Iron Age logboat

Mystery boat carved from massive tree trunk

From: Poole Museum

One of the first objects that visitors see when they walk into Poole Museum is a large section of oak trunk, carved into the shape of a boat. At almost 10 metres long, it is the largest logboat ever found in southern Britain. 

Radiocarbon dating has revealed the boat to be Iron Age, from around 295 BC.

What was it used for?

The exact purpose of the logboat remains a mystery. We know that it could only have been used in the sheltered harbour, as the design is not suitable for sailing in deeper waters.

Being twice the size of most logboats, it would have been difficult to manoeuvre in the narrow channels of the harbour. Some archaeologists think it was a working boat, but others suggest it may have had a ceremonial use. It would have been able to carry up to 1,500 kilos of goods, or up to 18 people.

Made from one massive tree

When the logboat was made, 2,300 years ago, much of the fertile land in the Stour Valley had been cleared for farming, and the heathlands around Poole had already been created.

Pockets of ancient woodland would still have survived and were probably the source of the massive oak tree from which the logboat was made. This tree was about 1.7m wide and was probably 150 to 200 years old when cut down.

Workers dredge up history

Poole Harbour is populated by five small islands. It was close to one of these islands in 1964, that workers dredging the harbour pulled up a large portion of the logboat. Unsure of what to do with it, they took it to Poole Museum. It was soon identified as being of great archaeological importance.

A tale of two halves

Yet this was only half of the boat. Four weeks later, divers  went back to see if they could find the rest. Miraculously, they found the bow of the boat, which had split diagonally from the other half.  Almost the whole boat was now under the care of Poole Museum, but it would be another 40 years until the logboat would be ready to go on display.

Artist's reconstruction of the logboat in use. One man standing up who is steering, and eight rowing.
Artist's reconstruction of the logboat as a cargo carrier. By Victor Ambrus.
Photo of the logboat on Hamworthy Quay surrounded by boating equipment.
Logboat on Hamworthy Quay in 1964.

Sometimes sugar isn’t all bad…

After many years of attempting to conserve the logboat without success, conservators from York Archaeological Trust came up with the idea of preserving it in sugar. It was the first large waterlogged wooden object to be preserved in this way. The boat was soaked in over six tons of sugar solution in a form usually made into soft drinks. It was then carefully dried out in a sealed chamber. After treatment, thousands of excess sugar crystals were removed from the surface of the boat by volunteers and specialist conservators.

Ancient boat design still used today

A hollowed-out tree trunk is one of the simplest boat types. The earliest, found in Denmark, dates from about 7000BC. Logboats, also known as dugouts, are still used today in places such as Africa, North America and the Pacific Islands.

Photo of a man using a tool to remove salt crystals from the logboat.

Removing excess sugar crystals.

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