The evolution of the mast-step in the Mediterranean (7th century BC – 3rd century AD): A structural and functional analysis
PublisherΠανεπιστήμιο Κύπρου, Φιλοσοφική Σχολή / University of Cyprus, Faculty of Letters
Place of publicationCyprus
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The mast-step is the longitudinal structure and the complex system which was intended to receive and secure the mast. This structural element, essential for the integrity and the seaworthiness of any sailing ship, however, has not been sufficiently studied or interpreted. The topic was last approached by Geannette (1983) but since then, new discoveries of shipwrecks that preserve their mast-step have been added to the archaeological record. The present dissertation discusses the results of an attempt to re-examine and re-evaluate the available data, aiming to contextualize the changes in the construction of the mast-step in the longue durée. The analysis begins with the earliest archaeological evidence (7th century BC) in the Mediterranean until the end of the Early Roman period (3rd century AD) and extends geographically throughout the eastern, central and western Mediterranean. A corpus of the related shipwrecks presents the structure, the dimensions and the characteristic or the unique features of each mast-step and keelson/mast, laying the foundations for a diachronic examination of the timber’s form and function, as well as its adjacent elements. As a result, the chronological development of the construction is suggested, associated with specific Mediterranean shipbuilding traditions. This, in turn, leads to the formulation of a structural typology, associated with the different types of mast-step placement, its position into the hull and its relationship with the mast. In the absence of archaeological evidence, carefully chosen examples provided by iconography and experimental archaeology are used as supplementary and auxiliary elements for better understanding and interpretation of the functional and morphological characteristics of the mast-step and keelson/mast-step. The evolution of the mast-step and keelson, their relationship, as well as their association with the structure of the hull, reflects the broader development in the construction of ancient ships. Therefore, the examination and interpretation of these timbers may supplement our knowledge of ancient shipbuilding and, consequently, ancient seafaring.