Archaeologia Maris Baltici et Septentrionalis

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Harburg | Ship-timbers and sintels

Woodcut of the fortification and town of Harburg by Matthäus Merian the Elder, 1654. The excerpt shows the canal behind the houses of the Schloßstraße (Source: Wikipedia Commons, with own modifications)

In the ongoing excavation at Schloßstraße in Harburg — i.e. the  Hamburg district south of the Elbe River which used to be historically an independent town –several planks and crooked timbers from the 14th/15th century were unearthed that may have been reused planks and naval compass timbers. Also over 500 caulking cramps (sintels) were recovered, strongly suggesting that this might have been a site where vessels were built or – in the very least – maintained and repaired. The excavation is directed by Dr. Philip Lüth who kindly invited me to Harburg to study the maritime artefact collection.

Sintels of the type D, E and F are the most common types encountered in the ongoing excavation in Harburg.

The contextual potential is rich, as a town canal runs right behind the row of houses of the Schloßstraße.  The cut by Matthäus Merian the Elder from 1654 shows some lug- and sprit-rigged vessels on the same. In the near vicinity is a hill known as Krummholzberg, which literally translates as “crooked-timber hill”. Needless to say that shipbuilders were reliant on crooked timbers and that timber for shipbuilding was exported to Hamburg and the Low Countries. Some crooked timbers were shaped as if they could have been frames in a pram-type vessel or knees in a vessel with cross-beams. Interestingly, two of them have no holes or fastenings whatsoever. This indicates that they may have been blanks or spare parts, increasing the likelihood of a local shipbuilding site.

With over 500 sintels the Harburg excavation will undoubtedly contribute to Karel Vlierman’s sintel typology. The sintels are being statistically evaluated. Fortunately the find context has been consistently dated stratigraphically, so we can derive meaningful information from the distributional pattern in terms of type preponderance, time-spans and regional deviations.

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