For thousands of years, wooden sailing ships enabled the peoples of northern Europe to spread trade, influence and sometimes war across seas and continents.
In December, the UN cultural agency added the Nordic “clapboard boats” to its list of traditions that represent the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have jointly applied for UNESCO designation.
The term “clinker” is believed to refer to the way the wooden planks of the boat were tied together.
Proponents of the successful nomination hope it will safeguard and preserve the boat building techniques that drove the Viking Age for future generations as the number of active clinker craftsmen dwindles and fishermen and others opt for ships with less expensive fiberglass hulls.
“We can see that the skills to build them, the skills to sail the ships, the knowledge of the people who sail…it goes down and it goes away,” said Soren Nielsen, shipyard manager of the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. , west of Copenhagen.
The museum not only exhibits the remains of wooden ships built 1,000 years ago, but also works to rebuild and rebuild other Viking ships. The process involves using experimental archaeological methods to gain a deeper and more practical understanding of the Viking Age, such as how fast ships sailed and how many people they carried.
Nielsen, who oversees the construction and repair of wooden boats built in the clinker tradition, said there were only about 20 clinker boat builders in Denmark, possibly 200 in the whole of Denmark. ‘North Europe.
“We think it’s a tradition that we need to show, and we need to tell people that it was part of our past,” he told The Associated Press.
Wooden clapboard boats are characterized by the use of overlapping longitudinal wooden hull planks that are sewn or riveted together.
The builders reinforce the boats inside with additional wooden elements, mainly large oak trees, which make up the ribs of the ship. They fill the gaps with tar or tallow mixed with animal hair, wool and moss.
“When you build it with these overlaps, you get a pretty flexible but at the same time incredibly strong hull,” explained Triona Sorensen, curator at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, which houses the remains of five 11th-century Viking ships built with 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 clinker boats reached their zenith, according to Sørensen. The era, from 793 to 1066, is when the Norse, or Vikings, undertook large-scale raids, colonizations, conquests, and trade voyages across Europe. They have also reached North America.
Their light, strong and fast ships were unrivaled in their time and laid the foundations of kingdoms in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
If “you hadn’t had ships, you wouldn’t have had a Viking Age,” Sørensen said. “It literally allowed them to broaden that kind of horizon to become a more global people.” the tradition of clinker boats in Northern Europe lives on to this day, the ships are used by amateurs, for festivities, regattas and sporting events, rather than for raids and conquests of 1,000 years ago .
The UNESCO nomination has been signed by approximately 200 communities and cultural bearers in the field of clinker boat building and traditional craftsmanship, including the Sami communities.
The inscription on the list of intangible cultural heritage obliges the Nordic countries to try to preserve what remains of the tradition in decline.
“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 those skills alive, you have to maintain them.”
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