3.1 Logboats

While catalogues of the logboats from Britain and Ireland have been compiled, the majority lack dates (McGrail 1978; Lanting and Brindley 1996; Fry 2000; Mowat 1998: 35; Strachan 2010). It was originally presumed that all logboats dated to prehistory (Fox 1925; 1926), but their longevity has now been demonstrated. Crumlin-Pedersen comments on the use of logboats in the lakes and rivers of Scandinavia into modern times (2010, 49), while McGrail notes that the latest logboats from Britain are late medieval in date and that historical sources from Scotland suggest their continued use into the 18th century (McGrail 2010, 2).

Two distinct forms of logboat can be identified within the archaeological record: ordinary and expanded (Crumlin-Pedersen 2010, 22). Both forms of logboat are created from the carving out and shaping of a log to form a boat. The ordinary logboat is constructed solely by means of carving the parent log, while the expanded logboat undergoes further processes in its creation. The bottom and sides of the expanded logboat are thinly carved, allowing the sides to be shaped when subjected to heat.Through this process the parent log may be transformed into a boat of gently sweeping lines. The shape of the finished expanded logboat may be maintained by thwarts and ribs inserted along the length of the boat (Crumlin-Pedersen 2010, 50, fig. 2.24-2.25). Both ordinary and expanded logboats have been identified in the prehistoric archaeological record of north-west Europe.

The earliest logboats identified in Europe are from Pesse in the Netherlands and Noyen-dur-Seine in France and are dated to the 7th to 8th millennium cal BC (Arnold 1996, 30). Both ordinary and expanded Neolithic logboats have been found, together with decorated paddles, at Tybrind Vig in Denmark (Andersen 1987). At Bercy near Paris, an expanded logboat has been discovered, dating to around 4000 cal BC (Arnold 2006). The earliest logboats in Britain and Ireland date from the Middle Neolithic. A logboat from Greyabbey Bay, County Antrim, has been dated to 3499-3032 cal BC (McErlean et al. 2002, 48, 405) while a boat fragment from St Albans has produced two 4th millennium BC dates of 3980-3790 cal BC and 4035-3705 cal BC (Niblett, 2001, 159). Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age logboats have been identified from throughout the UK and Ireland, such as the example from Catherinefield in Dumfries and Galloway (Mowat 1998: 35) and the Lurganand Carrowneden boats from County Galway, Ireland (Lanting and Brindley 1996; Robinson et al. 1999).

The majority of logboats discovered within the UK and Ireland have been found in association with inland lakes, tidal rivers and the tributaries of estuaries (Fry 2000; McGrail 1978; Mowat 1996; Strachan 2010). No fewer than six well-preserved logboats at Must Farm, Peterborough, were recently discovered within the waterlogged sediments of a later Bronze Age/earlier Iron Age watercourse (1300–400 cal BC) that had once meandered across the southern half of the Flag Fen basin (Knight 2012). The size of a logboat is limited by the length of the parent log but many appear to have reached a considerable size (Brigg 14m; Hasholme 13m; Lurgan 15m). Such long slender vessels would have required skill to operate as they are difficult to manoeuvre and lack stability (Crumlin-Pederesen 2010, 49).

It has been argued that logboats would not have been used as sea-going vessels, because of their shallow drafts and insufficient freeboard, and their use would therefore largely be confined to lakes, rivers and estuaries (Andersen 1987; Burov 1996). However, lakes and estuaries can themselves be challenging environments and some logboats could equally have been used within sheltered coastal waters in good conditions.

A small number of logboats have been found within maritime contexts in Britain and Ireland where conditions are favourable to their preservation. Such conditions occur along the north-east coast of Ireland, where a combination of fine sediments and low energy contexts surrounded by sheltered coastal landforms have preserved a number of maritime logboats. The Greyabbey logboat is one of a few finds of its type to be discovered in an overtly maritime context (Forsythe and Gregory 2007). The boat was found on the foreshore of Greyabbey Bay, County Antrim, and dates to 3499-3032 cal BC (McErlean et al. 2002, 48, 405). More recently, a logboat was recovered during pipeline construction within 1km of the shore at Gormanstown, County Meath, demonstrating that offshore finds may also be made (Anon 2002, 6). Within a sea lough at Larne, County Antrim, fragments from two logboats were found (Fry 2000, 24, 117-18), while at Inch Abbey on Strangford Lough a logboat dated by dendrochronology to 2739±9 cal BC was identified (Fry 2000, 99; McErlean et al. 2002, 404).Two logboats were identified from within the silted estuary at Cahore, County Wexford (Wilde 1857, 203), one of which had a raised bow, a feature that would have minimised swamping from wave action (Gregory 1997, 107).

It is acknowledged that the majority of prehistoric logboats would have been restricted to inland water courses, but a small number of these boats were capable of use on the sea. Logboats certainly were in use within the relatively sheltered environments of sea loughs and estuaries and in fair conditions would have travelled out into the open sea (McErlean et al. 2002, 406). The addition of outriggers to logboats would certainly add to their seaworthiness, as demonstrated in the Pacific, and evidence of fixing holes for an outrigger have been tentatively suggested for the Lurgan and Gormanstown boats (Peacock and Cutler 2010, 122; Forsythe and Gregory 2007, 6; Robinson et al. 1999, 906). However, at present this evidence is open to other interpretations and no definite examples for the use of outriggers can be identified from prehistoric Europe (Crumlin-Pedersen 2010, 51).

A range of different types of logboat exist within the archaeological record and these surviving examples most likely mask a much greater variety that may once have existed. The better preservation of logboats within inland water courses may equally represent a bias in the archaeological record. While logboats are not suited to offshore journeys, under good conditions they are clearly capable of coastal movement.


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