Small Craft

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Although the most exciting shipwrecks ever found are large - such as the Vasa or the Mary Rose - most ships and boats built in the last 50 thousand years were comparatively quite small. But it was from this diversity of basic floating solutions that all larger vessels evolved.

Small craft are a cheap way to improvise, to attempt new solutions, to test new ideas, or to copy new technologies.

The study of small craft - both from a technical and an ethnographical viewpoint - is an important component of any study of the history of wooden shipbuilding.

Case Study: Boats of Portugal

It is difficult to summarize the rich and diverse maritime culture of the Iberian Peninsula without oversimplifying its reality. Today's Portuguese and Spanish territories constitute the extreme southwest of Europe, from which they are separated by the Pyrenees. In the form of an ox hide, according to Strabo, this stone raft, as it has been called by José Saramago, is a large plateau that slopes gently westward, into the Atlantic Ocean. Along its extensive and diverse coast the population speaks Basque, Castilian, Asturian, Galician, Portuguese, Castilian again, and Catalan.

The diversity of its cultures and populations encompasses the influences of the many visitors and invaders that have established colonies and factories on this territory. Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Goths and Arabs left their influences in the architecture, language, agriculture, religious beliefs and many other cultural traits, including its shipbuilding techniques.


Saveiro from Costa da Caparica(in Lisbon's Museu de Marinha)


Saveiro from Aveiro and silver model from Ur (after Lixa Filgueiras)

Positioned between the Mediterranean and the Baltic maritime worlds, the Iberian Peninsula developed a rich and diverse collection of watercraft, each type suited for its intended purpose, resulting from the natural resources available, the existing trade network in what pertained to imports of shipbuilding materials, and the foreign influences of the cultures to which its people was in contact at a particular time.


This project was possible through the generous and competent support of Carlos Carvalho.

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