The Utrecht ship

Unknowncirca 997 - circa 1030

Centraal Museum

Centraal Museum

Safely tucked away in the cellars of the Centraal Museum lie the remains of an almost 18-metre long boat. These are the remains of a boat that was found in 1930 during construction work in the Utrecht district of Zuilen. The remains were brought to the museum, pieced together and conserved. The tar-based substance creosote was used for the conservation, with a typical smell that many visitors always remember. Since it went on display in 1936, the vessel has been one of the most popular exhibits. The boat was initially thought to be of Roman origin, but a subsequent analysis on the basis of tree-rings (dendrochronology) determined that it was constructed at around the year 1000. The new dating was part of a comprehensive restoration and research project in the years 1998-2000, funded by the European Commission. The restoration work was carried out by the National Museum of Denmark, and the dating was performed by the National Agency for Archaeological Research, now the Cultural Heritage Agency. Loose pieces of wood were fixed in place and the surface was impregnated with the synthetic resin PEG. Additionally, a new and flexible framework of stainless steel was constructed to support the boat, and since then it is shielded off by a glass wall. A remarkable feature of the vessel is that its bottom board consists of a single piece of oak wood. It is a hollowed-out and then bent tree trunk, to which the beams and planks were subsequently attached. This freight vessel plied the Rhine river, moving forward by a combination of sailing, pulling, punting and rowing. Its sturdy bottom made it suitable for waters hiding dangerous rocks, as in the area of the Loreley. Utrecht was probably the boat’s home harbour, where goods brought from upstream were traded or consumed, such as wine, grains and tuff stone. With all the church-building activity in Utrecht (the Romanesque Dom church, the St-Jan and St-Pieter church and the Paulus monastery), stones were in great demand. On its return journey upstream the boat likely transported locally produced goods such as cheese and salt, and imported Scandinavian products like furs and pitch. The boat has acquired a presence in the cityscape through a steel replica that marks the location where it was found at Van Hoornekade.

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  • Title: The Utrecht ship
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: circa 997 - circa 1030
  • Type: ship