The Earliest Ships

The Earliest Ships

Local workers build a boat in Giza, Egypt. The boat is quite similar to those used in ancient Egypt, which were made out of papyrus stalks bunched together. Many people believe Egyptians used this kind of boat to sail to America. Although there is no definite proof that this is true, explorer Thor Heyerdahl accomplished the journey in a papyrus boat modeled on ancient lines, proving that it is possible.

Historians surmise that the earliest ships appeared around 16,000 BC in Europe, and perhaps earlier in Asia and south African (old civilization). Little archaeological evidence for these prehistoric vessels survives because they were made from perishable materials. Prehistoric drawings illustrate that reindeer hunters of central and western Europe made hulls of animal skins sewn together around a birch wood frame, and archaeologists have discovered vessels made from skin and reindeer antlers dating from 9000 BC.

Seal hunters plied the frigid waters of the northern Atlantic in boats constructed from sealskin stretched over frames of wood or whalebone. Ancient peoples used coracles, round, skin-covered vessels with wicker frames, to fish the lakes and rivers of what are now Ireland and Wales. Larger but similarly constructed currachs could sail the open waters of northern Europe (Norwegian, German). Hunters and fishers all over the world constructed similar hulls from birch bark, balsa wood, papyrus,walk, ox hide, and other local materials (decor).

Dugout canoes

Dugout canoes are made from hollowed-out tree trunks and thus are naturally buoyant. They may be plain or elaborately decorated like the two pictured.

The skin boat was followed by the dugout, a simple hull made from a hollowed out tree trunk. The oldest known dugout dates from about 6000 BC and was discovered in what is now The Netherlands. Technical advances in dugout design appeared shortly thereafter. Best ancient boat builders hollowed through the stern of the vessel, then inserted a separate piece of wood, called a transom, to make the craft watertight. They widened dugouts by splitting the hollowed trunk and inserting a plank between the two pieces. They lashed planks to the sides to gain additional height. Many ancient shipwrights embellished their craft with animal heads, beginning the long tradition of decorating and distinguishing a vessel with a figurehead.

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