The archaeology of moving on


Springtime is the best time to sell a narrowboat – the buyers will want to do any work on their new vessel in time to spend the summer cruising. After several months of watching my new boat grow from a few plates of steel into a viable living space, I’m almost ready to take delivery. So it is time to sell my carapace, my home of thirteen years, my other half.

I will see Tinker again as she moves around the system but she is one of thousands of steel boats, slowly caterpillaring around the canals. The canals themselves have a simple and powerful, ineradicable footprint in the archaeological record. The boats are less permanent, but even so canal boats of all periods so survive. Where they are scuttled or accidentally sunk, they are usually anaerobically preserved – they have been found in infilled docks. There are so many boats on the canals now that mere statistics will ensure the survival of some, as fragmentary or whole artefacts found in a thousand years at the bottom of a trench.

Whether Tinker will be one of those survivors, we can’t tell. But if she is, I hope the archaeologists of the future excavate her carefully enough to find the trace of me that is left in her bilges – a spark of Blue John, a mineral found only in the Peak District, in an earring I dropped one morning and never found. It’s in there somewhere – a tiny bit of my history, in the bones of the boat.



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