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Monday, December 21, 2015

An Ancient Scottish Logboat

This logboat was discovered in 1960 near the shore of Loch Glashan in Argyll, Scotland, and the boat led to the discovery in the lake of a nearby crannog -- an artificial island settlement. (This one was from the 6-8th centuries.) The boat is on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.

The boat hasn't been well dated, and it's thought to date from the 1st through 10th centuries. A paddle found nearby -- which might or might not have been associated with the boat, has been dated to the 6th to 9th century.

The boat measures about 3.15 meters long and a bit under 0.8 meters in breadth. It possesses some interesting features for such a basic vessel.
Loch Glashan logboat
Even considering that the sides have sagged downward, the bow is still very high relative to the height of the gunwales. (There is no evidence for the use of of additional planks that would have raised the sides.) If its height was intended to keep water out of the boat in a heavy chop, it would have been necessary to keep the boat head-on to the waves at all times.
Just barely visible is a false stem, which extends beneath the hull to form a false keel. For such a short boat, this probably was a considerable aid to directional stability. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Loch Glashan logboat
A sitting thwart is supported on cleats left standing proud when the hull was hollowed out. It's quite low to keep the center of balance low. 
Loch Glashan logboat transom slot
The stern was enclosed with a plank transom that fit into a slot that's let into the hull a couple inches forward of the extreme aft end. The transom plank (or planks) was considerably thinner than the hull. Some kind of caulking was probably used, possibly moss or some natural fiber.
Loch Glashan logboat

Loch Glashan logboat plans
The thwart-support cleats and false stem and keel can be seen in the section view. The upward bend of the bottom in the middle (in section view) is almost certainly due to deformation while the boat sat on its false keel, not the original shape. The sitting thwart is rather far forward for a solo paddler.
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Photos by the blogger, except the final one, which is sourced with a link. The illustration is from the Kelvingrove Museum.

9 comments:

  1. The group The Celtic Knotworks built a reconstruction of this type of logboat.
    http://www.scran.ac.uk/database/results.php?PHPSESSID=rjn3cqril2ie5s6apu6t5j8ob5&QUICKSEARCH=1&search_term=logboat

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    1. Thanks Edwin.
      Readers are encouraged to follow the link in the comment above -- some nice photos here of a reconstruction under construction and in action.

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  2. Was that 1.9 meters beam or 0.9 meters? Seems narrower than 1.9. Good book out there, "The Log Boats of Scotland."

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  3. Nice catch, Wade. 1.9 meters was a typo; it should have been 0.9 meters, but I remeasured and it's actually even narrower than that. I've corrected it in the blog text.

    I find the following citation for "The Log Boats of Scotland" in a paper: Mowat, R. 1996. The Log-boats of Scotland. Oxford, Oxbow. It's not listed on Amazon in the USA and it's probably pretty hard to get hold of, but I'd sure like to see it.

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  4. I am not sure where I found it, but I often keep receipts in the books as a bookmark, so I will try to remember to look. If not Amazon, then probably one of my anthropology book suppliers. I am receiving "Stone-Age Sailors" in a few days from the University of Chicago Press (it has been back-ordered for months). My other supplier is Indiana University Press, and Brown's Books for medieval stuff (they may have changed their name though). But I will look.

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  5. I have a copy of The Logboats of Scotland along with McGrail's on those of England and Wales and the Northern Ireland's Coiti.

    Difficult though to reconcile some of the analysis in these books of their theoretical capacity with how they were probably used and how many we see floating happily in reconstructions.

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    1. That's why the building of reconstructions is a useful activity (although it's fun too). But I wonder if more modern hydrodynamics calculations would be closer to the actual performance as shown in reconstructions.

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  6. I just a long dugout canoe today at the Mystic Seaport museum, with a huge crack in the one of the ends, I think it was made recently at the Pequot Museum by traditional burning and adzing -- after looking at some of these Scottish log boats, it made me wonder if they had thinned out the ends too much. Seems that the ends must be massive to avoid those cracks, if at all. (I have a photo if interested).

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  7. Wade: I've also seen cracked ends, but then I've also seen dugouts with thin ends from various cultures that seem to do fine. I suspect that whether a hull cracks is due to a combination of factors: the condition of the tree when felled (internal stresses); any treatments applied to moderate the drying of natural moisture from the trunk (e.g., oil); environmental exposure (especially direct sun); and usage.
    I'll be doing a post soon on the dugouts of Stanns Creek District, Belize, which I visited recently. The hulls are all nicely thinned, and rot, rather than cracking, is what seems to affect them most often.

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