At around noon today (06-03-2013), a replica of a Bronze Age boat will be launched into the sea at Falmouth. We should all be able to follow the event live on the webcam of the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall from 11.30 AM GMT.
A collaborative project between the University of Exeter and the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall (and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council), the boat has been built over the past year by a team of volunteers led by master boat-builder, Brian Cumby, using only Bronze Age tools and tecniques. A series of videos, showing the various stages in the construction of the boat can also be viewed at Youtube.
The boat is of a remarkable construction, with no equivalent in the modern world, the great oak planks of which it is made literally sewn together with twisted yew withies. It is unsurprising that an earlier attempt failed, the boat sinking within moments of its launch: Cumby and his team are venturing into areas of craftsmanship that have not been attempted for more than 160 generations.
The archaeological evidence on which the reconstruction is based (from finds at North Ferriby in Yorkshire (link), and from Dover) is the same evidence that I used to imagine the boat that features in Undreamed Shores:
«The boat was quite unlike the ones that Amzai had seen before. It was neither a dugout nor a raft, nor a skin-covered boat like the one in which Amzai had travelled to this land. It was a large flat-bottomed craft, of wooden planks that had been sewn together with ropes and caulked with clay and moss...They took turns paddling, ten at a time, those who were resting sitting fore or aft of the paddlers...they slipped through the narrow channel between the mudflats and the end of the shingle bar, into the open sea...»
There has been one previous successful attempt at reconstructing a half-scale replica of one of the Ferriby boats (named "Oak Leaf") and, in trials, it was found to be able to travel at speeds of upto 6 knots. The characters in Undreamed Shores take their boat across the English Channel, and I used the evidence of the "Oak Leaf" trials, combined with a modern understanding of the tides and currents, to estimate the length of the journey.
The boat to be launched today will not be crossing the Channel just yet, and perhaps never (I, for one, would think twice about taking such a vessel across the modern commercial shipping lanes), but it should give us a glimpse into the vanished world of our ancestors.