Discovery of Medieval Boat in England Hailed ‘Rare and Important’

Discovery of Medieval Boat in England Hailed ‘Rare and Important’

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Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a medieval boat during construction of a drainage project along the River Chet, near Loddon in England, which dates back to around 1400. The finding has been hailed as ‘rare and important’ by the team because no boats of this date have previously been found in the region.

The 600-year-old oak timber frame vessel measures six-metres in length and is exceptionally well-preserved. It was found in a marshy area of the waterway network known as the Norfolk Broads

Made from wooden timbers, iron and copper alloy nails, the medieval boat appears to have been waterproofed using a mixture of animal hair and tar.

“This is an extremely rare and important find," site archaeologist Heather Wallis said. "No boats of this date have previously been found in Norfolk so this has been a unique opportunity to record and recover a vessel of this date and type.”

The boat, which would have had a sail, may have been used to carry light goods back and forth to markets along the rivers, lakes and canals of the Broads.

"This area has had a strong reliance on water transport and related industries, particularly since the creation of the Broads by peat digging in the medieval period", said Wallis.

The archaeology team now plans to recover the boat from its resting place to they can perform tests on the wood and date it. Eventually the medieval vessel will be freeze-dried and preserved for life in a Norfolk Museum.

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    Architecture is about evolution, not revolution. It used to be thought that once the Romans pulled out of Britain in the fifth century, their elegant villas, carefully-planned towns and engineering marvels like Hadrian's Wall simply fell into decay as British culture was plunged into the Dark Ages. It took the Norman Conquest of 1066 to bring back the light, and the Gothic cathedral-builders of the Middle Ages played an important part in the revival of British culture.

    The great cathedrals and parish churches that lifted up their towers to heaven were acts of devotion in stone.

    However, the truth is not as simple as that. Romano-British culture - and that included architecture along with language, religion, political organisation and the arts - survived long after the Roman withdrawal. And although the Anglo-Saxons had a sophisticated building style of their own, little survives to bear witness to their achievements as the vast majority of Anglo-Saxon buildings were made of wood.

    Even so, the period between the Norman landing at Pevensey in 1066 and the day in 1485 when Richard III lost his horse and his head at Bosworth, ushering in the Tudors and the Early Modern period, marks a rare flowering of British building. And it is all the more remarkable because the underlying ethos of medieval architecture was 'fitness for purpose'. The great cathedrals and parish churches that lifted up their towers to heaven were not only acts of devotion in stone they were also fiercely functional buildings. Castles served their particular purpose and their battlements and turrets were for use rather than ornament. The rambling manor houses of the later Middle Ages, however, were primarily homes, their owners achieving respect and maintaining status by their hospitality and good lordship rather than the grandeur of their buildings.

    Fitness for purpose also characterised the homes of the poorer classes. Such people didn't matter very much to the ruling elite and so neither did their houses. These were dark, primitive structures of one or two rooms, usually with crude timber frames, low walls and thatched roofs. They weren't built to last. And they didn't.

    Medieval Axe Boat Protected

    The earliest wreck, known as the Axe Boat, lies in a mud bank on the west side of the Axe River in south Devon. Before appearing out of the mud in 2001 following changes in the flow of the River Axe, the wreck was unrecorded, suggesting it has remained buried in the riverbed within living memory. It’s a rare example of vessels of the late medieval period and dating of extracted samples of wood indicates that it was built between 1400 and 1640. The hull retains characteristic features of medieval ships such as the ‘crook’d floor’ – a Y-shaped framing timber at the bottom of the vessel.

    The Axe Boat is likely to have been used in coastal trade or fishing and such vessels were once prolific as England’s mercantile trade developed. Axmouth was ranked as a major port by the mid-14th century and accounted for 15% of the country’s shipping trade.

    The birth of England—and the death of furnished burial

    The evolving burial practices coincided with a time of profound change in England. Once under Roman rule, England became independent around 410 and faced wave after wave of conquerors, including the Germanic Angles and Saxons.

    Between 400 and 600, these pagan powers coalesced into kingdoms that converted to Christianity in the seventh century. The most powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms survived the Viking invasion that began in the ninth century. They went on to unite as the Kingdom of England in 927 and form the basis of the modern British monarchy.

    The warrior interred with the ship is thought to have been an Anglo-Saxon king, perhaps Rædwald of East Anglia, who ruled a kingdom that included Suffolk between about 599 and 624. Dates on coins buried at the site coincide with his reign, and the quality and value of the grave goods suggest a person of extreme influence.

    So, too, does the existence of the grave itself. “The very act of dragging a ship up from the river downhill, digging a hole big enough to contain the ship, and building the burial chamber is almost like a piece of theatre,” says Brunning. “We can imagine it involved huge groups of people. The funeral itself would have been an enormous occasion, and the [barrow] was so enormous, it could probably be seen from the river below when people sailed by.”

    The individual interred at Sutton Hoo was buried with his sword. Recent research by British Museum curator Sue Brunning suggests that the weapon's Anglo-Saxon owner was left handed.

    Archaeologists think Sutton Hoo was also a burying ground for the royal’s relatives, who were laid to rest in about 17 other mounds near the presumed king. Another, smaller ship was also found at the site.

    Political power might be the key to the change in burial practices, says archaeologist Heinrich Härke, an early medieval burial specialist and a professor at HSE University in Moscow who was not involved in the research. As leaders across England began to consolidate power and form kingdoms during the sixth century, Härke says, it may have become less important for people to display their power and bury such ornate goods.

    Another early medieval archaeologist, Andrew Reynolds of University College London, has a theory of his own: The rise of kings impoverished everyone who wasn’t among the upper crust.

    “English royal families’ increasing grip on resources and land dealt the first death blow to the freedoms previously enjoyed by small scale communities,” he says. “Wealth became polarised.”

    Then there’s the rise of Christianity. As the new religion took hold across Europe, burial mounds went out of style and royal resting places migrated to churchyards or tombs inside churches and cathedrals. The number of grave goods declined, too. From the eighth century on, royals and non-elites alike were usually buried with nothing more than shrouds, personal items of jewellery, or Christian ornaments like crosses.

    Reynolds sees the Sutton Hoo burial as part of that transition, especially since it seems to have been the burial place of just one Anglo-Saxon family, rather than part of a larger cemetery.

    A view across the frost-covered burial mounds at Sutton Hoo on a dawn morning. Part of the burial field discovered near the famed ship has been left untouched for future generations of archaeologists to explore with new questions and new technologies.

    “All of the high-status burials from this period are situated away from the burial grounds used by people of lesser status,” he says. “What we are looking at here is an attempt by people who controlled access to high-status goods, and who almost certainly called the shots locally, to distinguish themselves from others, not just by the acquisition of ostentatious items, but also spatially, to set themselves apart.”

    Brownlee, on the other hand, thinks increased trade and connection across western Europe, not monarchical power grabs, explain the trend toward bare burials. “The change in most burial practices happened through communication with people of a similar social status,” she theorises, citing sociological and linguistic models that show cultural change spreads most quickly when it comes from peers.

    Perhaps the Sutton Hoo burial was rooted in royal fear, says Brunning. “There are lots of theories about whether this is a reaction to the arrival of Christianity—one last hoorah to the pre-Christian way of doing things,” she says. “It might be a sign of insecurity rather than strength, a symbolic gesture that covers over some rather insecure feelings.”

    Sutton Hoo

    Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

    Sutton Hoo, estate near Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, that is the site of an early medieval burial ground that includes the grave or cenotaph of an Anglo-Saxon king. The burial, one of the richest Germanic burials found in Europe, contained a ship fully equipped for the afterlife (but with no body) and threw light on the wealth and contacts of early Anglo-Saxon kings its discovery, in 1939, was unusual because ship burial was rare in England.

    The impression of the rotted-away ship’s timbers in the trench of sand 25 feet (7.6 metres) deep and the remaining rivets showed the ship to have been a mastless clinker-built rowboat more than 80 feet (27 metres) long. The dating of coins found at the site and the presence of both Christian and pagan features suggest that it may have been the cenotaph of Raedwald (died 624/625), an East Anglian king who had converted to Christianity and subsequently returned to paganism. The identity of the king is still in question, however, and another candidate is Aethelhere who died in 654 fighting for Penda, pagan king of Mercia, at Winwaed. The rite of ship burial and certain items in the grave have parallels in Sweden and suggest a hitherto unsuspected Swedish origin for the East Anglian royal dynasty.

    In the burial site there were 41 items of solid gold, now housed in the British Museum, along with a quantity of imported silverware. One great silver dish bears the control stamp of the Byzantine emperor Anastasius I (491–518). In addition, silver bowls, cups, and spoons inscribed in Greek and a bronze bowl from the Middle East show the range of the kingdom’s contacts. The royal tomb and its grave goods throw much light on the civilization depicted by Beowulf.

    This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

    ‘Sutton Hoo’ Treasures: Spectacular Anglo-Saxon Finds in 7th-century Ship Burial Mound

    A 2016 study found that a black carbon-based material found aboard the luxurious, 7th-century ship, buried at a site called Sutton Hoo in England, is bitumen – an organic, petroleum-based asphalt that is found only in the Middle East.

    The Anglo-Saxon ship buried in honor of a 7th-century monarch carried the rare, tar-like material. The ship’s burial mound, along with other burial mounds, were found approximately 80 years ago near the Deben river in today’s Great Britain.

    A model of the burial mood. Steven J. Plunkett CC BY-SA 3.0

    The study which indicated the discovery provided further evidence of important artifacts being transported over long distances in early medieval periods before ending at the burial site.

    However, at Sutton Hoo, this Middle East bitumen product wasn’t the only proof of contact with the civilizations of many places- silverware from the Eastern Mediterranean, some Middle Eastern textile, and an Egyptian bowl were also found on the boat.

    However, it’s quite unlikely that the Anglo-Saxon vessel discovered at Sutton Hoo ever sailed the waters of the Red Sea. Probably, the valuable items changed hands many times before reaching the shores of Eastern England, back then known as East Anglia.

    At the time, this transnational association was most likely one of exchange, with items bartered or accepted as diplomatic endowments between high-ranking leaders or rulers, perhaps passing through many hands before arriving in the East Anglian Kingdom.

    A small part of the Sutton Hoo gravefield the yielded remarkable finds. Dr Steven Plunkett – CC BY-SA 2.5

    Sutton Hoo was first discovered in 1939. It was one of the most impressive ancient burial sites ever unearthed in England. The 90-foot long Anglo-Saxon vessel was only a portion of an enormous complex of 18 distinct burial mounds uncovered near modern-day Suffolk. The vessel was laden with luxurious riches, including jewelry of gold and garnet, coins, silverware, and armor.

    The study researchers indicated that many scholars believed the ship was entombed to revere King Raedwald of East Anglia, who died in 624 or 625 AD. Archaeologists aren’t sure if the king’s body was buried on the ship. If it was, they think it must’ve been entirely consumed over the centuries, by the acidic soil.

    Replica made for the British Museum. Gernot Keller CC BY-SA 2.5

    Throughout the ship, archaeologists have found bits of the black substance rich in carbon, long thought to be Stockholm Tar or in modern terminology- ‘pine tar,’ a material used to waterproof ships. The boat itself showed signs of wear and tear and had probably sailed along shallow coastlines and on narrow rivers. For the actual burial ritual, the people most likely dragged the ship hundreds of feet inland from the Deben River.

    The helmet is one of the most important finds at Sutton Hoo Photo Credit Geni CC BY-SA 4.0

    The study came upon the new find while researching tar from several various ancient European shipwrecks. It referenced the original 1960s chemical analysis of the tar and realized diagnostic procedures had been significantly enhanced since that time.

    The study included its analysis using a collection of newer tools and techniques. The report included separating the substance into layers, identifying its chemical makeup by using reflected light waves to measure the various versions of carbon with different quantities of neutrons in the substance.

    The analysis hence yielded a surprise! The tar-like material on the Anglo-Saxon ship was actually bitumen originally from the Middle East. Although the study did not clearly indicate what it was used for, the bitumen could have been attached to some other object originally, such as wood or leather that had worn away over time.

    There were captivating, though faint, circular lines on the surface of several of the bitumen fragments that could signify where something adhered to it, or possibly that the bitumen itself was shaped into an object. However, bitumen was also valued as a healing tonic, so even chunks of rough bitumen might have been perceived as valuable, Live Science reported.

    Part of the burial ground at Sutton Hoo

    Ship burials were quite common throughout Northern Europe for many centuries, although the Vikings were probably the most well-known people to have buried their high-ranking society members on ships.

    Memorials were also built, indirectly honoring the seafaring culture. For example, as long as 3,000 years ago, people in the Baltics built memorials to honor their ocean-oriented lifestyle.

    Navigation and Related Instruments in 16th-Century England

    By the dawn of the sixteenth century, the ancient art of navigation had begun to develop rapidly in response to oceanic explorers who needed to find their positions without landmarks, to determine the locations of their discoveries, and to establish routes between the new-found lands and home. Although the relationship of certain heavenly bodies to time of day and terrestrial directions had been known since ancient times, the first two decades of the sixteenth century saw the rigorous application of astronomy and mathematics to navigation. The new learning met the New World.

    Tools such as an hourglass, a quadrant, a compass and a nautical chart were vital for effective navigation.

    Navigation is based largely on the spherical coordinates latitude -angular distance north or south of the equator - and longitude - angular distance east or west of a generally accepted reference location, such as the Greenwich Observatory. Finding longitude requires comparing local time, measured by a heavenly body, with the local time at a reference location, kept by a clock. Mechanical time-pieces existed in the Elizabethan era, but until the late eighteenth century they had to be corrected frequently by sun sightings and were therefore almost useless aboard ship. Measuring latitude, on the other hand, does not require an accurate time-piece. Refinement of instruments enabled sixteenth-century mariners to determine latitude with reasonable accuracy. Latitude was therefore extremely important to Elizabethan navigation.

    Unable to use the latitude-longitude system to the fullest, sixteenth-century navigators supplemented latitude with a rho-theta (distance-and-bearing) system - dead (from deduced) reckoning. Beginning at a known or assumed position, the navigator measured, as best he could, the heading and speed of the ship, the speeds of the ocean currents and the leeward (downwind) drift of the ship, and the time spent on each heading. From this information he could compute the course he had made and the distance he had covered. Dead reckoning, through educated guesswork, is often very accurate. It is still practiced on ships and aircraft, and it lies at the heart of modern doppler and inertial navigational equipment. Errors tend to accumulate in dead reckoning, so its accuracy depends in part on the length of the voyage and the ability of the navigator to use latitude and other information to limit error. But above all else, dead reckoning depends on reliable instruments.

    Instruments For Measuring Latitude

    The celestial globe was a mounted sphere depicting the heavens instead of the earth. While many were designed to grace private libraries, some were used as navigational instruments. With the introduction by Gerardus Mercator, in 1569, of practical, affordable sea charts, on which were shown parallels of latitude and meridians of longitude, the costly and delicate celestial globe gradually fell out of use.

    It could be difficult to use an astrolabe when on a ship's deck. It required precision that could be difficult on a rocking ship.

    The astrolabe was used to determine latitude by measuring the angle between the horizon and Polaris, also called the North Star, the Pole Star, or Stella Maris (Star of the Sea). Polaris was the preferred star for measuring latitude because it is less than one degree from the north celestial pole (the point in the heavens directly above the geographic north pole).

    The astrolabe is an instrument of some antiquity Persian models dating as far back as the eleventh century have been found, and Chaucer wrote a Treatise on it in the late 1300s. By the Elizabethan era it consisted of a large brass ring fitted with an alidade or sighting rule. The user held the astrolabe by a loop at the top, turned the alidade so that he could sight the star along its length, and read the altitude off the scale engraved on the ring - difficult tasks to perform on the deck of a heaving ship. The consequences of imprecise measurement are serious (a latitude reading just one degree off produces an error in position of 60 nautical miles), so mariners often used the astrolabe in pairs, one to sight along the alidade, the other to steady the instrument and take readings. On shore, however, the astrolabe was easier to use and more accurate.

    The quadrant, shaped like a quarter-circle, was another hand-held instrument of wood or brass. The user measured the altitude of Polaris by sighting through a peephole and taking a reading where a short plumb line intersected the scale on the outer edge of the arc.

    The cross-staff had developed from the tenth-century Arab kamal. It consisted of a square staff 3.5-4 feet in length, bearing a scale, with four sliding cross-pieces or transversals of graduated lengths. Only one transversal was used at a time, its selection being based upon the height of the heavenly body in the sky - the higher the body, the longer the transversal. The user held on end of the staff to his eye, then slid the transversal onto the far end and moved it back and forth until its upper and lower edges seemed to touch, respectively, the observed body and the horizon. The location of the transversal on the scale was converted by a table into degrees of latitude.

    Polaris is often obscured by clouds, fog, or daylight, and it is below the horizon for anyone in the Southern Hemisphere. Darkness often makes the horizon hard to find. So navigators learned to use the astrolabe, quadrant, and cross-staff with the sun. A piece of smoked glass was frequently used to keep the user from blinding himself. Under lock and key, for use by the captain and pilot only, were highly prized declination tables or astronomical charts showing calculated heights of the sun above the equator at noon for every day of the year.

    The foregoing instruments provided invaluable information, but their use depended on the visibility of heavenly bodies. As a result, mariners relied on the magnetic compass, an instrument developed, probably independently, by Chinese in the eleventh century and Europeans in the twelfth. Day or night, fair weather or foul, Northern or Southern hemisphere, the compass always points more or less north. At first compasses seem to have been used mainly to measure wind direction, but mariners soon found them much more beneficial when used for finding headings.

    A typical sixteenth-century compass consisted of a large magnetized needle fastened to the underside of a circular card on which the several directions were drawn. The compass rose, as it was sometimes called, usually had thirty-two points 11.25 degrees apart - north, north by east, north by northeast, and so on. (Sailors learned early in their careers to "box the compass," that is, recite all the points in order.) The needle was pivoted on a fine brass pin to enable it to swing freely. The compass card was suspended by gimbals (concentric mounting rings), which allowed the card to remain level regardless of the motion of the ship. The mechanism was kept in an open-topped box attached to a small cupboard called a bittacle (later binnacle), which was fixed to the deck in front of the helm. A lodestone, or piece of naturally magnetic iron ore, was used to re-magnetize the compass needle.

    Christopher Columbus said that the compass "always seeks the truth." Unlike the modern gyroscopic compass, however, the magnetic compass does not always seek true north. The magnetic pole is not at the top of the world, but an ever-changing distance away in the Canadian Arctic. Local variations in the magnetic field of the earth produce different errors at different spots. This fact was recognized in the fifteenth century. The North Star gives a good approximation of true north, so compass variation was easy to measure even in the Elizabethan era. Instructions for an Atlantic voyage planned by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1582 list many pieces of navigational gear, including "An instrument for the variation of the compass." In his "Briefe and True Report" (1588), Thomas Harriot, chief scientist for the Lane colony (1585-1586), mentions "Mathematicall instruments," which undoubtedly included such a device. Some mariners mounted the needle on the compass card so as to take local compass variation into account and make the card indicate true north. This practice caused problems, especially when mariners tried to sail unfamiliar vessels or when coasting vessels made transoceanic voyages. (Compasses adjusted for the easterly variation found in Great Britain, for example, gave unsatisfactory readings in parts of North America with westerly variation.) Using several interchangeable cards with needles mounted at different angles for different degrees of variation did little to reduce confusion.

    Instruments For Measuring Time

    Accurate time is essential to dead reckoning. Water-clocks (clepsydras) and portable sundials suffered obvious disadvantages aboard ship, so the sandglass or hourglass was the timepiece most often used in navigation. The most common glasses were the four-hour and half-hour sizes. Days at sea were divided into six four-hour shifts or watches. A ship's boy carefully tended the half-hour glass, turning it as soon as the sand had run through and calling out or striking a bell for all aboard to hear. At the end of four hours, he turned the four-hour glass. (Hence the system of bells and watches still used aboard many vessels.) The texture of the sand could affect its rate of flow, as could condensation within the glass, so several glasses were used together for accuracy.

    The glass was used in combination with the log, a piece of wood attached to a line knotted at uniform intervals. A sailor heaved the log from the stern of the ship and let the line pay out freely as the ship pulled away. When the sailor felt the first knot pass through his fingers, he shouted a signal to another sailor, who turned a one-minute glass. The first sailor counted aloud the number of knots that passed until the sand ran out. A timer of one minute (one-sixtieth of an hour), knots spaced one-sixtieth of a nautical mile apart, and simple arithmetic easily gave the speed of the ship in nautical miles per hour ("knots").

    The nocturnal consisted of two concentric plates of brass or wood, the larger divided into twelve equal parts corresponding to the months of the year, the smaller into twenty-four parts corresponding to hours of the day. By lining up a sighting mechanism with Polaris or certain stars in Ursa Major or Ursa Minor, the user could determine the time of night with reasonable accuracy.

    Charts not only gave the mariner an idea of where he was going, but also a means of plotting his past and present positions. Cartographers and mariners endured many of the same problems, such as inability to determine precise longitude. Consequently, most sixteenth-century charts were not very accurate by modern standards. To make matters worse, cartographers often copied from one another, used information from unreliable sources, and relied on their own imaginations to fill in gaps in coverage.

    The traverse board was used to approximate the course run by a ship during a watch. It consisted of a circular piece of wood on which the compass points had been painted. Eight small holes were evenly spaced along the radius to each point, and eight small pegs were attached with string to the center of the board. Every half-hour one of the pegs was stuck into the next succeeding hole for the compass point closest to the heading the ship had maintained during that half hour. At the end of that watch, a general course was determined from the position of the pegs. With speed information from the long and line, the traverse board served as a crude dead-reckoning computer reminiscent of those used to this day aboard aircraft.

    Used to find depth and sea-bed characteristics, the lead and line was an ancient, but highly useful navigational aid. It consisted of a sounding lead attached to a line with evenly spaced knots or bits of colored cloth worked into it. The lead was tossed overboard and allowed to sink to the sea floor. Each mark was distinctive, and the distance between successive marks was constant so water depth could easily be measured ("by the mark") or estimated ("by the deep"). When hauled aboard, the lead, by virtue of tallow packed into a small depression in its bottom, brought up a sample of the sea bed, useful in finding a safe anchorage.

    Albeit not a navigational instrument, the boatswain's pipe was a tool of great value. This peculiarly shaped whistle was used by the boatswain (the contraction bos'n was not used in the 16th century) to pipe orders throughout the ship. Its high-pitched sound was usually audible, even above the howling of the wind, to crewmen working high in the rigging.

    The ship's log contained a record of courses, speeds, soundings, and other relevant information. A good log was sufficiently accurate and comprehensive to allow the navigator to check his dead reckoning.

    Text by Olivia Isil edited and expanded by lebame houston and Wynne Dough
    Illustrations: Vicki Wallace

    Anglo Saxon and Viking Ship Burial – The British Museum

    I was fortunate (yet again!) to snag a spot at another one of Dr. Sue Brunning’s talks, this time, at the British Museum. The topic: Anglo-Saxon and Viking ship burial. This came straight on the heels of her recent presentation about the renovations and refurbishment of Room 41 at the British Museum which houses the majestic Sutton Hoo collection. At this session, the British Museum invited renown Norwegian archaeologist, Jan Bill from the Kulturhistorisk Museum in Oslo. He spoke at length about various Viking burials and attempted to compare and contrast English and Norwegian funerary methods.

    Ship Burial in Anglo Saxon England

    Ship burials occurred between the 5th – 11th centuries in several competing kingdoms. Until the end of the seventh century, Anglo-Saxons cremated their dead, and used burial rites in different types of watercraft.

    • Parts of timbers from boats
    • Entire riverine or marine vessels
    • Small craft (dugout longboats)

    There are three confirmed ship burials in England: East Anglia, Snape in Aldeburgh, and two at Sutton Hoo.

    Snape is the site of an Anglo Saxon burial ground found by Septimus Davidson in 1862. Davidson found a seventeen metre long ship in Snape, Suffolk. It was the first Anglo Saxon burial recognised in England but the records of this find are sketchy and incomplete. Davidson’s accounts indicate the boat was pointed at both ends, and a clinker built construction (overlapping). Unfortunately, the burial was robbed and very little was left behind. Archaeologists managed to find ship rivets, a shaggy cloak that they believe was hair, pieces of Jasper, two fragmentary spear heads, and claw beaker fragments.

    Sutton Hoo is a World famous Anglo Saxon ship burial. In the late 1930s, Edith Pretty invited archaeologists to investigate her land which contained several large burial mounds. The excavation was better documented than Snape. It had also been robbed in mound two, but they did manage to find: a shield, knives, silver buckle, five hundred rivets from the ship, copper alloy basin, and gilded mounts.

    The ship was placed on top of the burial chamber. (Sutton Hoo mound 2). The largest mound is mound 1, and incredibly, it wasn’t raided. There was an imprint of a twenty seven metre long ship, that’s roughly three double decker buses. The burial chamber in mound 1 was contained inside the ship. It contained drinking horns, a heavy gold buckle, helmet, coins, and a cauldron. The treasures were donated to the British Musuem in 1939. This grave was for someone of very high standing. The labour involved in dragging the ship to the burial ground, and filling and burying it meant his was a person that was meant to be remembered. It is believd that this was a king of East Anglia.

    Oseberg and Gokstad situated at the Oslo Fjord. These ship burials were monumental in size, 40-50m in diameter.

    Oseberg is the oldest burial it was excavated in 1904. Documentation was not up to modern standards but was a good excavation for its time and there is an abundance of information on this burial. It is the best preserved Viking ship that we know of at 21.5m long and built in Western Norway, in 820 AD.

    Contents of Oseberg Ship Burial

    The Aft – objects that relate to food, farming production, cooking and eating.

    Central area – where the dead bodies were placed in Oseberg’s case it was two women. This centre portion contained personal belongings, textiles, weaving equipment, treasures, and some food and drink as well.

    Fore – ship equipment, wagon, three sledges, things related to travel activities, fifteen horses, beds, an ox head, dogs.

    One of the four sledges found in the Oseberg ship. Three of the four sledges were highly decorated, with one used as a working sledge. The Oseberg wagon: the only preserved Viking age wagon in the world. It is decorated with wood carvings, it has a turning radius of 12m. The wood carvings are of cats, snakes, human figures and rope carvings.

    It also contains five animal head sculptures, they were found with a rope from a rattle in their mouths, witha 2.7m handle and could have symbolised a need to keep away evil in travels. The ship was placed in a trench and was moored to a huge stone so that it wouldn’t move.

    Situated twenty km away from Oseberg. Gokstad mound was constructed around 900 AD. It is much better developed than the Oseberg ship. It was excavated in 1880 by Nicolay Nicolaysen. It contained one man who had been killed in battle. It was robbed but still had many objects.

    Contents of Gokstad Ship Burial

    The Gokstad Ship was filled with equipment, a tent, 3 boats, a copper alloy cauldron, 2 peacocks, 6 dogs, horse gear, a gaming board and pieces, 12 horses, hunting equipment, beds, and textiles including silk. It is assumed the man placed in the ship was a king due to the exotic and expensive items buried with the body. It contains the largest collection or Arabic coins in Norway. It also contains beads, crystals from Central Asia, pearls, and weights all which indicate a high level of trade.

    The oldest ship burials were in East Anglia, then, in the eighth century in Western Norway, and in Eastern Norway in the ninth century. Bill explained that these ships were monuments built to promote a certain ideology. Burial mounds had to have an audience, the landscape around the burial has to be viewed as part of the explanation for the burials themselves. Gokstad is situated at an important trading place, another Norse Viking ship is situated at a burial place for kings. These are arguments in soil meant to convey political significance. Sutton Hoo was also situated on an older burial site and was also trying to transmit the importance of the person buried with it. The amount of labour and investment involved in Sutton Hoo indicates it would have been at the very least, a semi-public event. The poem Beowulfgives us some insight into the burial practices of the day. It was most likely a substantial funerary ritual.

    According to burials can be read as reenactments of a mythological past and link the deceased individual to the Gods, like Odin. Germanic kingdoms used foundation myths to cement royal power these burials were part of this proof that this person was connected to the Gods. Boat burials were common in Norway but massive ship burials were not so common.

    Ship and boat burials are used in different contexts and were usually linked to high status individuals. In Uppland Sweden, there are dynastic ship burials. When you look at Norway, the pattern differs. Boat burials were common in the western part but virtually non existent in the east until the massive ship burials.

    Brunning pointed out that we have very few examples of ship burial in England. It’s difficult to extrapolate with so few examples but for the ones we do have, they seem to be associated with high status individuals. Sadly, most sites have been robbed.

    Also, there are no records of these burials being tied to the religious belief of ferrying the dead to the afterlife. This idea is unlikely in the case of Anglo Saxon England because the individual was buried outside the ship in one of the mounds. For the Vikings, the idea of ship transporting the dead to the afterlife, was also questionable. There are no records of this being the case. However, there were wagons, horses and sledges placed in the ship so the notion of travelling someplace was definitely there.

    Were there any major differences between the two burials? There appear to have been more animals in Norway’s burials. Animals were uncommon in Sutton Hoo and there were not generally as many animal sacrifices in England. The layout of the burials in Anglo Saxon England were also not as distinctive as in the Viking ship burials where there were definitive sections for specific items. There is a difference of at least 150 years between Sutton Hoo and the earliest burial in Norway. That gap makes a difference.

    Was the burial cosmological at all? The tendency in Norway was to bury their dead pointing south with little deviation and often pointing towards water. This may have some kind of meaning but we can’t make sweeping generalisations about it.

    For more information about the British Museum Viking exhibit, please visit their website:

    Oars and sails

    The earliest historical evidence of boats is found in Egypt during the 4th millennium bce . A culture nearly completely riparian, Egypt was narrowly aligned along the Nile, totally supported by it, and served by transport on its uninterruptedly navigable surface below the First Cataract (at modern-day Aswān). There are representations of Egyptian boats used to carry obelisks on the Nile from Upper Egypt that were as long as 300 feet (100 metres), longer than any warship constructed in the era of wooden ships.

    The Egyptian boats commonly featured sails as well as oars. Because they were confined to the Nile and depended on winds in a narrow channel, recourse to rowing was essential. This became true of most navigation when the Egyptians began to venture out onto the shallow waters of the Mediterranean and Red seas. Most early Nile boats had a single square sail as well as one level, or row, of oarsmen. Quickly, several levels came into use, as it was difficult to maneuver very elongated boats in the open sea. The later Roman two-level bireme and three-level trireme were most common, but sometimes more than a dozen banks of oars were used to propel the largest boats.

    Navigation on the sea began among Egyptians as early as the 3rd millennium bce . Voyages to Crete were among the earliest, followed by voyages guided by landmark navigation to Phoenicia and, later, using the early canal that tied the Nile to the Red Sea, by trading journeys sailing down the eastern coast of Africa. According to the 5th-century- bce Greek historian Herodotus, the king of Egypt about 600 bce dispatched a fleet from a Red Sea port that returned to Egypt via the Mediterranean after a journey of more than two years. Cretan and Phoenician voyagers gave greater attention to the specialization of ships for trade.

    The basic functions of the warship and cargo ship determined their design. Because fighting ships required speed, adequate space for substantial numbers of fighting men, and the ability to maneuver at any time in any direction, long, narrow rowed ships became the standard for naval warfare. In contrast, because trading ships sought to carry as much tonnage of goods as possible with as small a crew as practicable, the trading vessel became as round a ship as might navigate with facility. The trading vessel required increased freeboard (height between the waterline and upper deck level), as the swell in the larger seas could fairly easily swamp the low-sided galleys propelled by oarsmen. As rowed galleys became higher-sided and featured additional banks of oarsmen, it was discovered that the height of ships caused new problems. Long oars were awkward and quickly lost the force of their sweep. Thus, once kings and traders began to perceive the need for specialized ships, ship design became an important undertaking.

    Recreating Historic Sea Crossings

    The Kon-Tiki Expedition (1947)

    Established theory holds that Polynesia was colonised via Asia some 5,500 years ago. Based on similarities between statues on Easter Island and others in Bolivia, Heyerdahl believed that there had been contact from South America. To support that claim, he sailed from Peru with five other adventurers on a raft built in native style from balsa wood, bamboo, and hemp. After 101 days and 4,300 nautical miles on the open sea they arrived in the Tuamota Islands. [Wikipedia]

    Kon-Tiki Expedition (1947)

    Kon-Tiki, Balsa Logs and Sail

    RA-II : Crossing the Atlantic on a Reed Boat (1970)

    In 1970, Heyerdahl was at it again. Proving that a reed boat of Egyptian design could reach South America. Could Aztec pyramids have been influenced by Egyptians ?

    RA-II (1970)

    Ra II - Reed Boat

    The Brendan Voyage (Severin, 1976)

    The Brendan, a 36-foot, two masted boat was built in traditional fashion of Irish ash and oak, hand-lashed together with nearly two miles (3 km) of leather thong, wrapped with 49 tanned ox hides, and sealed with wool grease. Between May 1976 and June 1977, Tim Severin and his crew sailed the Brendan 4,500 miles (7,200 km) from Ireland to Peckford Island, Newfoundland, stopping at the Hebrides and Iceland en route. [Wikipedia]

    Route of the Brendan

    The Brendan Leather Boat

    Experiments in the Mediterranean

    7,000BC) precede the Minoan civilization by more than four millennia.

    Island settlement implies some navigation legs over 100km in very primitive craft. There is also evidence of repeated trade (in obsidian) between some islands and the mainland. In recent years, experimental archeologists have repeated these voyages in bith reed craft and dugout canoes.

    Reed "Papyrella" (Tzalas 1988) [Ref]

    Dugout Canoe "Monoxylon"
    Tichy, 1995 & 1998 [Ref]

    The First Mariners Projects (1998-2008)

    The First Mariners Projects showed how Homo Erectus could have reached Flores in the Indonesian Archipelago 800,000 years ago. They also demonstrated how the aborigenes could have sailed (600km) from Timor to Australia 50,000 years ago.

    Human migation out of Africa

    Flores to Timor on Hominid Raft

    The Next Step: Planks

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    Watch the video: London The Thames LiDAR Investigation