We would like to send out our heartfelt thanks to the team at Jewson who have agreed to sponsor us with discounted materials and have funded a new bandsaw.
We have developed quite a relationship with the Woodbridge branch hope to welcome more Jewson employees in the near future so that we can give them a closer look at what we are doing with all their deliveries.
From left to right: ‘Mac’ Macdonald (Production Crew), Jon Buck (Woodbridge Jewson Branch Manager), Tim Kirk (Master Shipwright), Andrew Bullard (Jewson Timber Development Manager, Jacq Barnard (Project Manager)
The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company is very proud to be working with Tim Taylor, Emily Boulting, Helen Geake and the rest of the ‘Time Team’ for the foreseeable future.
The ‘Time Team’ started broadcasting their archaeological TV programmes in 1994 with the last official ‘dig’ programme being aired in 2014. Following a relaunch, the team are now hugely successful again with their revival YouTube Channel called ‘Time Team Classics’. The channel has attracted over 157,000 subscribers in just a few months and is now delighting its fans with regular broadcasts once again.
The Ship’s Company will be working closely with the producers to ensure that all the ship’s major milestones are captured on film so that the experience can be shared and retained forever. It is very clear that the aims of both organisations are directly aligned and that the love and enthusiasm for our experimental archaeology project is as important to the Time Team as it is to us.
It will be a while yet before the Ship is launched, but last month there was a launch of different kind – a brand new education programme called “Follow the Ship” designed to encourage local schools to visit the Longshed, learn about how the Ship is being built, follow its progress over the next few years, and discover a lot more about our Anglo-Saxon heritage. 28th June saw the first group of young ‘shipmates’ arrive and over the next few days more than 100 children from three local schools (Bawdsey Primary, Woodbridge Primary and Woodbridge School) visited the Longshed.
The programme developed by our sister charity Woodbridge Riverside Trust (WRT), includes: exploring the lifecycle of the wood used to build ships, the tools and techniques Anglo-Saxons employed, the river Deben and its environment, and how that influenced the lives of the people who lived here 1400 years ago. The children split into groups to take part in activities in the ground floor workshop, in The John Gibbins Gallery and outside The Longshed with a team of our local Anglo-Saxon re-enactors.
Each session of “Follow the Ship” links to the National Curriculum. At KS1 it ties into the History curriculum – thinking about ‘significant historical events in their own locality’. It also makes links to Geography as children ‘Interpret a range of sources of geographical information, including maps.’ In the KS2 sessions the children ‘understand how our knowledge of the past is constructed from a range of sources’ and in relation to Geography they ‘describe and understand key aspects of physical geography, including rivers.’ At KS3 it makes links to both Geography and History, and to Science – extending the children’s knowledge of forces and medicine and health.
Mike Sutton from WRT, and Joe Startin from SHSC organised a secure space in the workshop where the children could learn about the wood that is being used to build the ship, how wood is split using mallets made from holly, how to tell the age of a tree, and also have a go at making trenails (tree nails).
The Ship’s Crew team was working throughout the visits, so the children were able to observe – at a safe distance – how axes are used to prepare and shape the planks that will be part of the finished Ship. This photo shows Alec Newland talking to the children about the tools that the Crew are using.
Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time during their visit, and we look forward to welcoming many more local schools to “Follow the Ship”.
We are grateful to everybody on the WRT team who helped make these pilot visits a success. If you want to find out more about the programme please contact Woodbridge Riverside Trust chairman Bryan Knibbs
The Anglo Saxon ship that was buried at Sutton Hoo was of course made out of wood, a widely available, buoyant, and relatively easily worked substance that was the material of choice for ship-building from the earliest times right up until the beginning of the nineteenth century when traditional wooden hulls were gradually replaced with metal hulls, first iron and then steel.
That being the case, all ship-builders until that time, including the Anglo Saxon ship-builders responsible for building the ship that the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company is reconstructing, had a close affinity with wood: they knew how to source it and how to work it.
So it’s not surprising to learn that Anglo Saxon woodworkers were called ‘treewrights’. This of course suggests strongly that they viewed the means by which trees were selected, felled, worked and turned into whatever was required as one continuous and interlinked series of activities and skills, a natural and organic form of vertical integration not commonly found in today’s timber industry. So the reconstruction of an Anglo Saxon ship inevitably involves rediscovering and learning from the Anglo Saxon artisanal mindset.
But what exactly were the tools the Anglo Saxon treewrights used for constructing the ship whose ghostly remains the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company sets out to construct. And what did they look like?
Archaeological evidence from excavations and studies of worked timbers of the period suggests very strongly that the treewright’s tool of choice was the axe. We have axes too of course but do they resemble Anglo Saxon axes and if not, how do they differ?
Well, the answer is that broadly speaking, the Anglo Saxon ship-builders used two different types of axe, both with different uses and different shapes: the felling or chopping axe; and the T-shaped axe.
The Felling or Chopping Axe
As its name suggests, the purpose of the felling or chopping axe was twofold. First, it was used to fell the carefully selected trees that were the object of the treewright’s attention. Secondly, it was used for shaping: working the felled wood roughly into the shapes and objects required by the treewright.
The narrow, convex blade of the chopping axe lends itself to removing material quickly and to working on curved sections such as the frames and stems of a ship. So they were most likely used for carving the frames of the ship and the rough shaping of the keel, stems and planking.
What did they look like? Well typically, the felling or chopping axe has a flared blade that makes it particularly suitable for its purpose. The illustration below gives you a good idea of the general shape of the felling or chopping axe. These axes were excavated at Nydam in Denmark between 1859 and 1863 (Fig 1)
The most well-documented examples of Anglo Saxon woodworking axes come from the excavations at Flixborough in Lincolnshire which took place between 1989 and 1991 (Figs 2 and 3 below).
Interestingly, contemporaneous representations of these felling or chopping axes can also be seen in the Bayeux Tapestry (see Fig 5 below).
It is likely that this type of axe was developed from T-shaped axes that were originally used as weapons. It’s a highly specialised tool used only for hewing out planks and smoothing the faces of timber: to get a really fine finish on the planking and flat keel sections, for example.
The T-shaped axe found in Hauxton, Cambridgeshire shown in Figure 4 will give you a good idea of what they looked like.
Again, representations of the T-shaped axe can also be seen in the Bayeux Tapestry (see Fig 5).
Use of axes in the Sutton Hoo Anglo Saxon ship reconstruction
The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company sets out to make sure that the Anglo Saxon ship that’s being reconstructed in the Longshed at Woodbridge is built as accurately and authentically as possible; and using, as far as possible, replicas or likenesses of the tools with which it would originally have been built.
It’s accepted of course that for pragmatic reasons, compromises inevitably have to be made. For, example, the two trees which were selected in Wiltshire for the keel, and which are now being worked in the Longshed in Woodbridge, were felled using chainsaws. And they were not of course transported to the Longshed by Anglo Saxon methods.
But the Longshed ship-building team is already using T-shaped finishing axes made by blacksmith Alex Pole whose design is based on examples from the Bayeux Tapestry (Fig 6) as well as modern Gransfors Bruks forest axes, one of the closest modern equivalents to the Anglo Saxon felling axe that can be found (Fig 7).
Similarly, they are also using a replica axe which is based on the felling and chopping axes found in the Nydam and Flixborough excavations mentioned above (Fig 8).
Even more impressively, the team is also using a T-shaped finishing axe, based on 6th and 8th century examples from Tuddenham, Suffolk and Hauxton, Cambridgeshire respectively, with a wrought iron body and a forge-welded steel bit made by blacksmith Hector Cole from recycled mediaeval iron (Fig 9).
So there you have it. Construction work has started in earnest using as far as is achievable the methods and tools similar to those that the original ship-builders would have used.
We’ll keep you posted with more news as this exciting and important reconstructive archaeology project moves inexorably forward to the slipway and flotation!
Written by, Peter Drew, with thanks to Alec Newland, Ship’s Company Volunteers
One of the things that we promise our rivet sponsors is to let them know when the rivet goes into the ship – which means that we must have a map of every single one. I’m pleased to say that I have now completed a project mapping and cataloguing rivets and other fixings that were found in the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship and cross-referencing these with the fixings shown on plans for the reconstruction of the ship.
Not the sort of thing to set pulses racing you might say, but nonetheless indicative of the many pieces of background work needed to inform both the experimental archaeological aspects of the reconstruction of the ship and the archaeological record of the original Sutton Hoo Ship.
The starting point was the plan of the fixings that were found when the Sutton Hoo burial mound was excavated. That plan was included in ‘The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial’ by Rupert Bruce-Mitford (published by the British Museum in 1975). This book, often referred to as “Volume 1”, is regarded as the definitive work on the subject. The plan shows just over 1550 numbered fittings in positions where they were found on excavation.
The initial work involved mapping all the fixings shown on the Volume 1 plan. I found the original numbering system to include some quirks – which made the task harder than it might have been.
I developed a bespoke numbering system that could be applied to both the fixings shown on the Volume 1 plans of the Sutton Hoo ship, and those used in the reconstruction. This system uses a unique combination of characters for each fixing which collectively provide a reference specifying the type and precise position of the fixing on the ship.
The final stage involved allocating numbers generated using the new system, to all the fixings shown in the Volume 1 plan and the corresponding fixings on the plans for the reconstruction.
The numbers used to identify the fixings on the reconstruction during its build will not only simplify the recording of what fixing goes where but will also enable sponsors of individual fixings to pinpoint exactly where on the ship their fixing was used.
Our aim is to input all the above data into a digital system which will simplify the process of providing an answer to any sponsor who asks ‘Where’s my fixing?’.
Whilst on maternity leave, NAS Education Manager Peta Knott, from the Nautical Archaeology Society, is taking a break from work and enjoying the many archaeological lectures, workshops and most recently – movies – that are currently available online.
The Dig, released on 29 January, is a new film by Netflix exploring the story of the excavation of the Great Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo in 1939. The film is based on a novel, also titled The Dig, written by John Preston. Many of the events and characters depicted in both the film and the novel are inspired by real events and real people. Read on to discover the incredible true story, and meet some of the characters involved with, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.
In this article written by Erin Blakemore for the National Geographic, the author explores whether or not the Sutton Hoo Ship was the last of its kind…
‘Archaeologists can be a careful bunch. They hedge their bets, question the data at every turn, and tend to spurn any hint of sensationalism. But bring up the ancient burial mounds of Sutton Hoo in southeast England, and even the most circumspect scholar will spout superlatives. Magnificent! Monumental! Unparalleled! .. read on
Towards the end of the article they write ‘And what exactly was the nature of the vessel? Was it a warship or more of a ship of state – a 7th-century Britannia? We may be in a better position to judge when a project to build a working full-size replica of the ship comes to fruition. It will give us a far better idea, for example, of exactly how it handles on the water. The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company aims to have its vessel built and ready to begin trials in three years, and hopes that The Dig will generate more interest in its undertaking.’