Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
SAF Archives  search ask the scientists in the classroom cool science
scientists from previous shows
cool careers in science
ask the scientists
PREVIOUS SCIENTISTS

Photo of Harry Tzalas Harry Tzalas as seen on Mediterranean On the Rocks: The Paper Boat

Click on Harry's photo to read a brief bio.



q What happened to the boat you built after the show was filmed? (Question asked by several viewers)

A The boat that was built at the Pharaonic village in Cairo will be available for further experimental voyages. This is my understanding when speaking with Dr. Ragab. I do not know if David Huntley from Scientific American Frontiers made any specific arrangements with the Pharaonic village for the future of this boat.


q How long would a reed boat last? (Question asked by several viewers)

A The traditional Corfiot "Papyrella" (from the Greek island of Corfu), the design of which we used as a basis for our experiments, lasts two to three years. What they used to do is to keep the frame made of branches and then every two or three years change the papyrus bundles that become water-logged.


q Where can I see pictures and find more information about the ship you produced a reproduction of? I am very intrigued. (Question sent by Paul)

A The experiment I did in 1988 with the reproduction of a Corfiot "papyrella" has been published in TROPIS III, the proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity [1989].The paper is well documented and illustrated.


q My family is from the island of Chios, and I'm curious as to what part, if any, the Chian people played in early sea faring, and if you, in the course of your many studies, have come across any of their history? Thank you for your very interesting piece of work on PBS. (Question sent by George, Canfield, Ohio)

A The Chians played a leading role in the sea-fearing of the Aegean at least from the Homeric times. It is however, during the last 150 years that the shipowners from the island of Chios and the island of Inoussai have been playing a leading part in modern shipping. Contrary to other Greek sea-fearing islands like Hydra, Spetses or the port of Galaxidi which did not respond to the challenge of changing from sail to steam, the Chians were open to this innovation and they presently control a very important percentage of the world tonnage. The seamanship of the Chians is an uninterrupted chain that goes back to more than 3.000 years.


q My family is from the island of Chios, and I'm curious as to what part, if any, the Chian people played in early sea faring, and if you, in the course of your many studies, have come across any of their history? Thank you for your very interesting piece of work on PBS. (Question sent by George, Canfield, Ohio)

A The Chians played a leading role in the sea-fearing of the Aegean at least from the Homeric times. It is however, during the last 150 years that the shipowners from the island of Chios and the island of Inoussai have been playing a leading part in modern shipping. Contrary to other Greek sea-fearing islands like Hydra, Spetses or the port of Galaxidi which did not respond to the challenge of changing from sail to steam, the Chians were open to this innovation and they presently control a very important percentage of the world tonnage. The seamanship of the Chians is an uninterrupted chain that goes back to more than 3.000 years.


q Does the papyrus have to go through a process to prepare it to make a vessel, or is it just harvested and built into a boat using tools? (Question sent by Greg, St. Paul's School)

A To build a papyrus craft you do not need any special preparation or processing. It is just harvested, left for no more than a week or two to dry (it should not be very dry as it will become brittle). The only tools used by Stone-age builders were flint tools or obsidian blades. We did use steel blades for harvesting and for the construction after having worked for a few hours with obsidian knives.


q How long do you think it would take the stone-age people to build a reed boat? How long did it take your crew to make the boat? Did you use modern tools to make the process faster? (Question sent by Sarah)

A I believe that a papyrus craft of the size produced for the program could be built in less than a week by people using only stone tools. It took much longer to build our Greek craft in Corfu and the Egyptian craft in Cairo because the knowledge of working with reed in the meantime has been lost. We used modern technique (modern saw) only for the wooden planks. The Stone-age builders would very probably have used branches or made wooden planks with a stone adze.


q My two sons, ages 6 and 8, and I have some questions about the reed boat theory. According to the show, it is believed that reed boats were the only type of sea going boat that stone-age builders were capable of building. This seems to contradict the fact that Pacific Islanders built dug out type boats which took them across thousands of miles of oceans using stone tools. American Indians, using stone tools, built dug-out boats which took them up and down the Pacific Northwest coast. So what stopped the stone age people of the Mediterranean from doing the same thing? (Question sent by Andrew)

A Andrew's remarks and questions are very interesting. Indeed, dugouts were extensively used in the Stone age and are still used by primitive mariners today. A dugout can very easily be made, as its construction does not require any complicated technology. The trunk of a large tree can be cut using a stone axe. Then it is placed horizontally above a lit so you can burn and charcoal the lower part of the trunk. Using a large seashell the charcoal area can slowly be carved to create the cavity that will permit the mariners to sit in the dugout. Then using a stone adze the exterior of the craft is shaped with the necessary hydrodynamic lines that will allow the dugout to move fast on the water. Making wooden paddles would present no problem.

As reported in my paper presenting the experiment at the 3rd Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity (TROPIS III, 1989), it is explained that we did experiment with a dugout but the waters of the Aegean sea are rough, choppy with short waves (different from the Ocean's) and it was noted that such a craft would be improper to be used on the obsidian trail of the Cyclades islands. Of course, dugouts were known in the Greek Stone age but their use is related to lakes, lagoons and rivers.

Another early form of navigation is the raft where tree logs are secured on a buoyant surface made by tight together with clay amphoras (that are sealed), or skin-bag; but that primitive method of navigation known in Greece from ancient iconography was probably more adequate in coastal navigation and not proper for crossing long distances between the islands. It should be said that experimental navigation does not prove that it is with a papyrus craft that obsidian was transported by stone-age mariners, it is just a learned guess that this was probable.



q Where does papyrus grow? (Question sent by Amy)

A Papyrus is grown in Egypt as the "wild" papyrus has been extinct for several decades. You can find "wild" papyrus in many other African countries such as Sudan and in lake Tchad. The papyrus found in Corfu (the site of Lake Kavourolimni near the village of Liapades, eastern Corfu, not far from Palaiokastritsa), is the last "wild" papyrus existing in Europe. Reed boats in Southern Italy were made of a sort of reed looking like papyrus but is not papyrus. The papyrus of Corfu is harvested once a year between June and early August depending on the amount of rain the lake gets.




 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.