The Middle Minoan Ship Slipway at the Kommos Harbor

A revised analysis and conclusion of a site feature’s function 

03 October 2014    by Joseph W. Shaw

In the past a boat or ship’s hull after construction, repair or dry dock storage was at times coated with grease allowing it to slip into the sea. A boat ramp on the shore is known as a slipway. The co-excavator of Kommos, Professor Joseph W. Shaw, President of Kommos Conservancy, will be giving a paper on the Kommos slipway at a Conference on Minoan Architecture in general, in Toronto Canada in early January 2015. Here below is a brief abstract of the paper. – James C. Stratis 4 October 2014

slipway teaser photo
In 1985, excavation below the Central Courts of Minoan Buildings T and AA, revealed a long (18.40 m) but narrow (1.40 m.), segment of slab pavement heading west, sloping down toward the sea. At the time, and later, in our Volume V (2006), we had also identified the MM I-IIA pavement as having served as a “walkway” of the type commonly encountered in the West Courts of Minoan Palaces. Some think such walkways were used for processions, appropriate for the palatial buildings at Kommos after MM IIA.

Since then, the writer had an opportunity to independently examine Minoan walkways, so that I realized that our “walkway” was certainly something else. This is because it differs from the usual “walkways” by having shallow gaps 0.15-0.20 m. wide, set every 2- 2.60 m. Into each gap was set something, most likely wooden, which had simply disappeared. Our thought, proposed here, is that wooden beams were set in the gaps, projecting up slightly above the stone slabs, and functioning as “sleepers” upon which ships could slide when being hauled up or down the slope of the shoreline.

segment section insert of slipway plan

This makes our “walkway” into a slipway — perhaps a unique find of naval architecture in the Aegean, but with parallels in the slipways with similar sleepers within the later Classical Greek ship sheds. – Joseph W. Shaw

For additional information about Minoan ship & nautical technology see our other articles:

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2 comments on “The Middle Minoan Ship Slipway at the Kommos Harbor
  1. John Walters says:

    Dear Professor Shaw
    I have just finished reading your excellent and informative book “Kommos”. When discussing the ship pens you never suggested that one of the uses might have been actual ship construction. Was there a reason for this or is it just the old bugbear ‘no evidence’?

  2. Joseph Shaw says:

    I appreciate John Walters’ suggestion that ships were built in the shipsheds at Kommos. Partly on the basis of long-observed custom in the Mediterranean, ships were probably built in the open not far from the shore, and stabilized by wooden props as they took their shapes. Later, when the vessels were not at sea, many of them, and especially the warships, were stored in the shipsheds made available.

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