Minoan Ship Construction


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Each one of the long ships was a mastery of craftsmanship in wood using bronze tools especially with their large two-handled saws that were almost two meters long and a third of a meter wide. The Admiral's ship was the newest and biggest in the fleet, but all of them were nearly as large. It was thirty five meters long with a beam of six meters at its widest. There were twenty five oars on each side of the ship for a total of fifty. The ship's complement was one hundred and twenty fully provisioned men, not including the ship master and his team of specialists, with a cargo capacity of about fifty metric tons.

Minoan Miniature Frieze Admirals Flotilla Fresco Shipping Scene, Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece

Minoan Miniature Frieze Admirals Flotilla Fresco
Shipping Scene
Late Bronze Age (LBA)
Neo-Palatial Late Minoan I Period
West House, Room 5, South Wall
Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece


They were constructed by first chopping down a single tall Cypress tree and stripping off its branches. The log was then dragged to the shipyard by a team of oxen. After being laid on a smooth flat working surface, it was stripped of its bark. When the log was clean, the shipwright marked where he wanted it cut along its length. A team of men carved it with their sharp bronze axes and saws; shaping it to nearly its final form. The upward sloping curves of the bow and stern were bent into shape using heat and steam. After the keel attained its final shape, a long cleanly sawn plank of Cypress was 'edge-joined' to each side of it. They chiseled out deep rectangular matching slots (mortises) along the length of the keel and the length of one of the edges of the plank. Flat rectangular pieces of wood (tenons or tongues) were cut to fit snugly into the matching slots. When the plank fit onto the tenons sticking out of the slots in the keel, the joins were filled with a mixture of resins.

Minoan Miniature Frieze Admirals Flotilla Fresco Ringed Islands of Thera Scene, Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece

Minoan Depiction of the Ringed Islands of Thera
Minoan Miniature Frieze Admirals Flotilla Fresco
Late Bronze Age (LBA)
Neo-Palatial Late Minoan I Period
West House, Room 5, South Wall
Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece


Round holes were cut, using a bronze bow drill, through the plank and keel into the top and bottom of each tenon sitting inside the matching slots. After sealing resin was painted into the drill holes, round wooden pegs were hammered from the inside of the hull into the top and bottom holes of each tenon locking the plank to the keel. Very little caulking was needed with edge-joined planking. When the ship slid into the water from its dry dock, the sea water would swell the cypress and create a water tight seal on the seams.

Minoan Ship with Sail Only, Minoan Miniature Frieze Admirals Flotilla Fresco, Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece

Minoan Ship with Sail Only
Minoan Miniature Frieze Admirals Flotilla Fresco
Late Bronze Age (LBA)
Neo-Palatial Late Minoan I Period
The West House, Room 5, South Wall
Akrotiri, Santorini (Thera), Greece.


With the first plank in place, they added the second plank by edge-joining it to the exposed edge of the first using the same process. The mortise slots were cut about every twenty five centimeters. They repeated this process adding plank after plank on both sides of the keel to build up the shell of the hull. Once the shell reached a desired height, the inner bracing frames were constructed, and later the decking and rowing benches were installed. When it was complete, the outside of the hull would be covered in tightly woven, treated linen, painted white, and decorated with beautiful scenes of the sea with blue dolphins, sea birds, etc.

Minoan Ship with Rowers Only, Minoan Miniature Frieze Admirals Flotilla Fresco, Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece

Minoan Ship with Rowers Only
Minoan Miniature Frieze Admirals Flotilla Fresco
Late Bronze Age (LBA)
Neo-Palatial Late Minoan I Period
The West House, Room 5, South Wall
Akrotiri, Santorini (Thera), Greece.


The sturdy oak mast was about sixteen meters tall and sat in a reinforced structure that allowed for its insertion and removal. It was secured into position with rigging made of strong hemp ropes. The mast had a single boom of about ten meters in length to hold the top of the sail. The center of the boom was held to the mast with a thick strong ring of rope loosely wrapped around the shaft of the mast. This allowed the boom to freely pivot about the mast in the wind and be easily raised or lowered with ropes running through a bronze fixture on the masthead. The orientation of the boom and sail in the wind could be controlled from the deck with ropes allowing the ship to tack (take a zigzag course) quite well into a head wind. The sail itself was made entirely of densely woven wool; treated with oils for waterproofing. The oars were carved from oak.

- Excerpt - "The Minoan Psychopath"

Bibliography:

Pulak,Cemal and Bass, George F. "Bronze Age Shipwreck Excavation at Uluburun". Institute of Nautical Archaeology.

Today shipbuilding is also known as marine engineering, which includes the engineering of boats, ships and any other marine vessel. Other branches of engineering, such as mechanical and electrical, are also applied in certain aspects of marine engineering. Students enrolled in mechanical engineering programs can consider switching to a marine engineering degree if they have an interest in shipbuilding.

2007


W. Sheppard Baird