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Toward the ship as we know it

Frames and planks

Bronze age boats from Northern Europe 

Archaeological evidence from Northern Europe suggests that during the Bronze Age (i.e. from about 2400 BC) boats began to be constructed from planks.   Compared with logboats (see screen DS3B) plank boats could be built larger, were lighter and more buoyant, and could be used in shallower waters.   A boat found on Humberside has a flat bottom consisting of three planks, with another three on each side to form the side strakes.   The strakes came close together at either end to meet the upturned bottom planks.   Inside are frames to help support the planking.   There is no evidence of these boats being fitted with masts or sails.

Tools for splitting wood to give planks were certainly available in the Bronze Age.   Excavated boats show that the boatbuilders of this age were expert woodworkers: the planks fit together beautifully.   However, another problem had to be overcome: finding a way of fastening the planks firmly together.   Many of the bronze age plank boats found in Europe were stitched together.   Holes were cut in the edges of the planks, and these were lashed to adjacent planks.   Where these survive, the lashings were made from pliant branches of trees such as willow or yew.   The fact that planks were sewn together and that the boats had frames may be evidence that the predecessors of these vessels were hide boats rather than dugouts.

Evidence from the Mediterranean 

The rich archaeological finds from Egypt show that by 3500 BC substantial vessels were being built and – in contrast to European finds ‑ fitted with sails.   Egyptian boats were built from the only suitable wood growing locally, acacia.   It is available only in short lengths, and the planks had to be fastened together with mortise and tenon or dovetail joints – evidence of a high standard of woodworking.   These boats were built shell first, and frames inserted once the planking was completed.   This tradition has continued up to modern times in the eastern world.   It is quite different from the modern European practice of building a frame first and fastening planks to it to give the overall boat shape. 


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