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A Puzzling Wreck Volume 57 Number 1, January/February 2004
by Jennifer Pinkowski

[image]Archaeologists are intrigued by this unique ship, found in a coconut grove by laborers. (R.K. Pedersen) [LARGER IMAGE]

India's first ancient shipwreck, discovered recently in the coastal town of Kadakkarapally, has archaeologists stumped.

"The boat doesn't look like anything expected in the area," says Ralph Pedersen, a marine archaeologist at Texas A&M University's Institute of Nautical Archaeology, which excavated the site earlier this year in conjunction with the Institute of Archaeology, Art History, Conservation, and Museology in Kerala.

The boat was discovered by laborers digging in a coconut grove a mile inland, an area that was under coastal waters a millennium ago. The only artifact found at the site is a stone shaped like an elongated pyramid, which might be part of an anchor.

More than 1,000 years old, the 72-foot-long sailing barge is made from caramel-colored anjili, a hardwood still growing nearby, but it lacks the sewn-plank construction common in India for the past 2,000 years.

Though its uniqueness has led to speculation that foreign seafarers built the ship from local materials for ocean-bound voyages, Pederson says the boat's construction would keep it closer to home. With a flat bottom and sharp transitions to the sides, "it's bad for the ocean," he says. "It's better for short coastal runs and inland waters."

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America