The original find
In 1993, the remains of a boat were discovered during drainage works near Gislinge, a village located on the reclaimed Lammefjord. Now an agricultural area, the Lammefjord was once an extensive area of open water, connected to the larger Isefjord. Although the mast and rig were not found, the hull was relatively intact.
Despite centuries spent buried under layers of silt and sand, the shape of the hull was surprisingly well-preserved. It was immediately obvious that the boat dated from the late Viking or early Middle Ages. The hull was clinker-built of overlapping planks and ribs of oak, held together by both iron and wooden nails and had a stepped stem – all typical characteristics of an 11th/12th century boat. This was confirmed by dendrochronology (tree-ring dating), which suggested the boat was built around the year 1130.
The Gislinge boat was well-worn by the time it ended its days in shallow waters on the bottom of the Lammefjord. The boat does not appear to have sunk; rather, it seems to have been abandoned after an estimated 50 years of use.
An everyday boat
The Gislinge boat was a 12th century working boat, most likely used for fishing and transporting both goods and people. With a draught of just 25cm, it was able to ply both the shallow waters of the fjord and the waterways leading into and out of it. At 7.7m long and 1.5m wide, the boat would have had a cargo capacity of around 1 ton – the equivalent of four men and ten sheep.
The boat was equipped with three pairs of oars and a square sail, making it a flexible means of transport. At a time when travel over land was slow and cumbersome, small craft like the Gislinge boat would have been the lifeblood of coastal economies, adapting to different purposes as needed.
The extent of the wear and tear on the Gislinge boat is a testament to many years hard service on the fjord. Cracks in the hull were repeatedly patched using short lengths of beech – a short-term solution that would delay but not prevent the boats decay.
The repair patches bear witness to an important aspect of the Gislinge boats story: this was not a high status vessel belonging to the élite. Rather, it was an everyday boat that represents the ordinary members of Middle Age society – a group often overlooked in historical narratives.
Back to the start
In March 2016, the project team visited the conservation department of the National Museum in order to examine some of the surviving elements of the original Gislinge Boat. Here, we got the chance to explore details such as the diameter and section of rivet holes, and the roves that once held them in place, the decorative profiles on the floor timbers, the angles of the keel and the finer details of the wooden treenails that secured the frames to the hull.
This close encounter with the original elements of the boat provides a direct connection to the people who built it, almost 1,000 years ago. It also helps to put the boatbuilders work in context: the work involved in reconstructing the Gislinge Boat helps to preserve the craft of clinker-boatbuilding, a craft which has endured for over 1,000 years and whose survival in the future is ensured by reconstruction projects such as this.