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Minoan ship born again in time for next year’s Games

In 2000, the Navy Museum of Crete decided to embark on an extremely challenging project: the reconstruction of a Minoan ship, the most ancient European seagoing craft. Part of an integrated research program titled Experimental Naval Archaeology and with the cooperation of the Navy Museum of Crete and the NA-U-DO-MO Ancient Shipbuilding Research Group, which designed and constructed the model, the entire project has been under the auspices of the Culture Ministry since last May. The main goal of the project is to build a realistic model of the Minoan ship by the beginning of summer 2004, when it is to sail from Cape Spatha on the island of Crete to Piraeus. The first trial run is scheduled for June next year with a crew of 26, all but two of them oarsmen. The ship is also fitted with sails, and will be accompanied on its first 15-day voyage by ships of the Greek navy, for security reasons and for supply purposes. All parties involved hope the ship will stay in Athens on exhibit during the Olympic Games. Similar reconstructions of historic ships have all been of later models (600-300 BC), and these were not based on scientific data. This particular reconstruction, divided into three parts, was particularly difficult. The first phase included the scientific study (lasting a year) during which the researchers relied on all the information at hand about the culture of the time. The lack of any remnants of ships forced them to look into the geographical and technological environment, at images and illustrations from archaeological finds as well as existing literary sources (linguistic remnants and the decodification of the Linear B script). The results of the research are considered to be well-founded and include, apart from the natural and geographical environment, the materials available to shipbuilders in 1500 BC, the carpentry tools they used, as well as the technology and experiential rules of shipbuilding. Next came the phase of building a model on a 1:4 scale, which took six months. Research indicated that the precursor of the Minoan ship was the raft which the Minoans decided to convert into a curved shape for practical reasons. They then strengthened the structure by installing a frame inside the curve. The material used for the sides of the ship consisted of split cypress trunks attached together with ropes. The interior of the ship was about 17 meters long by 4 meters wide.