Case Study: Perth boat timbers

What appears to have been a well-preserved boat was found at Perth in the 1830s, though it was not recorded or preserved. But the excavation of waterlogged medieval levels in Perth during the 1970s revealed several wooden boat components, some re-used in timber buildings of 12th century date. All belong to the clinker or overlapping-plank tradition. They include plank fragments edge-joined with distinctive iron rivet and rove fastenings, together with unused roves in strips with chisel-cuts defining each square washer, so they could be broken off as required like pieces of chocolate. These unused roves suggest that boats were being built or repaired in the locality.

Other timbers include frames notched for overlapped planking and tholes, to which oars were attached with rope grommets. These denote vessels low enough to allow oars to be placed directly atop the gunwale. That larger ships were also present is suggested by what appears to be an oar-port shutter, similar to those found on the Gokstad Viking ship of c. 850AD. These sealed ports cut for the oars when the vessel was under sail, as seen on the representation of a galley at Rodel in Harris dated 1528.

The Perth finds suggest that other urban deposits in riverine or maritime locations, especially where good organic preservation obtains, may contain boat-related material. Recent discoveries in Dublin illustrate the richness of what may be preserved.

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