The Carpow Logboat a late Bronze Age gem plucked from mud banks of the River Tay


The Carpow Logboat 
It is quite astonishing  how much of  our early past  is being revealed thanks  to the fastidious  work of  our dedicated archaeologists and associates . In these blogs  we have  discussed the early Neolithic findings including the Crieff Cursus , the Forteviot  burial sites and the timber  round  houses revealed  during the preliminary work on the Beauly to Denny power lines . What   should  not  be ignored is  a quite astonishing  discovery  at Carpow where the River Earn joins up with the mighty Tay .
Carpow Bank is a small tidal shelf lying off the south side of the river .  The name Carpow appears on a many ancient maps There is a belief that here the Romans  established a boat  bridge providing a crossing to the north side of the Tay . This would have been close to their Fort at Carpow . According to  David Strachan’s  superb  book “ Carpow in Context ”( Society of Antiquaries of Scotland . Edinburgh 2010)  it is  clear  from the  study of many of the  old  maps of this area ( National Library of Scotland : ) that the area  around this  part of the Tay and Earn were criss crossed  by numerous ferries allowing  good communication in an era  where cars , trains and busses did not exist !

Perhaps this is  why our  ancient relatives in all probability dropped  roots in what is now a very quiet back water . Their  communication  was primarily  by  water  and not  land particularly in view  of the wild  terrain and animal predators including bears , wolves and lynx . The craft they used  to cross the rivers and tidal waters  was termed a logboat .Again quoting from Strachan : “ The earliest known logboat  in Britain  is the oak fragment from Catherinefield in Dumfries and Galloway of around 2000 BC . The latest are late medieval  in date , but there are 18th century Scottish documentary  references  to their use . In Fox’s day ( Sir Cyril Fox , Director of the National Museum in Cardiff  .1925 ) all British logboats  were assumed to be prehistoric , ie pre Roman . Now that   a number of logboats from this country have been dated  scientifically , we realise that most  are of Roman or of medieval date , such as Carpow  is both unusual  and most welcome .”
The logboat after excavation
Logboats have  been  discovered in this  vicinity on a number of occasions but  mostly in the   19th century . The Carpow finding occurred in 2001 when a Dundee metal detecting enthusiast Scott McGuckin  and two colleagues were searching the mudflats at low  tide primarily for Roman artifacts on account of the proximity of the site of the old Roman Carpow Fort . The three had  split up  to carry out individual searches  when McGuckin espied an object sticking up from the sand . The eagle  eyed searcher realised this appeared to be the stern of a logboat . He had  recognised it  from seeing   similar  one in the McManus Gallery in his  home town . The  find  was duly reported and as it  was located  within the geographical boundaries of Perth and Kinross , the onus  fell upon them to investigate the find further .

In 2001 ,the archaeological team which was organised by the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust ( PKHT) developed an evaluation strategy which had  four main objectives

  • To establish the date of the vessel
  • To establish  the condition of the  buried portion of the vessel
  • To establish the full length of the vessel
  • Too protect the vessel in situ while long term management options  were considered
It  was determined that the age  of the Carpow  logboat was around 1000BC ( late Bronze Age )  and that it  was  constructed  from a single oak trunk . Although the  prow of the boat  was exposed above  the sand the greater  portion lay buried .When finally  excavated the  boat  was some 9 metres long .The boat was  carefully removed and transported  to the National Museum in Edinburgh where it was carefully restored. Such was the complexity of this  part of the project , that it  took some 5 years to complete .
The logboat at Newburgh on its way to Edinburgh

Careful you go !
What was so interesting about the Carpow log boat that has  drawn the attention of  so many people ? Only two logboats of the Carpow vintage so far  discovered in the UK have had  fitted transom boards . What you may ask is a transom board ? This was inserted into the   main structure to assist with navigation particularly in tidal and strong flowing waters . From Strachan’ s book we find : “ A notable  feature of the Carpow boat is that she appears  to have been fitted with a dwarf transom aft of her main transom . This  may have been inserted to stem the flow of water that could have swept through the main transom when this boat had, on occasions ,  to be paddled  stern first ,  for example , when manoeuvring within a narrow river  . “

The Carpow  logboat was until recently on display in Perth Museum . It has now  been sent to Glasgow on loan to the Glasgow Museums’ Resource Centre   where it will be on display for the next 5 years .

The location of the find


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