Courtesy of The Original Jesus Boat Store of the Jesus Boat Museum, Nof Ginosar
Building a Model of the KINNERET BOAT
By William H. Charlton, Jr.
Shelly Wachsmann, head archeologist of the Kinneret Boat aka Jesus Boat, excavation, dreamt of creating a model that would show museum visitors what the ancient boat would have looked like as it sailed the Kinneret some twenty centuries ago. The process and results of building a full scale model are chronicled by article author, William Charlton, who was tasked to create this model as a project while in gratuate school at Texas A&M University.
Shelley Wachsmann arrived at Texas A&M University in the fall of 1990 to join the nautical archaeology program faculty as the Meadows Visiting Assistant Professor of Biblical Archaeology. He brought with him the dream of having a scale model of the Kinneret boat to display along the original, which he had excavated. In 1986 Dr. Wachsmann (then Underwater Inspector for the Israel Antiquities Authority) directed the excavation of the nearly nine-meter-long, 2,000-year-old boat from the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Yam Kinneret in Hebrew). After excavation, the boat was moved to the Yigal Allon Museumat nearby Kibbutz Ginosar, where the long process of conservation in polyethelene glycol (PEG) will continue, possibly into 1996.
While this fantastic discovery, the only ancient boat ever excavated from the Sea of Galilee, is of great interest to native Israelis and visiting tourists alike, there is little to see of its ancient timbers immersed in dark brown PEG. Thus, Dr. Wachsmann conceived a model that would show museum visitors what the ancient boat would have looked like as it sailed the Kinneret some twenty centuries ago.
When Dr. Eachsmann and I met, we found that we shared similar interests and experiences, and he soon asked me to build the model of the Kinneret boat for him. Now, I hadn’t done any modeling in wood since making model airplanes out of balsa wood nearly forty years ago (and I almost cut a finger off doing that). This certainly looked like a long, detailed, and much more difficult project. Did I still have the patience for something like this? I mulled it over and finally realized that the experience I would gain in the techniques of the ancient shipwright far outweighed any apprehensions I might have had. So I consented. The job was given to me as a half-time graduate assistantship (twenty hours per week) late in the fall of 1990. Funding for this project, to include my assistantship and all materials for the model, was provided by the Meadows Visiting Professor of Biblical Archaeology Endowment.
In mid-January 1991, as the new semester began, so did I. I spent a couple of weeks in detailed study of the original set of preliminary lines drawings (made by Professor J. Richard Steffy), the field sketches, photo mosaic of the boat, and the final excavation report. Then I made a new set of drawings specifically for the model.
The model was to be 1:10 scale, each piece being shaped and sized as close to the original as the one-tenth scale would allow, and its design was to be based on Professor Steffy’s suggested lines. His hull lines were based on measurements of the original boat’s remains. The high, incurving sternpost and cutwater prow were based on a contemporary mosaic found at the nearby town of Migdal (the stem and sternposts had been removed from the original boat).
My next consideration was the type of wood to use. Always a concern in wooden modeling is the scale effect; wide-grained woods just don’t appear to be the proper scale and detract from the appearance of the model. I would need a very close-grained wood. Not knowing the climatic conditions under which the model would be displayed in the museum, I needed a dimensionally stable wood – one that would not shrink or swell, to any great degree, with changes in relative humidity. So I consulted with Dr. Fred Hocker, successor of Professor Steffy as head of the Nautical Archaeology’s Ship Reconstruction Laboratory and a man of great knowledge concerning wood. We decided on European pear wood (pyrus communis), a species that fit both of our requirements exceptionally well.
Now I had to find some. This proved a little more difficult than buying pine shelving boards at the local hardware store. After a few days of researching hardwood suppliers and many phone calls, I found a source. Mr. Jim Heussinger of Berea Hardwoods in Berea, Ohio, was very helpful and quite enthused with the project when I explained it to him; he would ship our pear wood immediately, but it would take two or three weeks to arrive in Texas. Fortunately, Dr. Hocker had a few small pieces in the ship lab from another project, so I could get started before the new shipment arrived.
Before I could start cutting wood for the model, though, I had to decide how I was going to edge-join the planking. The original boat’s planks were joined edge-to-edge with mortise-and-tenon joints, but this method would be quite difficult at 1:10 scale using 3mm (about 1/8”)-thick planks. (If this were a research model, rather than display, it would be necessary to put in mortise-and-tenon joints, possibly at a larger scale though.) I would be gluing the planks together, but how could I hold them in place while the glue dried? I knew the woodworkers used three-way edge clamps, but none were available in the small size I would need. So I designed an appropriately-sized clamp, and Dr. Hocker and I milled fourteen of them out of aluminum stock. We used materials and machinery generously donated by Vilas Motor Works, a local machine shop. Looking back at the project now, I cannot imagine building the model without these clamps.
It was now time to start cutting wood. I began with the stem and sternposts, rough-cutting them on the band-saw and then planing them to correct thickness. Next, came the two pieces that made up the keel. These were fairly easy to shape, and I thought I was cruising right along, but when I began trying to join the two keel pieces and the sternpost with their hook scarfs, I discovered how easy it was to break these scarfs. This type of scarf on the original boat would have been fairly sturdy, but at 1:10 scale they were quite fragile. I ended up re-cutting the stern piece once and the forward keel piece twice. After quite a bit of shaping and trimming, the posts were attached and the keel was laid on 16 April 1991.
Now for the planking. I rough-cut a stack of 20 mm (25/32”) wide stripes to 5-6 mm (12/15/64”) thickness and then planed them down to 4 mm (5/32”) thickness. This would allow for scraping and smoothing the exterior of the hull while still maintaining a plank thickness of 3-3.1/2 mm (about 1/8”), one-tenth the original. Individual planks were cut from the prepared stock; planking widths throughout the model averaged 12 mm (about 1/2”).
My first efforts at planking were, of course, the garboards, the first planks joined to each side of the keel. Now I had to learn to bend planks to the required shape. I began by wetting each plank and then bending it over a hot iron. This method sufficed for the garboards, which only required a slight bend. It would, however, soon prove altogether unsatisfactory, especially for the more radical bends required to fit planks into the stern. But I would have to wait until the fall to learn this; it was time to depart for my second season on the Bronze Age Shipwreck Excavation at Ulu Burun, Turkey.
Back from an exciting summer in Turkey, work began in earnest on the model, and I quickly learned how frustrating it is to have a strake almost bent to shape, only to have it snap in my hands. The bends required to fit the planking into the sternpost were radical, and I must have broken a dozen pieces before finally solving the problem. It’s going to be interesting to learn how the original shipwright shaped his stern planking, but I’ll have to wait until the boat comes out of conservation for that.
The trick I learned for shaping the planks, and the method I would use for the remainder of the planking on the model, was to cut each piece roughly to shape and then soak it in water for at least 24 hours. I would then gently massage in the required curves and bends, clamp the piece into place on the model, and allow it to dry overnight and take the desired shape. It was then relatively easy to trim to its final shape and glue in place.
Once I got past the turn of the bilge, shaping and installing the planking went much faster, and I was able to begin work on the framing. Each frame member was hand carved in the general shape of the original and installed as the originals were, being fastened to the inside of the planking by nails driven from the outside of the hull.
While the remains of the boat consisted only of the keel, exterior hull planking, and internal frame members, certain bits of evidence on the excavated remains indicated particular features of the original boat. Four nail holes in the top of the keel, just forward of midships, indicated the presence of a maststep, thus indicating the boat had a mast and sail. Considering the single, square rig depicted on the Migdal mosaic, and since there was no evidence for a lateen rig as early as the turn of the millennium, I designed a square rig for the model, complete with sail and rigging. The sail was being woven out of linen by Kaye McWilliams, a local weaver, (see article on pg. 14) and the ropes were hand laid from fibers of the Torrey Yucca plant (Yucca torreyi) by Pat Turner, a secretary at INA (See article on pg. 12). Also indicated on the Migdal mosaic were two oars and a quarter-rudder on each side of the boat; these would also be included on the model.
The curious placement of certain frame members in the bow and stern, noticed by Professor Steffy during the excavation, indicated to him the presence of decks in both areas. Since we had no evidence of how the decks would have been constructed in this type of boat, I designed them as simple, flat-board structures, each occupying approximately one-quarter of the length of the hull.
Now a few words about the model itself. We refer to it as “the Kinneret boat model,” but technically this is a misnomer. While it is based largely on the original, the boat, as it was found, and with only the most preliminary research being possible before it went into conservation, was so incomplete that in order to present a complete model I had to go to other sources for ideas. The model should more correctly be referred to as a generic turn-of-the-millenium Sea of Galilee fishing boat, that likely would also have been used for all manner of other tasks, including ferrying people and cargo.
My thanks go to Professor Steffy for the basic design, as well as a number of meaningful suggestions at crucial times; to Dr. Hocker for being a sounding board for all my ideas, both good and bad, and for telling me the difference between the two; and to Miss Claire Peachy for getting me started. (She built a research model of the Kinneret boat shortly after its excavation. It pointed out some of the problems in the preliminary lines, which I was able to correct by redrawing the lines for the model). Ultimately, though, I learned that by just sitting back and staring at the model, sometimes for long periods of time, it would tell me what my next move was supposed to be, or how to shape the next plank.
This has been a long project, almost a year and a half. It was also frustrating at times, but mostly it’s been fun. As anyone involved in handmade crafts knows, seeing a project such as this come to fruition is a very satisfying experience. I thank Dr. Shelley Wachsmann for allowing me to take it on. The model will be delivered to Israel and displayed alongside the original Yigal Allon Museum at Kibbutz Ginosar this coming fall.
For more information on the Kinneret boat, see the final excavation report in Atiqot XIX, the journal of Israel Antiquities Authority, and Shelley Wachsmann’s popular article entitled “The Galilee Boat – 2,000-Year-Old Hull Recovered Intact” in the September/October 1998 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
William H. Charlton, Jr.. INA Quarterly. Volume 19, No 3. Fall 1992
William H. Charlton, Jr.. Seaways’ Ships in Scale January/February 1993, Volume IV, Number 1.
William H. Charlton, Jr.
Institute of Nautical Archaeology
PO Drawer HG
College Station, TX 77841-5137