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In the last part of the class we are shifting our focus away from the Mediterranean Sea. This group of ships forms a northern European tradition of boatbuilding, very different from what developed in the Mediterranean.


The ancient Scandinavians were accomplished seafarers and explorers. Most associate the Vikings today with the sea, and for good reason - they journeyed through the Baltic, Russia's extensive river system, the north Atlantic, and into the Mediterranean as far as Turkey, and even across the Atlantic, to Iceland, Greenland, and eventually North America! This site is known today as L'Anse aux Meadows.

The Viking tradition is very important to modern-day Scandinavia. One place this is especially evident is at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark.


Further, thousands of rock carvings and other pictographs throughout the Scandinavian world, including Denmark, Norway, and Sweden show images of ships, giving us our only glimpse at early Scandinavian watercraft from the early first millenium BC. To view some of this art from Norway, go here.

Rock Art

Note the bow and stern of the ships depicted above. It is difficult to fully understand what is going on in the drawing, but by looking at a boat recovered archaeologically, we get a much clearer picture:

The Hjortspring Boat 350 - 300 BC

This boat is like a very large canoe and was unearthed in 1921 on a small island of the east coast of southern Denmark. It is the earliest-known Scandinavian boat built of wooden planks. Earlier boats were probably skin boats, made of hides stretched on a frame, like umiaks and kayaks of the Inuit. For reference, it dates to about the same time as the Kyrenia ship from the Mediterranean. It was buried in a bog along with spears, swords, shields and other eqipment, and is thus though to be a war vessel. It was likely deliberately buried as a war offering.


The boat has an overal length of 52.5 feet, and a maximum breadth of 7 ft.

It is spanned by ten thwarts (a cross-beam that acts as a bench), each with seats for two men. The ship was paddled by 20 men total.

The hull was constructed out of 5 planks in total, all of limewood (Tilia sp.). There was no keel. Instead, there was just a central plank, with two planks each on either side forming the sides.


The absense of a keel and the narrowness of the hull would have cuased the hull to roll from side to side very easily. This type of hull thus could not have been safely sailed; it was designed soley for paddling.

The most important feature to note is that the hull is lapstrake construction (sometimes called clinker construction, although technically, clinker refers to a lapstrake hull built with iron rivets. There are no such rivets on the Hjortspring boat). Lapstrake construction is different than what we have seen in the Mediterranean, because the planks overlap each other, rather than fitting next to each other, flush (The Mediterranean tradition is called carvel construction). In the Hjortspring boat, the overlapping planks were laced with hide cordage. After the hull planking had been fastened together, frames were lashed to the planking, through holes in raised wooden ridges called cleats.


These cleats were not added on, they are actually part of the plank. Therefore, the rest of the plank was adzed away, leaving the ridge to form the cleat. This is very labour-intensive!

The frames are very light - they are nothing more than thin hazel branches. The planking itself is only 1 inch thick, and the frames are not rigidly fastened to the planking, making for a very flexible hull, which helped it withstand stresses when moving through the waves.

Another feature the boat has in ocmmon with later viking ships is the fact that the boat is double-ended. It has the same shape at either end, and thus could have been paddled in either direction if needed.


The sheer plank and the bottom plank are continued past the rest of teh hull at either end by a pair of long, upturning tibers, scarfed to eth hollowed-out end pieces and strengthened by vertical struts. These double projections had several fuctions:

  1. The lower projections served as runners when beaching the boat.
  2. The pair of projections provided convinient handles for carrying the boat when marking portages.
  3. To the extent that the hull did nto ride over a wave, the projections helped to berak up the wave as the boat moved through it.

The Hjortspring boat looks very much like the earlier Bronze-Age depictions in iconography. Is the boat a wooden-planked version of earlier skin boats? There is a lot of debate about this among scholars.