Unesco lists Viking-era wooden sailboats on heritage list

Published January 24, 2022
An 11th century, 14-metre Viking coastal trading vessel  sits on display at the Viking Ship Museum.—AP
An 11th century, 14-metre Viking coastal trading vessel sits on display at the Viking Ship Museum.—AP

ROSKILDE: For thousands of years, wooden sailboats allowed the peoples of Northern Europe to spread trade, influence and sometimes war across seas and continents.

In December, the UNs culture agency added Nordic clinker boats to its list of traditions that represent the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden jointly sought the Unesco designation.

The term clinker is thought to refer to the way the boats wooden boards were fastened together.

Supporters of the successful nomination hope it will safeguard and preserve the boat-building techniques that drove the Viking era for future generations as the number of active clinker craftsmen fades and fishermen and others opt for vessels with cheaper glass fiber hulls.

We can see that the skills of building them, the skills of sailing the boats, the knowledge of people who are sailing it goes down and it disappears, said Sren Nielsen, head of boatyard at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, west of Copenhagen.

The museum not only exhibits the remains of wooden vessels built 1,000 years ago, but also works to rebuild and reconstruct other Viking boats. The process involves using experimental archaeological methods to gain a deeper, more practical understanding of the Viking Age, such as how quickly the vessels sailed and how many people they carried.

Nielsen, who oversees the construction and repair of wooden boats built in the clinker tradition, said there are only about 20 practicing clinker boat craftsmen in Denmark, perhaps 200 across all of northern Europe.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2022

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