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Research projects

Shell-first boats of the Sudanese Nile

Principal investigator: Dr John Cooper

Throughout the world, vernacular boatbuilding traditions are being swept away, or at least challenged, by new technologies and globalised markets. In Sudan, a handful of boat builders continue to build Nile boats from local Acacia nilotica wood using a ‘shell-first’ method that has resonances in ancient, pharaonic-era technologies: construction in Acacia nilotica is depicted in the famous reliefs of the Fifth Dynasty mastaba of Ti in Saqqara, Egypt, while the hulls bear a striking resemblance in form to the Twelfth Dynasty Dahshur boats. With few of the builders of these modern boats remaining, this connection with the past is likely soon to disappear.

Working with Dr Chiara Zazzaro and Dr Enzo Cocca of the University of Napoli ‘l’Orientale’ and Dr Ahmed Hussein of the University of Khartoum, together with the builders themselves, this project uses ethnographic interview, video, photography and 3D photogrammetry to document in detail the process of building these unique boats from start to finish. It also seeks to document alternative boat building methods that have emerged as a result of the arrival of new materials in Sudanese markets.