Visitors to the Museum witnessed a significant moment in the development of the Maritime Museum’s and University of Exeter’s ambitious prehistoric boat build when the keel was laid.
Forming the backbone of the vessel, the ‘laying down of the keel’ is a momentous event in the construction of any boat and seemingly more significant when part of an archaeological experimental first to build a full size 16m long replica Bronze Age boat based on the oldest remains ever found.
Andy Wyke, boat collections manager at National Maritime Museum Cornwall says: “4000 years ago the keel was part of a jigsaw of very complex technology, today the process looks basic. However, our exhibition and project allows you to go back in time to the Bronze Age, to view the tools that are being used to create the boat and see the methods and skills being adopted and utilised to recreate the oldest boat ever found in Europe. Once you have absorbed the history and heritage of what’s happening before your eyes, you can’t help but admire the innovation and draw breath at the sheer scale of the operation, then and now.”
A team of 30 volunteers from around the globe, led by professional boat builder, Brian Cumby, form just some of the team behind this first ever archaeological experiment. Individuals from Norway, Turkey, France and more locally, Cornwall have poured hours of blood, sweat and tears to get the oak to this stage.
Brian Cumby, Project Manager, says: “We’re a third of the way there and I’ve had a few sleepless nights, but it’s worth all of it. We’re re-enacting history, achieving something that has never been done before and this live reconstruction allows us to find out more about the processes behind building a sewn plank boat, to examine the seaworthiness of such vessels and to understand how it was built and sailed.
Now the process begins of splitting logs, making planks, using fibres from the branches of yew trees and stitching the planks. As we edge closer to the end of the build, we’ll be using moss to stop any leaking before launching the full scale prehistoric replica on Falmouth’s waters at the end of September.”
This collaborative project, to build the oldest replica of a Bronze Age sewn-plank boat, is led by Professor Robert Van de Noort from the University of Exeter. One of the world’s leading experts in Bronze Age period boats, he is heading up the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project and hasn’t been shy in getting hands-on with the build.
Professor Robert Van de Noort concludes: “It’s one thing to know of the processes behind the evolution of these boats but it’s another to actually get to grips with the tools and learn the skills used to create them. Spending time working with the teams on the construction has led to a new level of discovery and we’re all looking forward to exploring the next chapter in this first for investigative archaeology.”
2012BC Cornwall and the Sea in the Bronze Age exhibition is open until 30 September with the launching of the replica vessel forming the finale of the project. A two day conference will follow discussing the observations made during the build with a host of experts on the Bronze Age from across Europe.