The aim of the experiment was to construct a full-scale sewn-plank boat using materials and tools available to Bronze Age boatbuilders, in an experimental project as defined by Ole Crumlin-Pedersen (1995). Probably the most experienced experimental maritime archaeologist of recent decades, Crumlin-Pedersen (1995; 2006b: 3) recognized that experimental projects have to bridge the gap between natural sciences and the arts. In this, he explicitly rejected an exclusively quantitative or ‘scientific’ approach, modelled on the positivism of the natural sciences, and advocated by John Coates and colleagues (Coates et al., 1995). Even though there are a number of similarities between the two approaches, the fundamental difference is that the positivist approach examines principally the completed stages or phases through the testing of explicit hypotheses (for example McGrail, 2006: 11), whereas the approach advocated by Crumlin-Pedersen (1995; 2006b) places the emphasis of the experiment on what can be learned from the process of building the reconstructions (see also Ravn et al., 2011 for a critical comparison between the two approaches). Very much in keeping with Crumlin-Pedersen's philosophy, the experimental construction of Morgawr was designed as a ‘dialogue’ between an archaeologist (or archaeologists) and a shipwright.
The archaeological basis
The archaeological basis for the project are the finds from the foreshore of the Humber estuary, immediately southeast of the village of North Ferriby in East Yorkshire, and documented to a high standard but not, admittedly, quite as rigorous as those in force today (Wright and Wright, 1939; 1947; Wright, 1976; 1985; 1990). In September and October 1937, Ted and his brother Claud (‘Willy’) Wright discovered the remains of Ferriby 1, which were progressively exposed in the following years, and in October 1946 the remains were removed to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. Ferriby 1 comprises a composite keelplank with bow and stern halves, two outer bottom-planks and a part of a lower strake, all made of oak. The keelplank and outer bottom-planks were connected through a system of integral cleats and transverse timbers, and were sewn together using yew withies. So-called ‘independent slots’ were thought to be the location of frames (consistently called ‘ribs’ in Wright, 1990). Both outer bottom-planks had cracked and had been repaired using yew withy stiches. Common hair moss (Polytrichum commune) twisted into cords provided the caulking. The in situ overall length was 13.32 m and the maximum breadth 1.67 m. These finds are considered to be ‘dimensionally stable’ (Crumlin-Pedersen and McGrail, 2006: 53). A number of field drawings (‘measured field sketches’; Wright, 1985: 138) and photographs were made in the period 1937–1946, but the first measured plan, profile and section drawings, and photographs of the complete find were not made until a period between October 1946 and January 1947, by which time the boat comprised 52 ‘major timbers’ (Wright, 1990: 36–7). The find was published in co-authored papers by Willie and Ted Wright (1939; 1947), and later with additional interpretations by Ted Wright (1976; 1985; 1990). Very little timber remains of Ferriby 1, with the majority being discarded after attempts to conserve the craft failed (Coates, 2005: 38).
The remains of Ferriby 2 were discovered in November 1940, and partly revealed in the following months and in April 1942, with field drawings and photographs made on each occasion. Ferriby 2 comprises a composite keelplank of oak with bow and stern halves. Both halves included the remains of integral cleats and transverse timbers and ‘independent slots’. The caulking between the planks was of common hair moss. The total in situ length was 11.4 m and maximum breadth 0.80 m. It too was removed in October 1946 and reassembled in Greenwich, were measured plans, profile and section drawings, and photographs were made. The find was published in co-authored papers by Willy and Ted Wright (1939; 1947), and later with additional interpretations by Ted Wright (1976; 1985; 1990). As was the case for Ferriby 1, the physical remains of Ferriby 2 have been largely discarded (Coates, 2005: 38).
Ferriby 3 was discovered in March 1963 and excavated the following month, when measured field sketches were made. Ferriby 3 comprises part of an outer bottom-plank, 7.7 m long, stitched with yew withies to the corresponding fragment of the lowest side-strake, 5.67 m long, both cut from oak. The wood was lifted in April of that year and transported to Hull Museum, where it was measured and converted to plan, profile and section drawings. The find was published by Ted Wright (1976). The preserved remains of Ferriby 3 are held by the Hull and East Yorkshire Museum.
Ferriby 4, discovered in 1984, is a c.1.0 m-long fragment of alder which has been interpreted as a rail or washstrake. A cut-out may have been an opening for a thwart and a vertical hole may have provided anchorage for the top of a frame; the function of a horizontal hole was not established. The timber dates to 800–200 cal BC (530–375 uncal BC, at one sigma confidence) and is therefore of Iron Age date (Switsur and Wright, 1989). The find was published by Ted Wright et al. (1989). McGrail has rejected the identification of this worked piece of wood as being part of a sewn-plank boat, because the timber did not have any sewn-plank-boat characteristics, and alder is not known to be a genus used in prehistoric boatbuilding (2001: 187). Ferriby 4 is mentioned here because the fragment was incorporated in the ‘complete boat’ by Ted Wright and John Coates.
A recent programme of dating the remains of Ferriby 1, 2 and 3, coupled with the removal of the contaminants that had been applied to the remains in the (largely failed) attempts to conserve the timbers, has sought to provide accurate dates for these vessels. This programme produced the new dates listed in Table 1 (Wright et al., 2001).
The first reconstruction of Ferriby 1, presented in Willy and Ted Wright's paper of 1939 (351: fig. 3), shows a craft with a rounded hull in cross section. The error of this interpretation was recognized in 1946 with the exposure of a complete set of cleats and transverse timbers, which established beyond doubt that the purpose of this framing system was to maintain flatness across the three bottom-planks: the keelplank and the two outer bottom-planks either side (Wright and Wright, 1947: 119; Wright, 1985: 107). This finding was reinforced with the discovery of Ferriby 3, which provided additional evidence that the boats were not rounded but hard-chined. The transverse flatness of the bottom structure of the Ferriby boats has been accepted by most commentators. However, Owain Roberts (1992) suggested that a similar but more extensive set of cleats and transverse timbers across the five planks of the Brigg ‘raft’ was used to provide it with a rounded hull in cross section, but this suggestion has not gone unchallenged (for example McGrail, 1994; 2001: 187; 2014: 177). McGrail (1994) adds that the frame shape also helped to prevent over-run when beaching which would clearly stress the stitches and to help realign the planks after seasonal dismantling for hull reassembly.
The issue of the shape of the boat longitudinally, fore-and-aft, has been a matter for extensive debate. The first field sketch of the profile of the boat (Wright and Wright, 1939: 351, fig. 1) shows a single curved line representing the lengthwise profile of Ferriby 1 in situ. This drawing was based on the initial in situ recording of the full length of the boat in 1937, with the two ends exposed and the depth of the keelplank measured with the use of a pointed stick. It shows that the centre of the boat was the lowest point and leaves little doubt that the boat was curved longitudinally (Wright, 1990: 7–8). When Ferriby 1 was reassembled at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in 1946–7, it comprised 52 fragments of ‘major timbers’ (Wright, 1990: 36–7, fig. 2.16), which, at that point, appeared to represent a craft that was flat-bottomed both transversely and longitudinally. Only at this point were the detailed plans, elevations and section drawings produced. Based on these drawings, Ferriby 1 and 2 were shown as flat-bottomed craft in both planes (Wright and Wright, 1947; Wright 1976). The reconstruction (No 1) of Ferriby 1 (produced by Ted Wright in 1946 and published in 1947), a 1:8 scale model of the surviving archaeological remains presented to Hull Museum (made by Ted Wright in 1947), and the models in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich reflect this interpretation of the boat (Wright, 1990: 86–7).
This analysis and interpretation of Ferriby 1 remained generally accepted until the 1980s, when Ted Wright decided to re-examine the evidence in response to the production of an exhibit of Ferriby 1 for the National Maritime Museum (Wright, 1990: 90). As he has described in considerable detail (Wright, 1985; 1990: 85–95), using the original field-sketches and a number of the photographs from the 1930s and 40s (for example Wright, 1990: 25, figure 2.3; 26 figure 2.4; 30, figure 2.8), Ted Wright changed his mind about the shape of the boat lengthwise, advocating his new understanding that it was curved fore-and-aft and with rockered keelplanks. Reflecting this, he produced a new reconstruction sketch in 1988 (Wright, 1990: 86, fig. 5.2).
His re-examination formed the basis of the reconstruction drawings and accompanying text of the ‘complete boat’ he produced with John Coates (in Wright, 1990: 85–116) (Fig. 2a) and he declared ‘the hypothetical reconstruction of a complete boat [is] … in sufficient detail for actual building to be undertaken and to estimate its performance’ (Wright, 1990: xv). The ‘complete boat’ effectively incorporates the evidence from Ferriby 1, 2, 3 and the washstrake of the Iron Age-period Ferriby 4 into a single craft, although this accepts that large sections, particularly of the upper hull, are not represented in any of the Ferriby boat finds. It has an overall length of 15.90 m, a maximum beam of 2.52 m, and is rockered, with the ends 1.32 m higher than the underside of the keelplank amidships. The main features of the ‘complete boat’ are an equal-ended hull, three strakes on each side with joined planks, thwarts for structural integrity and as seats/cross beams for the paddlers, frames in the ‘independent slots’, and girth-lashings and inserted boards at both ends (Wright, 1990: 112–3, table 5.1). In general terms, Crumlin-Pedersen and McGrail (2006: 54) caution against ‘the possibility … that naval architects, knowing the ensuing advantages to the boat, may instinctively incorporate a longitudinally curved, rockered bottom to their reconstructions’ but in the case of Ferriby 1 and 2, a straight bottom line would be incompatible with the archaeological evidence from the very first in situ recording of the full length of the boat in 1937, as detailed in the previous paragraph.
The authenticity of the ‘complete boat’ has since become a matter of a discourse principally mapped out in the papers of this journal. McGrail (for example 2001: 186–7; 2007) has consistently argued that the ‘complete boat’ is not a minimum reconstruction of Ferriby 1, nor should the alternative reconstructions—made at various scales over the decades—be summarily dismissed. He maintains that a full reinvestigation of the archives of Ted Wright and the remaining fragments of Ferriby 1 should be undertaken as a first step in the critical evaluation of the ‘complete boat’. John Coates (2005) has defended the design and details of the ‘complete boat’, as well as its seafaring capabilities. In preparation for the redating of the Ferriby 1, 2 and 3 boats (cf. Wright et al., 2001), the full collection of remains of these craft were examined at the Hull and East Riding Museum. While sufficient material remained for a programme of radiocarbon assays, and details such as cleats were still identifiable, the fragmentary nature of these remains precluded any new analysis that would provide the conclusive new insights McGrail has asked to gain from a full reinvestigation of the boat remains.
Roberts has also raised a number of questions on the ‘complete boat’. He argues for a rockered craft with more rounded ends as these may have flattened after deposition, noting that the ends of the Dover Boat had become flatter after its deposition in the River Dour; and for a different system of framing, noting that the later Dover Boat lacked full framing from sheer to sheer (2006: 37).
The construction and design of Morgawr was discussed at an experts meeting held on 10 March 2012. This included the project staff, the newly appointed shipwright Brian Cumby, and several independent and unbiased experts in the field, notably Peter Clark, Peter Marsden, and Christer Westerdahl. Accepting that further investigation of the physical remains of the Ferriby boats would not provide new and incontrovertible evidence of the shape and size of the boat, that the earliest evidence indicates that Ferriby 1 was longitudinally curved, that the upper hull sections of the ‘complete boat’ are based on considerably less direct archaeological evidence than the lower hull section, and that Oakleaf had been successfully built at half-scale using the ‘complete boat’ design, the expert meeting agreed that the ‘complete boat’ would provide the default design for Morgawr, with any deviation from the reconstruction drawing to be recorded and explained. Other key decisions from this meeting were: 1) The keelplank was to consist of two parts made from a single tree, which would be sawn rather than split, because the risk of not producing the required halves for the keelplank was too great, and limited budgets did not allow for a second attempt; depending on the length of the tree that was to provide the keelplank, the scarf-joint could be positioned more towards midships than was the case in Ferriby 1, where the joint was closer to the stem. 2) The lines of the craft would be evaluated by the shipwright as the work progressed and temporary frames or battens employed, which were to determine the shape of the craft, would be based on the ‘complete boat’, with any deviation recorded and explained. 3) Scale models would not be produced, but the half-scale Oakleaf (Gifford and Gifford, 2004; Gifford et al., 2006) was studied as part of the design process. 4) It was agreed that the single half-hitch knot was sufficient to tie the yew withies; experience with twisting yew into withies had shown that this was relatively straightforward and that one could twist the yew strands on the tree if desired; withies had to go three times through the holes and, as experienced in the reconstruction of the Dover Boat, the best way to achieve the desired result was to insert the thickest part of the withy and tie the tapered end (Goodburn, 2004: 140). 5) It was agreed that the moss used for caulking would be mixed with tallow. The tallow was required to prevent the moss from drying out before the launch. While it was acknowledged that there is no archaeological evidence for the use of tallow in any of the Bronze Age sewn-plank boats, if tallow (or other lipid substances) had been used in the caulking of prehistoric boats, it would have been washed out and removed from the archaeological record; 6) It was agreed that all additions, such as the thwarts and the use of tallow, had to be ‘within the technological envelope of the original vessel, and must be usable in the role proposed for the vessel’ (Crumlin-Pedersen and McGrail, 2006: 55).
Morgawr is a ‘minimum reconstruction’ as defined by Crumlin-Pedersen and McGrail, insofar as it incorporated ‘minimalistic ways to complete the hull and point to the most likely means of propulsion and steering for the vessel’ (2006: 57), and using the archaeological evidence of the Ferriby boats and the paddles from the same foreshore. From the outset of the construction, we accepted that alternative reconstructions could be equally valid. Taking all these design issues in consideration, Morgawr is most aptly referred to as a ‘floating hypothesis’ (McGrail, 1992: 354).
Craftsmen with relevant skills
Morgawr was constructed under the direction of the shipwright Brian Cumby, who has more than 30 years’ experience of building wooden craft and had been involved in a number of reconstruction projects. Over a period of three months, the shipwright was trained at the University of Exeter in the use of Bronze Age tools and technology, the principles of experimental archaeology, and the design of Bronze Age sewn-plank boats.
The actual building of the boat was undertaken by some 100 volunteers, both men and women, whose ages ranged from late teens to octogenarians (Fig. 3). The volunteers came from very different walks of life, but the majority were students, in archaeology or fine art, and retirees. The latter group represented a variety of professions, including boatbuilders, engineers, management consultants and sailors. During the project, an ‘apprentice’ (Tom Monrad Hansen) was appointed to support the shipwright in his daily tasks and take responsibility for the stitching. Overseeing the project lay with archaeologists from the Universities of Exeter and Southampton with expertise in maritime archaeology, experimental archaeology and the Bronze Age, and staff of the NMMC.
The shipwright worked with volunteers to construct the boat inside the NMMC, in full view of the public. Particular conditions the shipwright had to deal with, and which have no parallel in the Bronze Age, included: the high cost of the timber which meant that the oak boles, once selected, could not be rejected if these turned out to be less-than-ideally suited for the project; the workshop environment, the heating which caused the timber to shrink and split, and the solid concrete floor that prohibited the use of dug-in supports as part of the construction process; and a planned deadline of six months for the construction of the boat—which proved to be unrealistic.
One aim of the project was to test the feasibility of constructing a sewn-plank boat using Bronze Age technology and replica tools. Following Crumlin-Pedersen's (1995) philosophy, the project was to gain new insights into the design of the boat through a dialogue between the shipwright and archaeologists. Specific questions that were to be answered were: What are the strengths, characteristics and limitations of using (replica) bronze tools in the construction of the boat? Can the boat be carved to the required shape using bronze axes and adzes from the half-boles, without employing steam-and-bending techniques? How effective is the system of integral cleats and transverse timbers in ensuring stiffness of the bottom of the hull? Are yew withies strong enough to hold all the planks in place? How effective is moss caulking in making the boat watertight? What compromises and changes did the shipwright determine in the process of constructing the boat? Why and how did these affect the shape of the finished boat compared to the ‘complete boat'?
Acknowledging that ‘recording the experience gained in the construction project is a continuous process, in contrast to an isolated test of a pre-conceived hypothesis’ (Crumlin-Pedersen, 1995: 305), the documentation of the outcomes of the experimental activity reflected this idea. Thus, alongside the production of a set of archaeological plans of the completed craft, structured interviews of the shipwright and the volunteers who helped to build the boat and analysis of the tools at the beginning and end of the project, the dynamic process was documented through the use of a daily log of steps taken and decisions made kept by the shipwright, time-lapse photography which provides a continuous record of the construction of Morgawr, digital filming throughout the project, and 3D laser scanning of the boat at various stages of its construction.