Page 1 of 4 Next page
List of subjects |  Sources |  Feedback 

Share |

Discover in a free
daily email today's famous
history and birthdays

Enjoy the Famous Daily

Messing about in boats

Humans have tended to live near water, and it is natural to make use of things that float. Logs or bundles of reeds can be lashed together to form rafts; hollow trunks can be improved to become dugout canoes. Once the principle of a watertight hull is understood, animal hides or the bark of trees can be attached to a framework of bamboo or wicker to make a simple coracle.

Boats of all these kinds have been made by technologically primitive communities, and many continue to be made into the 20th century.

If planks are added to raise the edges of a dugout canoe, with wooden struts to hold them in place, the primitive boatbuilder is already on the way towards the only design of wooden boat capable of being built on a large scale. This consists of a keel to which a ribbed frame is attached - much as animal ribs curve outwards from a backbone.

Planks are attached to these ribs. They either overlap (clinker-built) or are fastened edge-to-edge (carvel-built). These remain the basic designs for large boats and ships until the gradual introduction of metal hulls in the 19th century.

Egypt and Mesopotamia: from 3000 BC

Both the earliest civilizations, the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian, make extensive use of boats for transport on the Nile, Euphrates and Tigris. The Nile in particular provides a superbly predictable thoroughfare, for the wind always blows from north to south and the current always flows from south to north. Egyptian boats sail upstream, hoisting a large rectangular sail, and then are rowed back down the river.

This distinction is even reflected in the Egyptian hieroglyphs for travelling south (a boat with a sail up) and travelling north (a boat being rowed).

The Egyptians, with access to the Mediterranean, also use larger seagoing vessels. These become known as 'Byblos' boats, revealing that their trade is with the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. Byblos is the main port for the export of the valuable cedar wood of Lebanon, essential for Egypt's architecture and for boat-building. One of the earliest known boats, buried beside a pyramid at Giza and dating from around 2500 BC, is made from planks of cedar; it is 143 feet (44m) long and 20 feet (6m) wide.

By around 1100 BC Byblos is a Phoenician port, and the Phoenicians have become the greatest seafarers of the ancient world.

  Page 1 of 4 Next page