Divers Just Found 7,000-Year-Old Canoes At A Sunken City In A Lake Just North Of Rome

Published March 22, 2024

While diving to the bottom of Lake Bracciano and exploring the remains of the Stone Age sunken city La Marmotta, archaeologists uncovered five canoes that date back to at least 5000 B.C.E.

Neolithic Canoe

Gibaja et al., 2024, PLOS ONEOne of the 7,000-year-old canoes found near Rome.

Thousands of years ago, a small Neolithic settlement thrived on the shore of present-day Lake Bracciano in Italy. Now, archaeologists researching the site have found five wooden canoes that these ancient people constructed in order to fish and trade across the Mediterranean.

Discovered underwater, and built between 5700 and 5100 B.C.E., these five canoes are the oldest ever to be found in the Mediterranean Basin.

Discovering The Stone Age Canoes Under Lake Bracciano

According to a new study about the canoes published in the journal PLOS One, archaeologists first discovered the Neolithic village under Italy’s Lake Bracciano — which is connected to the Mediterranean Sea via the Arrone River — in 1989. Dubbed La Marmotta, the underwater site was excavated over the next 20 years. It’s yielded a number of impressive discoveries, including a wealth of Neolithic tools — and now, five well-crafted canoes.

The five boats were constructed using wood from alder, oak, poplar, and European beech. Approximately 7,000 years old, they nonetheless show signs of impressive craftsmanship and pioneering technology.

“La Marmotta is an exceptional archaeological site,” study author Juan F. Gibaja told All That’s Interesting. “Many things are preserved there that we never find in a terrestrial site: canoes, wooden houses, bows, sickles, etc. I never imagined that those prehistoric societies had the technological capacity to make such large and complex canoes. They were communities with extraordinary knowledge, much more advanced than we had imagined.”

Canoes At La Marmotta

Gibaja et al., 2024, PLOS ONEThe canoes were discovered under Lake Bracciano, at the site of a former Neolithic settlement called La Marmotta.

In “Canoe Marmotta 1,” for example, archaeologists documented “four transversal reinforcements” which would have fortified the hull. They also found evidence that the boat may have been used for multiple purposes, perhaps as a sailboat or catamaran as well as a canoe.

Archaeologists also found objects that were probably wooden rudders or oars, as well as evidence that the canoes were carved with “polished adzes and axes.” So what did Neolithic people in La Marmotta use them for?

How Neolithic People In La Marmotta Used Boats

The five canoes discovered under Lake Bracciano are of slightly different sizes and were probably used for various purposes.

While the smaller of the canoes may have been used for fishing, the larger boats found at La Marmotta might have been used for more ambitious purposes. The first canoe, for example, with its fortified hull and apparent ability to transform into a sailboat or catamaran, could offer “safety and stability” and was possibly used for “the transport of people, animals, and goods.”

Likewise, the second canoe was big enough that it probably served multiple purposes. The study’s authors speculated that “judging by its size and shape, it is thought to have been a fishing boat, or used to gather plant resources and transport people and small animals on the lake, or even on the sea.”

“[Neolithic people] used canoes to transport people and goods,” Gibaja explained to All That’s Interesting. “These are very large canoes that allowed for easy travel along the coast.”

La Marmotta Canoe

Gibaja et al., 2024, PLOS ONECanoe Marmotta 2, seen here, may have even been seaworthy.

Gibaja continued: “Neolithic communities originally come from the Eastern Mediterranean. They must have had a thorough knowledge of the sea. On certain occasions, some groups had to move to new territories, and these canoes allowed for swift journeys… When they changed territories, they would take their families and goods with them.”

In all, the five canoes discovered at La Marmotta are a fascinating look at how Neolithic people traveled around their world. And Gibja and his team are eager to uncover more insights from their research at La Marmotta.

“There is a lot of material to analyze,” he told All That’s Interesting. “There are thousands of archaeological remains, most of which are unpublished. The team consists of more than 50 researchers from many countries who are working to better understand those early Neolithic farming and pastoralist groups. Our goal is for the scientific community and the general public… to learn about what we discover so that they can better understand their past.”

After reading about the five Neolithic canoes found in Italy, the oldest ever found in the Mediterranean Basin, discover the stories behind some of the world’s oldest structures. Or, learn about other underwater archaeological discoveries in Italy, like Baiae, the sunken party town of ancient Rome.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.