About Camp

Experimental camp

​During the two-week camp, its participants, divided into two groups, will undertake two complex archaeological experiments, the purpose of which will be to create and test replicas of archaic boats: a dugout and a leather-covered boat known more from ethnographic contexts, the so-called skin-on-frame canoe. This profile of planned experiments results from two factors. First of all, both experiments require the use of a wide variety of raw materials and tools. This will make it possible to perform a number of minor experiments, the results of which will be used, for example, in later traceological analyses of prehistoric flint and bone tools, as well as physicochemical analyses of prehistoric adhesives such as tar or birch tar. Secondly, we hope that this arrangement of the planned work will introduce a note of competition between the two groups of experimenters, which (apart from the purely scientific aspect of the planned work) will eventually result in a large dose of joy during testing the both built boats.

1. What do we know about this type of prehistoric boats?

Skin-on-frame canoe
Beside rafts, leather boats are one of the oldest means of water transport. Archaeological sources, however, do not provide much data on the methods of building and operating units of this type, hence the reconstruction of them is often based on ethnographic data and more modern finds. However, this does not change the fact that it is believed that they were probably used at the end of the Pleistocene (Pydyn 2011, 236). In terms of construction, leather boats refer to units made of bark, cane or wicker. They could be built as both skeletal and shell units; the first of these techniques is better confirmed by sources (Pydyn 2011, 237). The most numerous category of leather boats includes small round, oval, elliptical and square or rectangular units. They were common in various geographical regions (Hornell 1946, 93-172; Johnstone 1980, 26-44; McGrail 1987, 173-191). The skins of many animal species were used to make their plating, e.g. in the United Kingdom and Ireland they were mostly cowhides, while in the Arctic zone deer, caribou, whale, seal and sea lion skins (McGrail 1987, 176).

Britons with coracles - from Cassell's History of England, Vol. I
Britons with coracles – from Cassell’s History of England, Vol. I

Dugout canoe
Logboats are units hollowed out in the whole or half-cut trunk of a large tree. Ethnographic sources confirm their use in many regions of the world (Pydyn 2011, 251). The simplicity of this type of units and the relatively complex set of tools necessary to make them made them one of the oldest types of boats used by man. Unlike many other types of simple water transport, dugouts are known for relatively numerous archaeological contexts dating to the Stone Age (Pydyn 2011, 251). The oldest of European finds of this type is a logboat from the Pesse swamp in the Netherlands (van Zeist 1957), which is dated to 8265 ± 275 BP. It is estimated that about 300 units of this type have been found in Poland. At the same time, only 5 of them are dated to the Neolithic and early Bronze Age (up to 1300 BC; Ossowski 1999, 177-211).
The method of construction of dugouts depended primarily on their purpose, local tradition and available material. Ethnographic sources show that both deciduous and coniferous trees were used to make them. Both hard and durable grades, e.g. oak, were chosen, as well as soft and easy to handle, e.g. poplars (Ossowski 1999, 50).

The Pesse canoe is the world's oldest known dugout
The Pesse canoe is the world’s oldest known dugout

2. What and how do we want to do?

As already noted above, during the camp, its participants, divided into two groups, will undertake the construction and testing of two replicas of archaic boats: a dugout and a skin-on-frame canoe. All work carried out will be performed exclusively with the use of flint, bone and stone tools and techniques known in the Stone Age (in the case of the skin-on-frame canoe) or techniques and tools known in the period from the Stone Age to the Late Bronze Age (in the case of the dugout). The reason for the discrepancy in this respect between the two planned experiments will be explained below. All conducted works will be precisely documented, among others using archaeological experimental cards used by the Society for  Experimental Prehistoric Archeology (www.keap.umk.pl). The experimental tools used during the camp and all related documentation will be part of a collection of this type of tools stored in the Traceological Laboratory of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń and used as comparative material during microscopic analyses of prehistoric artefacts.

The planned scope of work includes:

Construction of leather-covered boat:
The aim of the works will be the construction of a boat covered with deer hide and dimensions about 4 meters long, about 70 cm wide and about 40 cm deep

  1. Making a boat frame

The first stage in the production of a leather boat is to prepare the necessary wooden raw material (straight branches). The construction of the boat began with the construction of a frame, on which later leather sheathing was stretched. To make the skeleton of our boat we will use Hazelwood (Corylus avellana), which is very easy to shape. To obtain it, we will use flint tranchets framed in handles made of antler, bone and antler tools in the type of bevel-ended tools, i.e. replicas of tools used in the Mesolithic. Hazel branches and the phloem necessary to fill and form the sides of the boat will be obtained using flint chips. This stage of work should be relatively simple and not too laborious.

  1. Preparation of hides necessary to cover the boat
  1. Covering the frame of the boat with leathers

Prepared leathers should be stretched over the boat frame and connected to each other and also to the frame with animal tendons. After drying, the whole boat is impregnated with tar. In our experiment we will use deer tendons and animal intestines to connect the skins. For the impregnation of the boat we will use pine tar or birch tar, which we will produce by several methods (both without the use of ceramic vessels and the Neolithic two-vessel method).

Defleshing of the fresh hide of re deer.
Defleshing of the fresh hide of red deer.
  1. Finishing works

The works will include the production of paddles, which will be a replicas of Mesolithic artefacts, and possible decoration of the boat with natural dyes, such as ochre.

Construction of a dugout boat:
The aim of the works will be the construction of a single-stem boat about 4 meters long, about 60 cm wide and about 40 cm deep. For construction we will use a trunk of Poplar.

As mentioned above, not only the Stone Age tools will be used during this experiment, but also metal axes (copper and bronze), which are replicas of artefacts used in the Bronze Age. The works will be divided into stages, during which tools from one specific era will be used. The purpose of this arrangement of experience is to compare the effectiveness of different types of tools made of different raw materials.

Scope of planned works:

  1. Processing the outside of the trunk (removing bark, soft outside wood);

This stage of work will be carried out without prior preparation of the processed raw material. Similarly to the second part of the experiment (forming the interior of the boat), we will use here bone bevell ended tools, tranchets framed in antler handles, flint and stone axes, copper axes with raised edges and bronze axes with a sleeve.

Removing bark from Populus tree with bevel-ended bone tool.
  1. The interior part treatment
Experimental working in fired wood.

To process the interior part of the boat we will use the firing method, which consists of placing the previously prepared heat inside the boat, fuelling the fire by symmetrical blowing, and then removing burnt wood with various types of tools. The fired walls will be protected with wet clay and sand (McGraill 1987, 62). This stage of work will be extremely labour-intensive and difficult. It will also require the use of a very large number of tools.

  1. Finishing works

They will mainly include sealing the boat with wood tar and animal fat, making paddles and decorating the unit.

In addition to the main experimental works carried out during the camp, its participants will have the opportunity to perform many other accompanying experiments related to, among others with flint knapping, processing of bones, firing ceramics, production of ropes, wooden containers, lamps for fat, use of throwing weapons and many others. We also encourage you to make proposals for carrying out your own experiments, with which we provide assistance both in the matter of consulting and the organization of necessary raw materials and tools.

Microscopic research

​During the camp, its participants will have the opportunity to develop their knowledge in the field of traceological (technological and functional) analysis of flint and bone products. We will have three microscopes at the participants’ disposal (two optical and one metallographic) and a collection of experimental tools at the disposal of the Traceological Laboratory of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. If a greater number of camp participants express their desire to take part in this type of class, we will consider the possibility of preparing special thematic lessons.

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