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In this volume Professor Seán McGrail introduces the reader to a relatively new branch of Archaeology – the study of water transport – how early rafts, boats and ships were built and used. Concepts, such as boatbuilding traditions, ship stability and navigation without instruments, are first described. Archaeological research is then discussed, including sea levels in earlier times, how to distinguish the vestigial remains of a cargo vessel from those of a fighting craft; and the difference between a boat and a ship.
Chapters 2 and 3, the heart of the text, deal with the early water transport of the Mediterranean and Atlantic Europe, from the Stone Age to Medieval times. Each chapter includes a description of the region's maritime geography and an exposition of its boat-building traditions. The third element is a discussion of the propulsion, the steering and the navigation of these early vessels.
The sparse, often jumbled, remains of excavated vessels have to be interpreted, a process that is assisted by consideration of early descriptions and illustrations. Studies of the way traditional builders of wooden boats ply their trade today are also a great help. Experimental boat archaeology is still at an early stage but, when undertaken rigorously, it can reveal aspects of the vessel's capabilities. Such information is used in this volume to further our understanding of data from boat and ship excavations, and to present as coherent, comprehensive and accurate a picture as is now possible, of early European boatbuilding and use.
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