres long, would have transported goods, probably agricultural, on the river and to the Atlantic coast between 680 and 720.

At that time, the city of Bordeaux, under the Merovingians, was part of an independent duchy of Aquitaine. It was sacked in 732 by the Emir Abd al-Raman, then besieged a century later by the Vikings.

However, the origin of the ship remains a mystery.

Until the beginning of September, a team of 10 archaeologists will attempt to dismantle the 200 to 300 frames (transverse beams) that structure the hull via hundreds of pegs in order to determine the architectural tradition of the ship, its actual height, its tonnage capacity, and the techniques used at the time to seal it.

To avoid the drying out and degradation of these pieces of wood buried for 13 centuries, and watered every 30 minutes on site, the archaeologists will only have three months to carry out their complete study.

The site will be open to the public on Saturday, June 18, during the European Archaeology Days.

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