The Pesse Boat

Mid-August 1955 the Dutch were busy with the realization of part of the A28 in the then municipality Ruinen. Directly south of the village of Pesse, about 4 km north of Hoogeveen, the road builders came across a deep peat-filled basin. To achieve a solid surface there was nothing left to do but dig up the 4 meter thick peat deposit and replace it with sand.

boat pesse hollandThe two draglines of excavated peat were transported on carts to the pit from which sand used to fill the road track was dug. At 2 to 2.5 meters deep the crane operator came across a lying tree trunk. With some difficulty one of them succeeded in bringing the trunk to the surface and placing it on a cart. The oldest ship in the world would start it final voyage, were it not that it accidentally rolled off the cart.

Hendrik Wanders

A few days later, an observant resident of Pesse, Mr. Hendrik Wanders (see photo), who lived on a farm 300 meters south of the site, examined the tree and he immediately saw something special.  On a wheelbarrow, he transported the trunk to his house where he put in his garden.

hendrik wanders - holland

hendrik wanders

The President of the Prehistoric Society of Drenthe and treasurer of the Friends of the Museum of Drenthe were then alerted.
The latter advised to keep the tree wet with sacks and then informed the director of the Organic Archaeological Institute of Groningen, Professor Dr HT Waterbolk.

A few days later, the canoe was examined by a member of the Institute.  He found that a piece of wood from the side was broken from the side of the boat.

Mr. Wanders had no objection to the boat being taken to the Institute in Groningen.  After preservation, the object then found a place in the Provincial Museum of Drenthe.

Dry the wood
Almost immediately after the boat was found, they were faced with the difficult question of how this unique artifact should be preserved.  Wood from archaeological sites cannot simply be allowed to dry out. Cracks and severe deformation would begin to form.  Eventually, it was decided to dry the boat by freezing and not with a waterproofing treatment. This was easier said than done.  A separate facility was necessary, and until it was ready, the boat remained in a cold room of the municipal slaughterhouse in Groningen.

Subsequently, the artifact spent some time in a cold room of a fishmonger in Groningen stored at a temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius. The actual drying process took place in an airtight cylinder.

The three-meter long, 45-centimeter wide canoe is made from the trunk of a pine. The front narrowed from both sides and the bottom came to a kind of point ending in a triangular shape. This indicates that the sharp edge was formed by the felling of the tree with a stone ax or deer horn. With this type of tool, a tree could be best cut in this V shape until the remaining wood was so thin now that the tree would fall.

Very old
The back was cut only after the tree was felled and therefore runs obliquely downward. Soon after, the discovery of the age of the tree could be established on the basis of a pollen analytical study. Converted into calendar years, we now know that the boat must have been sometime between 8040 BC and 7510 years BC which makes it the oldest boat in the world.