Re-Assessing the Logboat from Lurgan Townland, Co. Galway, Ireland

Article excerpt

Logboats have been found in northwestern Europe in large numbers and it is clear that they were in use from the Neolithic to late medieval times (Lanting & Brindley 1996). Because they are relatively robust, their survival rate compares favourably with other primitive craft such as log- and bundle-rafts and hide-covered vessels of the kind depicted in the Broighter gold model (McGrail 1996). The role played by logboats in the social economy of prehistoric Europe, however, has probably been underestimated, particularly in lowland areas where surface water was more extensive than it is today and overland communication was hindered by more dense forest, by mires and by developing bog. Moreover, despite extensive overseas contacts between prehistoric European communities, little evidence has been produced to suggest that logboats were capable of involvement. In this paper we examine a large logboat from Ireland which affords some suggestion of a sophisticated vessel with a greater potential than has hitherto been realized.

In 1902 in the Irish townland of Lurgan, a logboat was discovered during drainage operations on a raised bog (FIGURE 1). The vessel was over 15 m long and more than a metre wide and is the largest intact logboat yet recovered in Ireland. In 1996 the stern section of a comparable vessel was raised in the townland of Carrowneden, less than 20 km to the north. Radiocarbon dates indicate that both craft were built at a period usually thought to be transitional between the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age: the Lurgan boat dates to 3940 [ + or -] 25 BP (GrN-18565) (Lanting & Brindley 1996); the Carrowneden boat to 3890 [+ or -] 80 BP (Beta-85979).

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Both logboats are made of oak, probably Quercus petraea. Both of them also display an internal `keelson' or `spine' formed in the solid wood and a series of ridges running at right-angles to this spine to the existing gunwale or sheerline (FIGURE 2). The spine and ridges together form -- as it were -- small compartments. In the Lurgan boat there are five or, possibly, six of these ridges. Also in the Lurgan vessel it is possible to identify three separate series of holes, all of them forward or above the eroded and truncated remains of the Carrowneden boat and consequently not duplicated on it. The first series of holes may be the most significant. Three pairings are located approximately 0.27 m below the sheerline as this is to be seen in the most intact portion of the boat on the forward port side. The holes are 3.5 m apart. The first pair is 3.0 m from the stern and the last pair is 5.0 m from the bow.

[Figure 2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The second series of holes is located c. 0.15 m below the present-day sheerline. In consequence of erosion and damage not all of them survive, but careful examination indicates the probable existence of five pairs with post-shrink-age diameters of c. 0.09 m. They are separated horizontally by between 2.0 and 3.0 m and do not appear to bear any consistent relationship to the location of the ridges. The final series of holes occur in the floor of the vessel. Two are located at the port side junction of the spine and ridges c. 6.0 m from the stern and bow respectively. They penetrate the hull and are almost certainly thickness gauges employed in hollowing the craft. A third hole is located midway between them in the centre of a port side ridge. It does not penetrate the hull and has no obvious function.

An incomplete vessel?

The most important and detailed assessment of the structure of the Lurgan vessel to date is Gregory's analysis, which argues that the logboat was unfinished: `all accounts of the boat (published and unpublished)', he writes, `have failed to notice that it was never completed' (Gregory 1998: 30). He offers four reasons for this conclusion. First, the average thickness of the floor of the Lurgan boat is much greater than structural demands require. …