Terracotta model of a merchant ship


British Museum

British Museum

Being an island, shipping was essential for the Cypriots. The earliest inhabitants, hunter-gatherers of about 8800 BC, probably came by sea. The first Cypriot boat models to have survived, however, date from about 1950 BC, and these mark the first technical steps in ship-building on the island. By the Iron Age (from 1050 BC) shipping was firmly established as a means of communication with the outside world. There is no evidence for a constructed port at Amathus before the later fourth century BC, but finds from the acropolis and the neighbouring cemeteries suggest that the city was involved in maritime trade at an earlier date. The excavator described this merchant ship as brilliantly painted in yellow and black that stood out against the red colour of the clay. Now there is only a black line around the side and elsewhere uneven traces of colour. It also originally had an iron steering paddle attached to the shaft on the port side, but this is now missing. The model has a heavy hull and rounded bottom with the stern (back) rising up above the deck. There is an additional elevated deck (known as a poop deck) towards the aft (back) of the ship with two vertical partly open shafts running down the outer sides of the hull. These were no doubt holders for steering oars. A rectangular hole in the middle of the poop deck leads back into a lower deck that perhaps served as quarters for the crew. The poop deck itself was evidently for navigation and manoeuvring. The rest of the boat (about three-quarters of the whole) would have accommodated the cargo. The boat has a pronounced 'tumble-home' meaning that the beam (the greatest breadth of the boat) is at deck level. This ensures stability, allows for more sheltered space for the cargo and enables the ship to enter shallow waters.

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  • Title: Terracotta model of a merchant ship
  • Date Created: -750/-500
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 31.00cm; Width: 9.00cm (max. amidship); Height: 7.00cm (max. amidship); Height: 3.50cm (stern above gunwale)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: handmade; painted; perforated
  • Subject: boat/ship
  • Registration number: 1894,1101.182
  • Production place: Made in Cyprus
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Amathus
  • Period/culture: Cypro-Archaic
  • Material: terracotta
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Excavated by Turner Bequest Excavations, Amathus. Funded by Turner, Emma Tourner