We know a lot about the Ship, but there is also a degree of uncertainty. When it was first excavated in 1939 it was lying a few degrees from horizontal, known as heeling, which made the shape in the sand asymmetrical. And, of course, it had had many tons of sand and soil piled over it which may have changed the shape in other ways. We certainly know that it was “hogged” or ‘broken backed’ because of how it was buried, rather than having a natural curve to the keel.
Research shows that to accommodate the King’s burial chamber the ship had been adapted in the middle section so that some of the original features had been removed, this means that what we have learned from the rest of the information will need to be used to complete the full picture.
In addition, the ends of the boat which would have been nearer the land’s surface were missing without a trace so we will need to use other historical information to help draw any conclusions about the stem and the stern. However, the lines of the ship’s planks and the general shape of the hull can reliably be projected into a reasonable expectation of the shape of the whole ship. These lines are well documented in the Science Museum plans of the first excavation in 1939, so providing that they were carefully recorded they are most likely to be the most accurate interpretation of how the ship appeared after it was buried.
We cannot proceed with an authentic build until we know, with as much certainty as possible, what shape it was before it was buried. We have measurements taken in 1939 and at the re-excavation in 1967. So the way forward has been to assemble all of the records available and analyse them to deduce the most likely lines of the vessel before converting them into a 3-D computer model. This theoretical model can be tested electronically with simulations of different river and sea conditions and different loadings to judge seaworthiness, stability and speed, as well as the final look of this beautiful object.
Thanks to the British Museum archives we have this short clip of the 1939 excavation showing the slow and painstaking work of those that uncovered the ship – The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial: Excavation
As part of the process smaller wooden scaled models will lend reality and may help in the construction phase.
The design phase began back in 2016 prior to the formation of The Ship’s Company with Paul Handley, an independent Naval Architect, being asked to calculate the ships lines and present them in a document called, ‘The Sutton Hoo Saxon Ship – development and analysis of a computer hull model prior to full scale reconstruction’, to The Royal Institute of Navel Architects.
In 2017, Julian Whitewright, an academic marine archaeologist from Southampton University was contracted to work with Paul Handley and Pat Tanner a graduate from Southampton University specialising in 3D Scanning to create the computer model that will be used to build the ship.