I was looking through ABZU this evening and I cam across a 2002 M.A. thesis completed at Texas A&M entitled “Ships and Shipbuilding in Ancient Mesopotamia (ca. 300-200 B.C.).”  This interested me not only because of the topic, but also because I did my undergraduate work at Texas A&M.   While I was there I took classes from Shelley Wachsmann and George F. Bass who were on the thesis committee.

The author of the thesis is Tommi Tapani Mäkelä and she included unpublished cuneiform shipbuilding texts given to her by Simo Parpola.  Here is the link to download a free copy of the thesis.  And here is a summary:

Mesopotamian cuneiform texts speak of a complex and well-organized trade on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers where boats of wooden construction were employed. From the evidence it appears that Meluhhan and Dilmunite traders had an important role in the Arabian Gulf trade especially during the second half of the third millennium B.C. It is possible that the boat designs and techniques used in the third millennium are no longer present in traditional boats of present-day Iraq and those of oceangoing vessels sailing in the modern day Arabian Gulf. Based on iconographic evidence, it seems that Mesopotamian riverboats had flat bottoms and high curving ends, with a stem often ending in an elaborate design. Cultic vessels imitated the shape of a papyriform vessel. The riverine vessels in practical use described in texts, such as AO 5673, most probably had square ends. The use of bitumen might have allowed the Mesopotamian shipwrights to build hulls in which watertightness (before the application of a bitumen layer) was not the primary concern. Mesopotamian textual evidence from the third millennium B.C. does not provide conclusive evidence as to which edge-joining methods, if any, were used. Traditional modern-day Mesopotamian riverboats, some of which seem to be clear descendants of the ancient vessels depicted in seals and boat models, do not employ edge-joining methods. Instead, they are built according to a technique where the planking is nailed to the frames. In spite of textual references to “backbone” and “ribs,” it is unclear whether Mesopotamian ships had an elaborate internal framework connected toa keel. It is probable that these vessels had a keel plank or a flat floor similar to certain traditional modern-day riverboats. Structural elements evident from the texts are beams and longitudinal strengthening timbers or stringers. It also seems clear that there were floor timbers and probably frames giving extra support to the hull.

About the author

Charles Halton

3 Comments. Leave your Comment right now:

  1. You took classes with George Bass?! COOL!

  2. Bass is an incredibly nice guy and first class scholar and gentleman.

  3. by Barbara McCall

    Your info was informative. I am searching for some sources that will provide details on the ships and vessels Paul used on his missionary journies. Can you point into the right direction?

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