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Ancient ship and boat models have been discovered throughout the Mediterranean, especially from ancient Greece, Egypt, and Phoenicia. These models provide archaeologists with valuable information regarding seafaring technology and the sociological and economic importance of seafaring. In spite of how helpful ancient boat and ship models are to archaeologists, they are not always easily or correctly interpreted due to artists’ mistakes, ambiguity in the model design, and wear and tear over the centuries.
In the Ancient world, ships “were among the most technologically complex mechanisms of the ancient world.” Ships made far-flung travel and trade more comfortable and economical, and they added a whole new facet to warfare. Thus, ships carried a great deal of significance to the people of the ancient world, and this is expressed partly through the creation of boat and ship models. Ancient boat and ship models are made of a variety of materials and are intended for different purposes. The most common purposes for boat and ship models include burial votives, house hold articles, art, and toys. While archaeologists have found ship and boat models from societies all around the Mediterranean, the three of the most prolific ship model building cultures were the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Egyptians.
Archaeologists have determined that Ancient Greek ship models were used as burial or votive offerings and as household articles such as lamps or drinking vessels. The kinds of ships depicted in Ancient Greek models can be classified broadly as small craft, merchant vessels, and warships. Models were cast in different materials, including wood, bronze, lead, and clay.
Greek warships were popular subjects to be made in miniature. One particular model, acquired by the Staatliches Museum (engl.: Land museum) in Kassel, Germany, proves to be helpful to archaeologists and historians in understanding what a hemiolia warship was like. Archaeologists have tentatively dated the Kassel model to be from the 6th or 5th centuries BC through iconographic and literary sources. This ship model is made of clay and features a distinctive prow shaped like a boar’s head that is described by Herodotus in The History, and depicted on pottery, coins seals and drinking cups. The model is a miniature of a vessel that would have been too small to be a typical warship. The presence of holes bored into 8 thwarts in the ship suggests that the thwarts may have been seats for a pegged-in dummy crew. If the holes bored into the thwarts are indeed meant to accommodate a dummy crew, the crew seating would have been arranged with two men per bench amidships, and one man per bench fore and aft where the ship narrows so that there is only room for one man. Alec Tilley (former Royal Navy and Navy of Oman officer) suggests that a small ship with this type of seating arrangement would have been called a hemiolia, or a one-and-a-halfer. The name indicates that two oarsmen would have been seated on half of the benches and one on the others. Until this ship model was discovered, archaeologists, classicists, and historians had only been able to hypothesize on what the seating arrangement might have been like on a hemiolia based on its name.
Details of 1/700 scale model of the Japanese battleship Yamato, which is heavily detailed with aftermarket photo-etch detailing parts.
1/720 scale plastic model of the USS Massachusetts (BB-59).
An assembled 1:700 scale Skywave/Pit-Road Japanese destroyer is about the size of a pencil.
Detail of a model that shows men operating a capstan
Completed Revell USCGC Taney (WHEC-37) model. Originally issued in 1956, it was among the earliest injection molded plastic ship model kits.
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