3,000-Year-Old Log Boat To Be Raised From Tay Estuary

By Caroline Lewis | 27 July 2006
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photo of a man holding a grid over a large piece of curved eroded wood protruding from mudflats

Excavations are underway on the Bronze Age log boat. Courtesy Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust

One of the oldest boats discovered in Scotland is being excavated and raised from its site in the Tay Estuary.

The Carpow log boat, as it is known, situated near Abernethy, was discovered in 2000. Identifying it as a log boat, used for fishing and wildfowling, Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust radiocarbon dated it to 1000BC - the late Bronze Age.

Archaeologist David Strachan of the Trust explained: “It was discovered in 2000 by a metal detectorist – half of it was sticking out of the mud.”

“The buried portion of it was very well preserved with intact transom boards [stern timbers], but the exposed part is deteriorating.”

There are records of 150 log boats from Scotland, yet only 30 survive in museums or in situ and these are often distorted by shrinkage or warping. Records show seven log boats found in the Tay estuary, but only one survives, in Dundee Museum. Found in 1860, it has been dated to about 500AD.

The Carpow log boat is not only one of the best preserved, but also the second oldest dated log boat from Scotland.

diagram of a long boat

A diagram of the boat in its current position. Courtesy Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust

The Trust decided that although the half under the mud was in good condition, the boat needed to be excavated to save the upper half. When tides are at their lowest it is revealed, but the moving waters and fluctuating conditions are also eroding the wood. Until a strategy for its long-term preservation was devised, the vessel had to be sandbagged to protect it.

The log boat, which measures 9.25 metres (30ft) long and is made from a single piece of oak, is being lifted in two stages, with work due to be completed by August 12 2006. A specially constructed floating cradle is being used.

“It’s progressing well,” said David of the project. “We’re looking to lift the boat in three sections – it’s going to have to be cut into three parts anyway for conservation and as the lower part is buried at a very steep angle it would be extremely difficult to raise it otherwise.”

Excavations are taking place during the short low-tide windows, while the actual lifting on the cradle will happen at high tide. It will then be transported to the National Museum of Scotland.

“It will go through drip-drying conservation processes,” said David, “during which time it will go through further analysis that will continue for possibly two or three years.”

It is hoped that the boat will then be stable enough to go on show in Edinburgh and Perth, where visitors can admire the prehistoric workmanship.

The project is a partnership between Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust and Historic Scotland.

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