National Maritime Museum asks public to help build Prehistoric boat in five months

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 January 2012
A photo of men posing around a sailing boat in a workshop
Great minds are thinking alike for a trip back to the Bronze Age in an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project at the National Maritime Museum© Jim Wileman
Andy Wyke, the Boat Collections Manager at the National Maritime Museum, isn't exaggerating when he calls the Cornwall venue's latest project "challenging and unique."

Trading his usual instruments for bronze axes, adzes, yew tree branches and moss, professional boat-builder Brian Cumby will spend five months recreating the Prehistoric model of the oldest boat ever found in Western Europe, allowing the public to watch the reconstruction in an "open workshop" before getting stuck in themselves.

Cumby will enlist the expertise of archaeologists and engineers from the University of Southampton and Oxford Brookes University, guided by Robert Van de Noort, a University of Exeter Professor who is one of the world's leading authorities on Bronze Age period sewn-plank boats.

"None of the boats have ever been found as complete boats," he says.

"Sails were not evident. We will seek to understand how they were constructed, how to steer such a long boat, how to measure how fast it can go and how the crew used paddles."

The moss will be used as caulking, leaving the team in uncertain waters when it comes to guaranteeing a watertight end product.

Nails hadn't been invented 2,000 years ago, so the hulls of the boats were made by stitching wooden planks together, a technique which only still exists in remote areas of Norway, Finland and India.

"This is a first for us," admits Wyke. "As soon as the exhibition opens, the live nature of the build will deliver new insights daily."

Wyke's team have formed a partnership with Van de Noort's colleagues in Exeter to try and trace the maritime connections Cornwall had with Europe thousands of years ago.

"We are honoured to be hosting this never-done-before project," he adds.

"Inviting the public to get hands-on with the build is a new way of thinking and offers a wonderful transfer of skills and knowledge.

"And building on our research capacity in this way allows us a new opportunity to expand our knowledge as a maritime research centre."

The foray will form part of 2012 BC Cornwall and the sea in the Bronze age, a major exhibition at the museum featuring rare objects which have never been seen in the UK before. The show opens in April.
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