Nigeria’s 8,000 year old boat

When Mallam Ya’u, a Fulani cattle herder in Dufuna, Nigeria began digging a well on May 4, 1987 little did he know that before he reached the depth necessary to draw water, he would find something of far greater significance.

The 8,000 year old Dufuna canoe being excavated in Yobe State, Nigeria (Wikipedia).

Africa’s oldest boat is in Nigeria. It was dug up in Yobe state two kilometers north of Dufuna between Potiskum and Gasha in the Fune Local Government Area. Located on the Komadugu Gana river, Dufuna is a dry plain now. Though the area floods during the rainy season, at one time it was under water year round.

At a depth of 4.5 meters beneath the surface of the earth, Ya’u encountered something hard while digging the well. The realization came that he had discovered something important while continuing to dig.

The area was once beneath the waters of an inland sea now known as Lake Megachad. Sometime before 3000 BC, Lake Megachad, the remains of which are Lake Chad, covered an area of 1,000,000 km2 (390,000 sq mi). That should tell you how much the conditions changed between when the boat was last used and today.

fromlake mega chad to lake chad
Map showing size of Lake Mega-Chad compared to current location of Lake Chad in Africa via

The University of Maiduguri in Nigeria began excavations at the site during the years 1989 and 1990. With the intention to determine if what was found was actually a canoe, samples were taken to conduct radiocarbon dating.

Economic constraints in Nigeria led to a partnership between the University of Maiduguri and the University of Frankfurt with Dr. Peter Breunig assisting. Abubakar Garba and Dr. Breunig conducted a second excavation, during which a second chipped sample was taken.

The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology page 22 cropped

Made from African Mahogany (Khaya senegalensis) the boat is 27.5 feet (8.4 meters) long and 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) in breadth and height.

Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures page 938 cropped
Prehistoric dugout canoe, about 8,000 years old, being excavated near Dufuna in northern Nigeria (photo: Breunig).

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