Ship Building project utilises ancient building technologies


A project in underway to recreate a sunken shipwreck using the techniques that would have been used by the original builders.

The project, called ShipWrEx, hopes to provide understanding of the development of ancient ship-building techniques through hands on discovery, with the team reconstructing part of the ship’s hull using different methods.

The hull’s design is based on a shipwreck found of the coast of Sicily, which dates back to around 500 B.C.

Paola Palma, Programme Leader for the MSc Maritime Archaeology course, and Project Leader, said, “This boat is extremely important as it shows two different shipbuilding technologies, the ‘laced hull’ technology and the ‘mortise and tenons’ technology. Usually, boats of this period only showed the laced hull technology and boats of a later period showed the mortise and tenons technology. This boat is very important as it shows both techniques used on the same ship. There is no manual so we are going to learn by doing!”

To understand why shipbuilders used both techniques to create the ship, the team from Bournemouth University set to work to recreate part of the ship, to better understand why both techniques were used, and which one is better.

Paola continued, “It’s extremely difficult to do it [build the ship] properly, in a fast way. Back then, shipbuilders were doing this every day so would have done it in a very fast fashion. We are experimenting so that we can further appreciate the archaeological remains that we find, and how these ships were built.”

The project is taking place at The Ancient Technology Centre (ATC) in Cranborne – with members of the ATC also taking part in the project. Other participants in the project include current BU students and staff members, keen to improve their knowledge by taking part.

Bertram Beanland, a student at BU studying BA Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology, is working as part of the team recreating the hull.  He said, “Bournemouth University is known for its hands on courses. We get a lot more hands on experience. [With this project] already we have found that there are three different techniques we could use to drill a hole in wood using traditional techniques, and all three methods look the same at the end. We have found that the quickest way to drill the hole is by going in through the edge, and we think it is definitely the technique they would have used. But it has taken us three tries to get it right. We wouldn’t have realised that through reading a book, we had to be hands on. You get real respect for ancient ship builders because everything has taken so long to do.”

Bertram is just one of a number of students taking part in the project – with undergraduate and postgraduate students from a variety of courses involved.

It is hoped that the project will continue so that the team can recreate the entire ship – and eventually sail it in water. Paola concludes, “For the moment we are building a portion of the boat, but one day we hope to take a completed boat out sailing.”