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Close up of a longboat, similar to the Sutton Hoo ship. Source: Alex Stemmer / Adobe Stock.

3-D Modeling Will Allow the Sutton Hoo Ship to Sail Again

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Researchers in Britain are hoping to recreate a ship from over 1,300 years ago. They are planning to reconstruct the famous ship that was discovered in the Sutton Hoo burial in England using a 3-D model of the vessel. The experts are determined to once again sail a replica of the ship that last sailed during Anglo-Saxon times.

A team of archaeologists led by Basil Brown, unearthed the Sutton Hoo ship near Woodbridge, Suffolk, in the east of England in 1939. The longboat was interred in an earthen mound that was a royal burial from Anglo-Saxon times. It was buried to carry the dead monarch to the afterlife, a common belief in Northern Europe during the early medieval period.

The Sutton Hoo Ghost Ship

The ship that dates from the 700s is 88.5 feet (28 meters) in length. According to Albawaba, the “ long vessel is often dubbed a 'ghost ship ' thanks to its manner of preservation”. Because the timber planks of the ship had rotted away, only the iron rivets and other metal items remained and this only provided the outline of the ship. The original bitumen used to caulk the vessel was imported from the Middle East.

A ghost image of the buried Sutton Hoo ship was revealed during excavations in 1939. (Harold John Phillips / Public Domain)

A ghost image of the buried Sutton Hoo ship was revealed during excavations in 1939. (Harold John Phillips / Public Domain )

According to The Times , “The gold and silver treasures of Sutton Hoo have dazzled archaeologists and the public for decades”. Among the items that were found are precious artifacts from the Frankish and Byzantine Empires.

Among the finds was the famous Anglo-Saxon helmet, as well as drinking horns , cauldrons, and weapons, many of which are now in the British Museum . These treasures were buried in the ship burial so that they could be used by the dead man in the afterlife.

The kingdom of East Anglia during the Anglo-Saxon period, with Sutton Hoo in the south-eastern area near to the coast. (Amitchell125 / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Sutton Hoo helmet is one of the most important finds from Sutton Hoo. (Usernameunique / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Sutton Hoo Carried a Warrior-King to the Afterlife

The ship was the burial place of King Rædwald, who was the ruler of the kingdom of East Anglia and a member of the powerful Wufling dynasty. This dynasty is mentioned in the great epic Beowulf, the greatest work in medieval literature . The king was buried, according to pagan customs despite having officially converted to Christianity.

The Sutton Hoo helmet is one of the most important finds from Sutton Hoo. (Usernameunique / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The kingdom of East Anglia during the Anglo-Saxon period, with Sutton Hoo in the south-eastern area near to the coast. (Amitchell125 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Break-through technologies are revolutionizing archaeology. A group of archaeologists and researchers have come together to use 3-D modeling technology to recreate the ship found at Sutton Hoo.

They have successfully developed a digital model of the ship based only on the rivets found in the burial mound. Albawaba quotes Julian Wainwright, a marine archaeologist, as saying that the team have a “virtually complete hull shape from keel to gunwale” . This is very important because the team now has the data to recreate the vessel from the Dark Ages .

The Recreation of the Ancient Sutton Hoo Ship

The group want members of the public to pay $22 (£20) to buy a rivet for the ship. Some 3,500 rivets will be needed and each person who sponsors one will receive a commemorative pin and will be able to locate their rivet after the construction of the ship.

Rivets to reconstruct the Sutton Hoo ship are being sold. (saxonship.org)

Rivets to reconstruct the Sutton Hoo ship are being sold. ( saxonship.org)

Furthermore, they hope that skilled woodworkers, who are experienced in traditional shipbuilding techniques will volunteer and help to reconstruct the vessel. They also need volunteers to photograph the work and to manage the mass of data required for the project.

The ship will be recreated using techniques from the Early Middle Ages and “will include the joining of oak planks in the overlapping — or 'clinker' — style” reports Albawaba. This means that the vessel will be as authentic as possible. The expected budget for the project is in the region of $1.3 million (£1 million).

The plans for the reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship. (saxonship.org)

The plans for the reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship. ( saxonship.org)

The Sutton Hoo Ship Will Bring Insights into Early England

The director of the project Martin Carver is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that “Our objectives are to learn how an early English ship was built, its performance in river, lake, and sea, its handling of the wind and tides”. This can teach specialists a lot about the ships of the Anglo-Saxons. There are some things that can only be learned in a practical way and by doing.

The replica can allow the researchers to have a better understanding of the people who are widely seen as the precursors of the modern English nation. The recreated ships can teach them a lot about Anglo-Saxon sailors and ships. Carvers told The Times that historians “suspect that seafaring was rooted in the hearts of the Anglo-Saxons that made England their home” according to the Daily Mail .

It is hoped that the longboat will once again sail in 2022. There are plans to test the vessel first in the North Sea, where the original vessel probably once sailed. Once its seaworthiness has been proven it may be sailed to other destinations. Work will begin on the frame of the ship in the coming weeks.

Top image: Close up of a longboat, similar to the Sutton Hoo ship. Source: Alex Stemmer / Adobe Stock.

By Ed Whelan

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