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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

Oldest Vessel of the World

Pesse Canoe by Jaap Beuker

The Pesse Canoe. The oldest water vessel of the world was found near the village of Pesse in province Drenthe, the Netherlands. It is dated between 8040-7510 BC, leaving even ancient cradles like Egypt and Mesopotamia behind. Sure, we have time for you to re-read the previous sentence.

The dugout canoe is of Scots pine wood, about 3 meters long and 45 centimeters wide. The front of the canoe is massive, creating a kind of forecastle. It is dug out with an axe. A stone axe, of course, since it was the Middle Stone Age. Also tools of antler and bone might have been used. Unlikely fire was used to hollow out the tree trunk. And why it was made of pine wood and not of oak? Pine was the first vegetation after the Weichselian glaciation, the last ice age.

It was nearly lost. When constructing a road in 1955, the construction workers found this big piece of wood which they gave no special attention. Fortunately, it fell of the dump truck on a dirt-road, and later was found by a farmer. He, crofter Hendrik Wanders, did think it was special. Hendrik notified the regional archaeological service, the Biologisch-Archeologisch Instituut, of which professor Tjalling Waterbolk was director. One thing led to another. Hendrik received 150 gulden for it (equivalent about 600 USD today), and a lifelong membership of the museum. An over-the-top reward for such a modest find, of course. Imagine if they would reward every person finding an oldest vessel of the world, the Drents Museum soon would not have any resources left.

The reason the canoe was preserved so well, was because it was buried in peat soil, sealed off from oxygen. Maybe 2 to 2.5 meters deep.

A replicate has been made to show it really did float. Even if manned by well-fed modern humans. Proof the canoe was a canoe, indeed. The replica was built by Jaap Beuker, who was conservator of the Drents Museum, and tested at a little fen near the village of Witten in province Drenthe. With this experiment, arguments of scholars the dugout canoe was perhaps a trough for pigs or even a chest, were countered. Main argument of the critics was the round base of the artifact which supposedly was unfit for a canoe. But it was not. Also, it turned out more ancient canoes had a round base. Furthermore, the argument it could also be a feeder or trough, was far-fetched since no animal-husbandry existed back then in the region. Check this short movie to watch a replica floating, spoken in local Saxon speech by the way.

The oldest boat of the planet is exhibited at the regional Drents Museum.


Note 1 – The Pesse Canoe has a close competitor, namely the Dufuna Canoe found in Nigeria, which was found in 1987 and is dated between 6,500 and 6,000 BC.

Note 2 - We had to be very creative linking this canoe with the Frisia Coast Trail, since the trail itself is still 55 km away from Pesse as the crow flies. However, province Drenthe (Drentland) was the fourth Sealand of greater Frisia during the High Middle Ages! If you think we stretched the argument too far, we must agree, however.

Having said this, when we retrace our steps even further back to the Late Iron Age, Frisians (Frisii or Fresones) might have inhabited (parts of) province Drenthe, and they might even be responsible for the death of the Girl of Yde. Check our post The Killing Fields, of the Celts.

Suggested hiking

Because this is a hiking site, we point out that Green Planet has developed a nice short hike, Kano van Pesse ('canoe of Pesse') which also takes you to the spot where the canoe was found. Please, also find the walking guide they made for this hike.

Further reading

Beuker, J.R., Varen met de oudste boot ter wereld – Een experiment naar aanleiding van discussies over de kano van Pesse (2021)

Beuker, J.R. & Niekus, M.J.L.Th., De kano van Pesse - de bijl erin (1997)

Lok, A., Drentse bodemschat: de kano van Pesse (2018)


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