While it was already known that these features existed, experts assumed that they were painted on. “It was always thought that marble was too valuable to put on the bow of a ship, and that they were probably painted on or ceramic,” says Associate Professor van Duivenvoorde.
One hundred-odd copper nails and fragments of timber around them were found at the site, providing major clues as to the ship’s provenance.
“We know those nails were used for attaching the frames to the planking, because they built ships with shell-based construction methods at the time – not with a plank on a frame, as we would today if we were to build a wooden ship,” Associate Professor van Duivenvoorde explains.
‘Mortise-and-tenon’ joints were used to connect the planks, which hold everything together via the insertion of a rectangular piece of wood into opposing holes between two planks. The piece of the wood is called the tenon, and the holes in the planks are called the mortises. Once the ship’s hull, or ‘shell’, was assembled, pine frames were added for internal strengthening.
“The shipbuilders would drill a hole through the planking and the frame, and seal that with a wooden plug. They’d then drive the nail through into the direction of the grain,” says Associate Professor van Duivenvoorde. “We tested that, and it works quite well.”
Each nail was itself something of a work of art, she adds. “They’re not cast nails, they’re each individually hammered. They’re beautiful; the level of craftsmanship is something we don’t see today anymore.”