Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dover Bronze Age Boat Replica Built, Not Floating

[Dear readers: I'm sorry about posting so rarely during the past few months. Life's busy, as I'm sure you understand. Here's a quick one just to remind you that I'm here, and a promise to do a more substantial post as soon as I can. Thanks for your continued interest and your patience.]

I've written before about the Dover Bronze Age Boat. This is my favorite ancient boat, mainly because I was among the first journalists on the scene, and it is the only marine archaeological excavation that I have experienced up close (an experience which filled me with awe). The replica of the boat that has been under construction (which I reported here as being a full-size reproduction, but which was, in fact, built at half-size) is now essentially complete, except that it doesn't float.

As shown in the Kickstarter video, the replica's sponsors now plan to disassemble, caulk, and reassemble the boat in water-tight condition, and then to campaign it along England's south coast. The video shows parts of the boat in fine detail, including some provocative internal X-frames. I'd like to know the evidence or the reasoning behind this unusual feature. Also of interest, but unfortunately not shown, is the archaeologists' interpretation of the unusual yoke-shaped feature on the upper side of the bottom's bow end, and how it fit together with other planks in closing in the bow.

I've also written previously about the replica Ferriby Boats. Also from Britain's Bronze Age, the Ferriby boats exhibit a similar technological approach but different engineering solutions to the problems of edge-joining and waterproofing the joints between heavy hewn planks. It would be interesting to test Ferriby and a full-size Dover replica side by side and compare their capabilities.


  1. I agree, those X-frames are odd. Perhaps they were merely a money/time-saving gesture. The way to brace the sides could well have been been natural L-shaped "knees" carved out of tree trunks with branches, very strong, but also, perhaps very time-consuming to carve out in Bronze Age fashion and in these days a fewer good boat-building trees, perhaps very expensive? But keep up the good reporting! This is a fantastic site to receive news like this.

  2. Was looking down at the Ferriby reproduction moored to the Museum pontoon in Falmouth Harbout the other day. Bit sad with bilge water sloshing around in the bottom of the boat. This is the question: What do you do with these boats when they are built? They are big and very heavy and prone to deterioration.

    One suggestion for the Ferriby is to bury it in the mud and evaluate its decay. This would be a valid archaeological exercise but a waste.

    If in an exhibition they soon become unseaworthy, see Tim Severin's Brendan ( in its greenhouse with dry cracking leather, for example, or the Sae Wyfling half-size Sutton Hoo boat that was seen next to the Sutton Hoo exhibition with its seams opening nicely in the hot sunshine one time we visited.

  3. Edwin: thanks for your comments.
    As much as I love historical boat recreations and restoration, I agree that they are almost always a problem to maintain. Build them and campaign them -- great! -- but maybe not keep them around afterward. I love visiting historic ships, but the world clearly has more of them than people are willing to fund. Nearly every organization that attempts to preserve them finds itself, eventually, unable to do so, unless it has an active mission for them like tall ships training. Just keeping them sitting around simply doesn't generate enough excitement among enough wealthy folks and foundations to bring in the necessary dollars.
    I think your idea of evaluating how they decay is a fine one that could lead to useful archaeological techniques for interpreting finds. You might find it a hard sell, though, to the folks who just spent hundreds (thousands?) of hours carving the Dover boat.