A team from Nottingham University's archaeology department believes it has rediscovered the remains of an intact Viking boat under a Merseyside pub - originally unearthed in the 1930s by builders excavating the boozer's basement, but quickly reburied because they feared "an archaeological dig would disrupt their work".
According to The Times, builder John McRae found the 10th-century vessel under the Railway Inn on the Wirral, "uncovered the bow and excavated 5ft" before his foreman intervened. McRae's son, also called John, recounted: "The foreman, who was called Alf Gunning, came along and said: 'For God's sake cover it up. We don't want an archaeological dig to stop the build.'"
John McRae senior later passed the details on to his son, who "compiled a report and a sketch", which he sent to Liverpool University in 1991. That would have been an end to the matter, but one Professor Harding of Nottingham University "heard rumours of the boat from a local policeman, who was able to put him in touch with the younger Mr McRae".
Duly armed with a ground-penetrating radar, Harding and his team went to investigate. McRae, now 69, said: "People thought it was just a myth. But we went up there with this ground-penetrating radar. When the results came back it showed the shape of a boat."
Harding reckons the builder's description identifies the vessel as a Viking transport ship, a theory backed by Norwegian expert Knut Paasche, who said the 30ft vessel "resembled a transport ship". Harding elaborated: "If the boat had a keel and a sail it could have been used to go across the Irish Sea. If you had six blokes in there as well as the sail you would be able to shift it at quite a pace - up to 20mph.
"It is a clinker vessel, which means it has overlapping planks, a design that came from Scandinavia and of which the Vikings were masters. If it is not directly Viking or built by the original Norse settlers then it was constructed not long after by their near-descendants. It is probably not a burial vessel. It is probably too deep for that and there is no mound."
Harding is now looking for £2m to raise the ship, which he says is likely the only one in Britain with a surviving wooden hull. He explained: "The only ones in the British Isles we know about - unfortunately without any wood remaining - have been at Balladoole, Isle of Man, and Sanday, Orkney, with not much left to see apart from imprints in sand and some weaponry.
"Waterlogged blue clay, in which the boat is buried, is the ideal environment for preserving material almost indefinitely - especially wood. It is an environment where bacteria can't grow. This is the same environment that the famous Viking ships in Norway - the Gokstad and Oseberg ships - were preserved in." ®
The first reader to make a quip about the ship probably having been stripped of all its fittings and left propped up on bricks will be banned from reading El Reg for a month.