Ordinarily one would find little in common between an Anglo-Saxon ship and a Stradivarius violin. (Okay clever clogs- yes they are both made of wood! ) But here is a clue: it is actually inaccurate to refer to an Anglo-Saxon ship when there is only one– the Sutton Hoo burial ship.
I was talking to Pete Clay the other day. As well as being a Director of the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company AND Woodbridge Riverside Trust, he’s the doyen of the skiff builders in the Longshed. For readers who are just focused on the Sutton Hoo Shipbuild, skiff building is one of the other things going on in the Longshed and is the polar opposite in terms of build techniques and materials from “our” ship. It’s constructed from laser cut ply frames and glued together, not riveted with iron nails. It will be painted and polished. And the St Ayle’s skiff is a lovely thing when it is rowed.
What all that means to Pete you will have to ask him, but in our chat he was speculating what would happen to one of the St Ayle’s skiffs if it was buried at Sutton Hoo. What would the archaeology be like a thousand or more years later? What impression would the excavators have got of 21st century civilisation? What would their speculations turn into?
Well, it depends, doesn’t it? Would it be buried as a grave ship, and if so what would the grave goods be to go with it? What are the things that are highly valued. Instead of beautiful brooches there might be Apple watches and 3D printed bracelets. Instead of iron side axes there could be chainsaws. Instead of a lyre there could be an electric guitar. Then, what would be left of them after all that time? Some oxides of metals and some glass.
And what of the skiff? Plywood is mostly a natural material – wood – but it is bonded with synthetic resins, as the planks are then bonded to the ribs and the hull. So, knowing how slowly plastics degrade, you could be fairly sure of finding that message from our times.
Ah well, they might say, not sure we can do a recreation of that skiff. It would be lovely to do but…. I’ve got a message to go through the ages to them. YES YOU CAN!