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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsPROFESSOR JON ADAMS: The other aspect of looking at ship technology is that when we look at the ways in which boats and ships would be constructed over the last 600 or 700 years, we are in fact looking at a physical manifestation of the way in which society changed in fundamental ways, moving from medieval society to modern and as society changes, it needs different things, so we see a change from the technology of the medieval period through to the technology of the post-medieval period.

Skip to 0 minutes and 32 secondsSo the students here today are actually working with the techniques that would have been familiar to the medieval shipwright of the 12th and 13th centuries through to the techniques of Nelson's Navy, in particular the ships that were constructed here at Bucklers Hard between about 1740 and 1815. We've moved over here to look at the way a medieval shipwright would've converted a tree like this into the constituent parts for the boat. The most important parts of a medieval ship, or indeed going back into history, are the planks formed ideally out of the oak.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 secondsThis is an oak of newly felled wood from the Beaulieu Estate and if you look at the pattern of the way the tree has grown, you can see from the centre, the pith, right in the middle of the tree, you can see radiating lines and these are the lines of the medullary rays, the cells that grow across the trunk of the tree like this and this allows us to split the tree from one end of the bole to the other and we simply do this with hammer and wedges.

Skip to 1 minute and 34 secondsSo once the tree is split from half into quarters, eighths, sixteenths and in really big trees we can get 32 slivers out of the oak, when we've split the tree into as many slivers as we can get out of it, the shipwright would then convert each of those slivers into a plank, using one of these. This is the principal tool of the Viking and the medieval shipwrights - the broad axe. We've moved over here to look at the way the timbers are converted for the type of ship technology that essentially is adopted in the 1400s and 1500s, as society begins to want new things from its ships.

Skip to 2 minutes and 11 secondsWe have more societies competing at sea and the ships are required to be bigger, stronger, stay at sea longer and to carry more goods and carry more armaments. This means a new technology is needed and essentially where the medieval shipbuilder focused on the planks, into which stiffening frames were put in afterwards, the post-medieval shipbuilder essentially builds the ship from the inside out. They focus on the framing system to which planks were applied and this is a way of building ships out of perhaps poorer quality timber and in much larger sizes.

Skip to 2 minutes and 45 secondsSo here we have some of the timbers from the Beaulieu forest being converted into the parts of the sorts of ships that would have been built here in the time of Nelson's Navy. Now we call this technology carvel because this technology was adopted essentially from the Mediterranean but the process of exchange of ideas between northern Europe and southern Europe goes via the Iberian peninsula and the word carvel comes from the Portuguese name caravela for a certain type of ship and that type of ship has this sort of construction technology and so just as the medieval shipwright had a specific set of tools, the principal one being the broad axe that we looked at earlier, so the post-medieval shipwrights have their toolsets specific to the ways that they build ships.

Skip to 3 minutes and 33 secondsSo we're going to go and look at now some of the tools that would've been used by the shipwrights in places like Bucklers Hard 200 years ago. For the carvel shipbuilder, as the medieval shipbuilder, the first tool which would fell the trees in the forest would be the felling axe and in the shipyard, this tool would also be used for the process of removing the excess timber not required for the final piece of the work, so what we see in the background is a large timber being notched and then slabbed off, all the excess wood between the notches being knocked off one by one.

Skip to 4 minutes and 6 secondsOnce that process has been reached, such as in this log here, then a slightly smaller axe, a series of hewing axes are used, to take off the next part of the excess timber and then smaller axes such as hatchets are used for smaller trimming jobs and then the principal tool of the carvel shipwright is this. This is the adze, which works in a completely different way from the axe.

Skip to 4 minutes and 36 secondsWhereas in an axe, you have the blade hafted along the alignment of the haft, an adze has the blade hafted at right angles to the haft and essentially it's an adjusting and a finishing tool and this is used like this on the wood and it can take off quite a lot of timber but it's normally used in carvel shipbuilding to provide a finish to the planks but also most importantly to the important pieces of the framing system, where they need to knit and butt together in exactly the right place.

Medieval seafaring

In this video, Professor Jon Adams explains the techniques by which shipwrights have converted the trees of the forest into the components of the boats in which people eventually sailed around the world.

Throughout the video, Jon points out how changes in shipbuilding technology went hand in hand with changes in society.

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This video is from the free online course:

Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology

University of Southampton

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