For thousands of years, wooden sailing ships enabled the peoples of Northern Europe to expand trade, influence, and sometimes warfare across seas and continents.
In December, The UN culture agency added the Nordic “slag ships” to its list of traditions representing the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden jointly sought UNESCO designation.
The term “clinker” is believed to refer to the way the wooden planks of the ship were joined.
Supporters of the successful nomination hope it will safeguard and preserve the shipbuilding techniques that powered the Viking Age for future generations as the number of active clinker craftsmen dwindles and fishermen and others switch to fiber-hulled boats. cheaper glass.
“We can see that the skills to build them, the skills to navigate the ships, the knowledge of the people who sail… are shrinking and disappearing,” said Søren Nielsen, shipyard manager at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, west of Copenhagen. .
The museum not only displays the remains of wooden ships built 1,000 years ago, but also works to rebuild and rebuild other Viking ships. The process involves the use of experimental archaeological methods to gain a deeper and more practical understanding of the Viking Age, such as how fast ships sailed and the number of people they carried.
Nielsen, which oversees the construction and repair of wooden boats built in the clinker tradition, said there are only about 20 practicing clinker boat craftsmen in Denmark, perhaps 200 in all of northern Europe.
“We think it’s a tradition that we have to brag about, and we have to tell people that this was part of our experience,” he told The Associated Press.
Wood clinker ships are characterized by the use of overlapping longitudinal wooden hull planks that are sewn or riveted together.
Builders strengthen ships internally with additional wooden components, mainly tall oaks, which make up the ship’s ribs. They fill the spaces between with tar or tallow mixed with animal hair, wool and moss.
“When you build it with these overlaps inside it, you get a hull that is quite flexible but at the same time incredibly strong,” explained Triona Sørensen, curator of the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum, which houses the remains of five ships from the 11th. 20th century Viking ships built using clinker methods.
Nielsen said there is evidence that the clinker technique first appeared thousands of years ago, during the Bronze Age.
But it was during the Viking Age that slag ships reached their zenith, according to Sørensen. The era, from 793 to 1066, is when the Norsemen, or Vikings, undertook large-scale raiding, colonization, conquest, and trade travel throughout Europe. They also reached North America.
Their light, strong and fast ships were unsurpassed in their time and served as the basis for the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
If “you hadn’t had ships, you wouldn’t have had any Viking Age,” Sørensen said. “It literally allowed them to expand that kind of horizon to become a more global town.”
While the tradition of slag boats in Northern Europe continues to this day, the boats are used by hobbyists, for festivities, regattas and sporting events, rather than pillage and conquer as it was seen 1000 years ago.
The UNESCO nomination was signed by around 200 communities and cultural bearers in the field of traditional clinker boat building and crafts, including Sami communities.
Inscription on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage obliges the Nordic countries to try to preserve what remains of the fading tradition.
“You can’t read how to build a ship in a book, so if you want to be a good shipbuilder, you have to build a lot of ships,” said Nielsen of the Viking Ship Museum. “If you want to keep these skills alive, you have to keep them going.”
(with information from AP)
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