Major milestone reached on replica Sutton Hoo ship

Archaeologist Angela Care Evans hammers in a treenail to join the first two parts of the keel on the

Dr Angela Care Evans dug at Sutton Hoo in the 1960s while she worked as a research assistant for the British Museum. - Credit: PA

The first finished pieces of an 88ft-long replica of the Sutton Hoo longship have been joined together in a shed in Woodbridge by the river Deben. 

Sutton Hoo veteran, archaeologist Angela Care Evans was given the honour of knocking in the first wooden pegs, connecting the two pieces of the keel together. 

A team of volunteers work on the keel of the 88ft replica of the Sutton Hoo longship, in The Longshed, Woodbridge, Suffolk

A team of volunteers work on the keel of the 88ft-long replica of the Sutton Hoo longship, in The Longshed, Woodbridge, Suffolk. - Credit: PA

Since 2016, an organisation called the Sutton Hoo Ship's Company have been working on a full-size replica of the Saxton ship excavated in 1939.

It is to be made of oak donated by Suffolk farmers and secured with iron rivets.

Dating from the early 7th century, the original Sutton Hoo longship has been described as a ghost ship, as its timber had rotted away in the acidic soil, leaving only an imprint in the sand.

Bryan Knibbs and David Turner work on the keel of the 88ft Sutton Hoo longship, in The Longshed, Woodbridge, Suffolk. 

Bryan Knibbs (left) and David Turner work on the keel of the 88ft-long replica of the Sutton Hoo longship, in The Longshed, Woodbridge, Suffolk. - Credit: PA

The project’s master shipwright, Tim Kirk, said: “Through building this, and it is really just a big experimental archaeology programme, we’re hoping to learn how the ship actually sailed.

“We can do computer simulations of this, but to actually find out there’s only one way to do it and that’s to build it and put it in the water and row it and then perhaps sail it.

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“In the original excavation none of the timbers survived, so although we’ve got the rows of nails and we’ve got an outline in the sand of the plank edges, we actually haven’t any information about the interior layout of the ship, where the seats were, how high the floor was, how it was controlled.

“There’s not a ship this big with as many oars where they are the primary propulsion method, so it’s one big experiment.”

Craftsmen are using hand tools to build the 88ft-long replica of the Sutton Hoo longship, in The Longshed, Woodbridge

Craftsmen are using hand tools to build the replica as authentically as possible. - Credit: PA

The first two pieces of the ship were joined on Wednesday using three trenails – wooden pegs with a head on one end and a wedge on the other which spreads out, securing the joint.

“Today’s the first time we’ve actually joined two of the finished pieces together and that really is the stage where you can say you’re building a ship,” Mr Kirk said.

A team of volunteers work on the keel of the 88ft-long replica of the Sutton Hoo longship, in The Lo

The ship is built out of oak gathered from suffolk farmers - Credit: PA

The ship is expected to be completed in 2024, with plans for it to be launched on the water the same year.

Independent charity the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company, which is making the ship, said it plans to train a company of 80 or more rowers.

The ship, which is rowed with up to 40 oars, will be rowed in groups of 40, 28 and 16 to test its performance.

Volunteers will also test how the ship could be dragged over land, as it was for its final journey to Sutton Hoo.

It is hoped that, following the £1 million project, the longship will become a tourist attraction.

The charity has launched a campaign for people to sponsor the 4,000 iron rivets required to hold the planks of the boat together.

To sponsor a rivet, at £20 each, see www.saxonship.org.

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