Man and the Sea

We cannot ascertain when Man ventured in the open sea; this question will never be plausibly answered. The great navigator and pioneer in nautical experimental archeology, Thor Heyerdahl rightly said that: “Man learned to use a paddle and a sail well before he rode on an animal back and made a saddle”.

Man’s venture on the water may have stated as early as 700.000 years from today during the early Paleolithic. Dates have been advanced going back to 500.000 -200.000 years for the crossing from Africa to Europe, at its shortest sea route, the straights of Gibraltar and an even more remote chronology has been proposed for hopping through the straights of Bering.

Neolithic Monoxilo

It is probable that one of the early means of transport, of what we call “homo erectus”, when moving on lakes, rivers and inland waterways, were primitive rafts, simple in their construction. Whatever could float and had a sufficient buoyancy to hold Man above the waters was adequate to reunite the members of a tribe that had been dispersed by a flood. Such unsophisticated crafts were also used for fishing along the sea littoral and could be made with the simple stone tools available.

It all started with Man “riding” the trunk of a tree that was floating; then with the passing of millennia, the trunk was trimmed from its branches with the use of a stone . By carbonizing a side of the trunk, and with the help of a large sea-shell, used as a scrapper, it was made hollow. Thus the dugout, the predecessor of the canoe was invented. The dugout was an innovation, a step forward in boat-building technology. Called monoxilo in Greek, the word has survived in some toponymes (One still in use near Palaiokastritsa, in North-West Corfu). The French Monoxyle and Italian Monossile derive of this Greek word. Early prehistoric examples of Aegean dugout models made of lead were found in Naxos and are kept in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Contrary to other parts of the world where only ethnography helps in making theoretical conjectures for the early steps of Man’s mobility on water, the Eastern Mediterranean, the cradle of many civilizations, holds testimonies of Man early attempts to move on inland waterways and the sea. Well before the invention of writing there were representations of lake, river and sea-crafts rendered as rock-carvings and graffiti. Paintings on clay vessels, low relief, statuary, as well as three-dimensional ship models came later and give a more precise idea on the progress on ship construction and early navigation.