Ancient shipbuilding techniques

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Ship construction techniques can be categorized as one of hide, log, sewn, lashed-plank, clinker (and reverse-clinker), shell-first, and frame-first. While the frame-first technique dominates the modern ship construction industry, the ancients relied primarily on the other techniques to build their watercraft. In many cases, these techniques were very labor-intensive and/or inefficient in their use of raw materials. Regardless of differences in ship construction techniques, the vessels of the ancient world, particularly those that plied the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the islands of Southeast Asia were seaworthy craft, capable of allowing people to engage in large-scale maritime trade.[1]


Hide and dugout log[edit]

Evidence of hide boat and dugout log construction techniques can be found around the world,[2] and in many cases, are still in use today [3] These are some of the simplest methods of boat construction. Impressive results could still be achieved using these techniques, as evidenced by the ocean-going dugout canoes of the Polynesians.

Sewn and lashed-plank[edit]

Instead of using nails, the planks of a boat can be "sewn" together with rope. Evidence for the use of sewn-fastenings in plank boats has been found worldwide. Fastenings of this type have been demonstrated to perform well in coastal regions, being capable of withstanding the rigors of heavy surf as well as the impact of beaching.[4] The lashed-plank technique can be found worldwide as well.[5]

Clinker and reverse clinker[edit]

The clinker and reverse-clinker construction techniques involve fastening together an overlapping layer of planks with straight nails (clinker) or hooked nails (reverse clinker). Evidence for the clinker technique has been found primarily among the ancient Nordic cultures,[6][clarification needed] while the reverse-clinker technique, although very rarely found worldwide, has been found to be very prevalent among certain South Asian communities, such as that of Orissa in India.[3]


The shell-first technique involves constructing the "shell" of the boat first, then laying in the framework. This construction technique relied extensively on structural support provided by peg-mortise-and-tenon joinery through the shell of the boat. This method of ship construction appears to have originated from the seafaring nations of the Mediterranean, although evidence of peg-mortise-and-tenon joinery later appears in Southeast Asia.[5] Clinker building also starts with the shell, adding the frame parts afterwards.


Frame-first construction involves laying down the framework of the vessel before attaching the planks to the boat. This is the method primarily used by modern shipwrights. Evidence for the earliest frame-first construction technique is found in the Yassiada wreck, dating to the 7th century AD.[7] This technique was rarer in the rest of the world until the coming of the modern era.[5][2]

See also[edit]



  • Bass, George F.; van Doorninck, Frederick H., Jr. (1982). Yassi Ada 1: A Seventh-Century Byzantine Shipwreck. College Station. 
  • Bellwood, P.; Cameron, J. (2007). "Ancient Boats, Boat Timbers, and Locked Mortise-and-Tenon Joints from Bronze/Iron-Age Northern Vietnam". The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 36: 2–20. doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.2006.00128.x. 
  • P.Y., Manguin (1993). "Trading Ships of the South China Sea". Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 36: 253–280. doi:10.1163/156852093x00056. 
  • McGrail, S. (2003). Boats of South Asia. RoutledgeCurzon. 
  • McGrail, S. (2004). Boats of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.