In 2002, during construction of the Newport Riverfront Arts Centre on the west bank of the River Usk, the remains of a 15th century ship were discovered.
The ship was originally 35 metres long and carried around 168 tons of cargo, possibly wine. Analysis of the oak timbers showed that the boat had been constructed in about 1449 in the Basque region of northern Spain. Finds indicate it was probably trading between Bristol, then the country’s second most important port, and Portugal.
The remains of a cradle beneath the ships timbers suggested that it had been berthed for repairs when the supports collapsed and the ship crashed into the mud. Some parts of the ship were salvaged at the time, but the starboard side was buried in the river mud, where it remained for the next 500 years. Analysis of the timbers suggest this happened sometime after the Spring of 1468.
The Newport Ship is not the first vessel to be discovered on The Levels, nor is it the oldest.
In 1990, archaeologists discovered fragments of a Bronze Age boat near Caldicot Castle dating from around 1800 BC.
In 1993, an archaeological dig at Goldcliff unearthed two planks from a Bronze Age ‘sewn’ boat, dated to around 1000 BC. ‘Sewn’ boats were a type of flat-bottomed barge composed of wooden planks bound together with plant fibres. Such vessels were used to transport people, goods and livestock across and along tidal rivers and along the coasts of estuaries.
The same year, builders working on the construction of the EuroPark near Magor discovered the remains of a 4th century Romano-Celtic boat, the Barlands Farm Boat. The vessel, measuring 11.4 x 3.2 x 0.9m, was remarkably intact and shares some features with boats from south-west Brittany described by Julius Caesar in 56 BC.
In 1995, the wreck of a 13th century ship was discovered in the mud near Magor Pill. The clinker-built ship had been carrying iron ore from Glamorgan and foundered at the mouth of the pill, near what was then a small port.
All four vessels have been recovered and conserved.
For more information visit the Friends of the Newport Ship website.