The logboat as an archetype of the boats

“The simplest form and therefore potentially one of the earliest likely to have been developed is the log boat.” 

Barry Cunliff – Facing the Ocean


 A logboat as the name says is a vessel carved from the log of a tree. Details are many on the different ways to make them. They are found around the world under various names and types: dugout canoe, logboat, pirogue monoxyle, einbaum are but a few. The most interesting fact is that they are found on every continent around the globe. Any environment that offers suitable resources has the possibility of bearing logboats.

Many specialists have their own views on how the logboats came to be and their influence on the boat designs that followed. It is though impossible to put to paper every single of these opinions. Therefore, the main theories will be here mentioned.

Two lines of thought emerge from the theories offered: an evolutionary point of view and a diffusionist point of view. Basil Greenhill claims that logboats were the fourth root in the history of boatbuilding[1]. The other three are the raft, the skin boat and the bark boat. He claims that most types of boats and vessels in the world own their origin to a hollowed-out log. For example, he describes Hjortspring and the Bjorke boats as vessels built with dug-out bottoms. He supports his opinion by saying that a hollowed log is susceptible to almost limitless development (p.129). Indicative of the evolutionist theory he supports is the phrase: “The lines of descent from the logboat are extremely complex, starting and stopping again at different times in different parts of the world, interrelating in some areas, developing in other places without any apparent influence from other areas.”

Jane McIntoch also supports that “Expanded logboats were also used as bottom in the first clinker-built boats such as the boat Hjortspring and the Bjorke.[2]. Paul Johnstone claims that all plank boats derived from the dugout, either the ordinary dugout or the expanded softwood version, with a wash strake on each side.[3] Even the vessels on rock carvings of the Bronze Age have been interpreted as dugouts with heightened sides or outriggers.[4] Philibert Humbla, a Swedish researcher supported in 1937 the “trunk-boat theory” for the evolution of Nordic shipbuilding[5], although in 1950, the Norwegian archaeologist A.W. Brogger rejected the above theory. Basil Greenhill supports the extreme point of view that the hulk’s origin could be the hewn log-built vessel and that Utrecht ship could represent one strand in her ancestry[6]. These extreme evolutionist theories apply even to cogs. Since a dugout base can be easily converted into a keel plank, a round-hulled plank-built boat thus evolves, thus the log boat can be considered as the archetype of any boat.


  • Basil Greenhill, J. John S. Morrison, Archaeology of a Boat, an introduction, Conway Maritime Press, 1995.
  • Gunilla Laresson: Ship and society: Maritime Ideology in Late Iron Age Swede, Uppsala Universitet, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, 2007.
  • Olof Hasslöf, Henning Henningsen, Arne Emil Christensen: Ships and Shipyards Sailors and Fishermen – Copenhagen University Press; Eksp.: Rosenkilde og Bagger, 1972.
  • Paul Johnstone, The sea-craft of Prehistory, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1989.

[1] Basil Greenhill, Archaeology of a Boat, p. 81.

[2] Gunilla Laresson: Ship and society: Maritime Ideology in Late Iron Age Sweden, p.84.

[3] Paul Johnstone, The sea-craft of Prehistory, p. 45.

[4] Olof Hasslöf and others :Ships and Shipyards Sailors and Fishermen, p.212.

[5] Ibid., p.213.

[6] Basil Greenhill, Archaeology of a Boat, p. 285.


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