When the Sutton Hoo ship was first built in the seventh century we are quite sure that our ancestors would have worked outside in the open, on bare earth, using principally axes and simple tools. They would have had unlimited labour and a whole village of blacksmiths making the iron fixings. Almost certainly the Shipwrights would not have had a documented plan or complex drawings, the only plan would have been in their head and based on a lifetime of experience.
From the archaeological finds and from the experience of other ancient ship re-creations, we believe that we understand well enough what materials the ship was built from and some of the techniques used to build it.
In re-creating the ship, members of The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company are determined to complete it as authentically as possible so that, as well as having a beautifully created artefact, we will maximise our ability to carry out and learn from the experimental archaeology.
In order to complete the build in a reasonable length of time, in a modern setting and taking account of health and safety issues, there will be some occasions where we may depart from the original materials and methods. For example, we are building the ship inside our modern Longshed – so work can continue throughout the year. We are building on a smooth concrete floor rather than earth. The original early English builders and craftsmen certainly used standard measuring sticks and cord circles and templates for curves – as can be seen in their artefacts and buildings. But we who lack the experience of long practice will check what we do with modern surveying instruments, scanners and photogrammetry.
Our principle is that anything we do must not compromise the shape and functionality of the ship. To complete the ship in a reasonable time and keep to a reasonable budget we may need to embrace some modern methods and resources. However, we will not compromise the archaeology, the appearance, or the functionality of the ship by the use of modern methods, tools and materials.
If and when we do deviate from tradition we will take careful note of what we have done differently, how we have done it differently and why we have done it differently and the result of doing it differently and publish the outcomes, with full reasoning. These explanations will be publicly available to anyone following our progress.