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Saturday, April 11, 2009

More on Hjortspring

In response to valuable comments from Thomas Armstrong to my previous post, I went back to Landstrom's The Ship: Illustrated History and I find that I was misleading in my description. Landstrom did not suggest a direct connection between the Scandinavian skin boats and the umiak --rather, he suggested that Scandinavians had skin boats that were similar in some respects to umiaks, but he did not imply a technology transfer between the cultures. Sorry for the error, and thanks to Thomas for pointing it out.

I also found more detailed description of the Hjortspring boat's design and construction, some of which contradicts my interpretation of the painting that appeared in the previous post:
The Hjortspring boat with its peculiarities was the result of a very skilful builder's work. It is a round-bottomed boat made of five overlapping planks stitched together, midships 20 ins. broad and 5/8 ins. thick, which are joined to two end-pieces each hewn from a solid block. The bottom plank projects like the end of a runner outside the boat proper, and between this runner and the elongated "noses" of the end-pieces these remarkable vertical end-posts are fitted. When hewing the planks cleats were left into which thin ribs were attached with bass binding. Ten thwarts in the narrow boat gave room for twenty paddlers, and it is believed that the craft was used for warlike purposes.
With its overlapping planks, this boat is approaching subject matter that this blog typically eschews: it appears to be in the line of development to the lapstrake boat that's at the heart of the western boatbuilding tradition. The description of the end-pieces does seem to be similar to those of the Polynesian five-part canoe, which I had discounted in my previous post.


  1. Bob, outstanding again. While these boats were unquestionably steps in the evolution of the Western Tradition, i feel they are old enough and different enough and interesting enough to command your attention. Even if it means bending your self imposed rules for a moment. Remember, these ARE tribal boats.


  2. Hjortpring is appropriate here if only as example of the similar working of the human mind (as opposed to diffusionism theories) as compared to the Polynesian 5-part canoe. The elongated keel and the two end pieces and side planks correspond to the 5-part canoe. I am still curious about the topside projecting piece on Hjortspring. Polynesian canoes seem to have done without them. Perhaps it is a lever-structure to apply compression to the ends, squeezing the carved posts together? Or perhaps an "ethnic structure", sort of like traditional clothes, evidencing a stylistic rather than engineering use? (Smaller possibility but always worth considering). -- Wade Tarzia

  3. Wade: Wood is strong in compression, but weak in tension. I don't think it would work very well for compressing the ends. My guess about the extended gunwales is just the opposite of what you suggest. If Landstrom is right that Hjortspring derived from a skin boat, then the extended gunwales and keel were part of a tensioning system to tighten the skin. After the skin was sewn on, the vertical members that appear forward of the stem and aft of the sternpost were forced into place, stretching the skin and placing it in tension, while placing these vertical members in compression. These members serve no purpose on the plank boat, but remain as artifacts of the skinboat origin during a transitional period.

  4. By coincidence on my website I have just posted a translation of an account of a German group who built a half-size Hjortspring before the Guild did their full-size one. Am waiting to get a proof-read version up so apologies for the typos http://dark-age-boats.co.uk/replicabronzeageboats.php

    Found this blog this morning, trif'!

    Edwin Deady

  5. Thanks Edwin. May I borrow an image from your website? I think it's great, and I'd like to give it a nod in a future post (and exchange links). Feel free to respond to:
    RSHoltzman <@> Gmail.com