Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boats at the Hudson Anthropology Museum, #1

The Hudson Museum a brand new museum associated with the department of anthropology at the University of Maine, Orono (near Bangor). Rather small, it nonetheless has fine exhibits, is well worth a visit, and has a surprising number of boat-related artifacts on display.

I'll try to cover several of their boat artifacts in a series of posts. For now, we'll look at an interesting ceramic boat model from the Salinar culture of Peru's Moche Valley.

I'll quote the exhibit signage:
Salinar Stirrup Vessel, c. 500-2000 BC
The Salinar were precursors of the Vicus, developing in Moche Valley. The vessel depicts a man on a reed raft,  similar to the ones studied by Thor Heyerdahl and used as models for Kon-Tiki.
I don't quite follow the Kon-Tiki reference, since that raft was made of logs, not bundles of reeds. The model's shape is reminiscent of a reed float composed of one longer central bundle flanked by two shorter bundles. It's also quite reminiscent of a log jaganda -- a Brazilian raft-boat that I've blogged about several times. I'm not suggesting that the model depicts a jaganda -- only noting the similarity.

This isn't just a simple model, however. It's a "whistling jar," a noisemaker or musical instrument of a type made in a great variety of styles and designs by this culture, depicting people, animals, vegetables, and in abstract designs. The diagram below shows how it works.

Since the labels are not easy to read, I'll repeat them in clockwise order, starting at the top:
12:00 Insufficient air supply
2:00 Vacuum that pulls back air bubbles
6:00 Water that is passing into the second chamber is interrupted by returning air
8:00 Second chamber
9:00 Water level
9:30 (inside jar): Returning air
11:00 (top) Escaping air
11:00 (bottom) Whistle


  1. The Kon Tiki expedition used a Balsa Wood raft, but his later Ra Expeditions and the Tigris Expedition both used reed boats. I highly recommend reading all three of these books.

  2. Right you are, Anonymous. But neither Ra nor Tigris had anything to do with boats of the New World, hence the artifact's label still seems to make no sense.