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The Monte Bisenzo canoe

Two dug-out canoes have been found in Lake Bolsena. One near Bisentina Island and the other not far from Monte Bisenzo.

The first was discovered by Massimiliano Bellacima in October 1989, recovered in the following December and is exhibited in our museum. The second, discovered in September 1991 by Amadeo Raggi, was left on the lake bed and is protected by a metal “shield”.

The canoe near Monte Bisenzo is the oldest and was found at a depth of 13 metres with no load and no archaeological context. The University of Rome “La Sapienza”, using radiometric analysis on a small wood sample, was able to date it 1505-1325 B.C., in the middle Bronze Age.

The boat is 9.67 metres long and widens from one end to the other. The prow where both sides are complete is 57 cm wide with a maximum width of 74 cm at the stern. The height varies from 21 to 24 cm and the depth of the cavity is between 13 and 16 cm. Both ends are narrow with a furrow running down the boat, perhaps to hold a rope.

The University of Rome “La Sapienza” using xylotomic analysis on another sample fron the boat, established that it was excavated from the trunk of a deciduous oak.

To protect the boat from anchor damage or fron the curious or malicious divers, a carbon steel cover was anchored to the lake bed with holes to allow the flow of water, until a future underwater Archaeological Park has been created.

The Bisentina Island canoe

The Bisentina Island canoe appeared in the muddy bed at a depth approximately 14 metres near the northwest coast of the island not far from Punta Calcino. It was excaveted in November 1989 and had no load. Radiometric analysis was also done on this canoe and gave its age between 1365 and 1020 B.C. a period stretching from the late mid Bronze to the end of the Bronze Age. It was made from a beech log.

The Bisentina island canoe is smaller and is 6,16 m long with a width varying between 67 and 71 cm. The height varies between 19 and 27 cm and the internal cavity between 15 and 24 cm.

This latter canoe has an interesting structural element: at one end there is an incomplete ring cut in the beech log and at the other end it would seem a similar ring might have been cut, although this end is in bad condition. These two rings could mean that it was not just a single canoe but could have been connected to a similar one, making it a more stable double canoe.

The canoes could also have been used as a buoy or, covered with wood, to form a pontoon or a raft.

These holes are not common in canoes; they are present in the Bronze Age canoe of Lake Lucone (Brescia) and on the two middle and late Bronze age canoes of Lake Mercurago (Novara).

References:

  • Calderoni G. – Giardini M. – Petitti P. – Sadori L., Le piroghe del Lago di Bolsena. In “Giornale Botanico Italiano”, vol. 130, n. 1, 1996 (p. 305)
  • Cornaggia Castiglioni O. – Calegari G., Le piroghe monossili italiane. Nuova tassonomia. Aggiornamenti – Iconografia, in Preistoria Alpina, 14, 1978 (pp. 163-172).