Czechs building Neolithic boat replica to test out ancient trade routes

A team of experts from the Centre of Experimental Archaeology in North Bohemia is constructing a copy of a real Neolithic boat. The vessel will then be used to test out a hypothetical sea trading route from that era between Greece and modern day Turkey. The team says that not just the journey, but the construction process itself, makes it possible to gain a greater understanding of Europe’s Neolithic ancestors.

Photo: Honza Bartoň

Monoxylon IV, as the expedition is called, will cover a 470 to 500 kilometre route stretching from Samos, off the Turkish coast, past the Aegean island of Milos, all the way to the Peloponnese.

The leader of the project is Dr Radomír Tichý from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Hradec Kralové.

“Archaeologists have found settlements there that were richly supplied with obsidian, so it seems clear that a sea route did exist there.

Photo: Milan Baják,  Czech Radio

“Our expedition will test the hypothetical route that has been proposed – namely from Asia Minor to the island of Milos. It will then continue from Milos to the Greek mainland.”

Sharp, shiny and often transparent, obsidian (a type of stone) seems to have been a precious item for the people who lived back then, says Dr Tichý, for whom this will be his fourth Monoxylon expedition since the project was launched 17 years ago.

Photo: Honza Bartoň

Each of them has used the same blueprint of a real Neolithic boat that was found in Lake Bracciano, Italy, in 1994.

Photo: Honza Bartoň

Previous tests have seen the archaeological crew row for hundreds of kilometres along the shores of Italy, France, Portugal and Spain.

However, the team used smaller vessels for these journeys. The one that they are building now will also give the team a chance to test whether the boat could use a sail, says Dr Tichý.

“We are using a bigger tree trunk this time, which means that this is the first ship that we have built whose parameters are closer to the size of the original boat that the archaeologists discovered. It will be 2.5 metres longer and wider than the previous boats we made.

“It is difficult to find trees that size nowadays.”

Photo: Honza Bartoň

The boat is expected to be 11.5 metres long and up to 125 centimetres wide. The relatively large width will allow the 21-man crew to position pairs of rowers next to each other, rather than in single file.

The Monoxylon expedition is an example of experimental archaeology that can provide important context to our understanding of the past, says Dr Tichý.

“Through our experiments, we are able to gauge how far these canoe-like structures could travel, what was the size of the crew and whether there was enough space to load baggage onto such a primitive vessel.

Monoxylon III | Photo: Honza Bartoň

“Did, for example, the lack of more sophisticated sea vessels slow down the expansion of the Neolithic?”

Monoxylon IV, as the expedition is called, plans to set out in the summer of 2023. The crew will be accompanied by a modern boat in order to ensure their safety.

More information about the project can be found here: