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Carpow Bank


Site Name Carpow Bank

Classification Logboat

Alternative Name(s) River Tay; Inner Tay Estuary; Jamesfield; River Earn

Canmore ID 196138

Site Number NO21NW 161

NGR NO 2001 1859

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Perth And Kinross
  • Parish Abernethy (Perth And Kinross)
  • Former Region Tayside
  • Former District Perth And Kinross
  • Former County Perthshire

Archaeology Notes

NO21NW 161 2001 1859

The abraded remains of the logboat discovered by Mr S McGuckin survive in estuarine sand and mud within the lower part of the intertidal zone on the S side of the River Tay a short distance below the mouth of the River Earn and about 600m NNE of Jamesfield steading (NO11NE 156). It is exposed for about one hour each side of low water. No associated structures or artifacts can be identified and the boat has probably been carried to its present location by tidal flow.

The vessel lies on an orientation of 253/073 deg magnetic, the more westerly end and a length of about 5.25m being exposed. The timber is apparently oak of reasonably high quality, only one knot being apparent (near the exposed end). Some signs of rot are evident (notably on the tops of the sides), and severe abrasion has left no toolmarks apparent. Splitting has occurred around the exposed end and the tops of the sides have fallen away in places to leave the sheers irregular.

The exposed end is more probably the bow and is rounded in all three planes. The midsection sides curve outwards and return inwards towards the buried end, suggesting a former length of about 7m. The boat has apparently been worked eccentrically, the northern side (as it lies) being significantly thinner, with a thickness at the top of about 20mm as against 40mm across the southern side. Gentle trowelling within the midships portion demonstrated that the northern side is vertical internally to a depth of at least 0.2m at a point 3.3m from the exposed end, where the maximum beam of 0.85m is clearly defined. The bottom of the boat was not exposed and the presence of thickness-gauge holes could not be demonstrated.

Given the partial exposure of the vessel, the form could not be determined but may well have been dissimilar-ended. The McGrail morphology code may be expressed as probably xxx.3x1.322 or xxx.3x4.322.

There are no convincing grounds for equating this discovery with any of the boats found previously in the vicinity but since lost, specifically those noted by Mowat (1996) as Errol 1 (NO22SE 5), Friarton (NO12SW 24), Lindores (NO12SW 62 and NO21NW 6), 'River Tay' (NO12SW 210) or Sleepless Inch (NO12SW 21). The further enlargement of this sizeable group presumably reflects the suitability of this type of craft to the local topography of reed-beds and enclosed water.

Visited by RCAHMS (RJCM) and others, 6 September 2001.

R J C Mowat 1996.

Located by GPS at NO 2001 1859.

Information from Mr D Strachan (Perth and Kinross Area Archaeologist), 13 September 2001.

Timber from this logboat has yielded a radiocarbon determination (GU-9597) of 2885 +/- 50 bp, which may be calibrated to a two sigma (95% probability) range of 1260 - 910 BC.

Information from Mr D Strachan (Perth and Kinross Area Archaeologist), 30 November 2001.

NO 2001 1859. The abraded remains of a partially exposed log boat were discovered in September 2001 in estuarine sands and mud within the intertidal zone of the Tay estuary at Carpow. Around 5.25m of the vessel, apparently of oak, is exposed and has been assessed and a sample taken for radiocarbon dating. The total length of the vessel is estimated to be between 7-8m.

An evaluation of the vessel, involving trenching, scale drawing and photography, is planned for the next available tidal window. This work will also involve interim sand-bagging of the site while a strategy for long-term preservation is considered.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

D Strachan 2001.

NO 200 185 Evaluation of the vessel (NO21NW 161) in September 2002 (see also DES 2001, 74) has confirmed the minimum total length to be 8.25m, although it is now estimated that the total length is in the region of 10m. The boat, which has produced a single radiocarbon date of cal 1220-910 BC (GU-9597; AA-45634), has been sandbagged for protection awaiting the development of a strategy for long-term preservation.

Report to be deposited in Perth and Kinross SMR and the NMRS.

Sponsor: HS

D Strachan 2002.

Preliminary evaluation [date unstated] by SUAT and CFA comprised environmental investigations and the cutting of several sections by hand across the boat near the W end. Although hampered by flooding, these served to indicate that the bottom of the boat was rounded (rather than squared) internally. Probing and excavation established the minimum length of the vessel as 8.5m. Although the waterlogged timber is generally sound, some distortion has occurred, the N side being displaced inwards by buckling between 4 and 6m from the exposed W end.

The vessel is situated among intertidal mud, sands and gravels on an eroding peat shelf. This peat probably dates from between about 7500 and 8500 BP and would formerly have formed a continual bed across the flats; it has been reduced by erosion to a series of blocks. The deposits immediately around the boat comprise in situ peat and more recent estuarine alluvium. The sediment within it is recent.

The vessel has been sandbagged for protection, and is regularly monitored.

Information from Mr D Strachan (Perth and Kinross Area Archaeologist), 20 May 2003.

On the basis of this latter information, the McGrail morphology code for this letter may be amended to xxx.3x2.322.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 21 May 2003.

NO 200 185 A small-scale excavation in July 2003 (see also DES 2002, 90) established the boat (NO21NW 161) to be 9.25m (30ft) long by briefly exposing the stern. The transom of the vessel was found in place and remarkably well preserved, showing detail of prehistoric woodworking. The boat has been sandbagged for protection and will continue to be monitored until a strategy for its long-term preservation is implemented.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsors: HS, Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust.

D Strachan, S Winlow, B Glendinning 2003.

This logboat is of oak and has been found to measure 9.25m in length, the bow being worn by sand and water and the stern transom-fitted. It has been dated by radiocarbon to 1130-970 cal BC and remains in situ, protected by sandbags.

Source: British Archaeology, no. 73 (September 2003), 5.

Following discovery and report (in September 2001), limited excavation was carried out (in October 2002 and July 2003), but was hampered by flooding despite the use of pumps. The vessel remains in situ (being protected by sandbags) and is monitored at intervals. Various options for preservation (including removal) are under consideration.

The location of discovery of this logboat is on an eroding peat shelf within the intertidal zone; the tidal regime varies significantly with the volume of water coming down the river. The peat, which probably dates from around 8500/7500 BP, would originally have formed a continuous bed across the flats, and has been formed by erosion into isolated blocks of varying thickness. The boat had probably been carried downstream from either river to a point where the peat shelf of the bank acts as a weir, collecting items washed downstream. No associated structures or artifacts were noted.

The timber of the vessel has been identified as slow-grown oak of reasonably high quality; only one knot is apparent at the exposed end. A single radiocarbon determination (GU-9597) was obtained from timber at the bow of the vessel, while dendrochronological dating remains under consideration.

The exposed portion of the vessel is subject to abrasion from tidal scour while intermittent exposure to air has occasioned a degree of rot (notably at the tops of the sides) and some splitting. Neither toolmarks nor facetting are apparent in the exposed portion.

Excavation showed the vessel to measure about 9.25m in length by some 0.9m transversely, and to be of dissimilar-ended form. Seen in section, the vessel lies at an angle, the bow being on the current ground surface while the upper part of the stern is 0.75m lower. For the most part, it survives in good condition, although some lateral distortion is apparent. This is probably due to warping, although the boat may have broken in two amidships. The buried portion survives in significantly better condition than that exposed.

A detached transom-board was found in situ within its groove. This measures about 6cm in thickness and was presumably cut tangentially (although the grain is obscured by sediment) and tapers to a point where contact is made with the transom-groove. Other points of interest include a circular hole (measuring about 8cm in diameter) cut through the side astern of the transom, and a roughly circular feature (of comparable size) cut into the top of the side. The significance of these features remains unclear; the hole displays evidence of rope-abrasion and may relate to mooring while the depression may have served to retain an external feature.

By inference from other areas, the vessel was presumably used to exploit the rich river and estuarine environments of the Earn and Tay. It is broadly contemporary with Late Bronze Age metalwork deposited in the area, possibly in ritual contexts, and is significant on account of its relatively good condition and early date. Only four other Scottish logboats are known from prehistoric contexts. The boat (NN74SE 30) from Kenmore, Loch Tay is of comparable date.

(Measured and inferred plans and sections, with schematic detail of stern and distribution map of nearby discoveries).

R Strachan 2004.

Sponsor: Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust; National Museums of Scotland; Historic Scotland.

D Strachan, 2006.


Excavation (July 2006 - August 2006)

NO 2001 1859 A prehistoric logboat (NO21NW 161) was excavated and recovered from Carpow Bank at the head of the Tay Estuary during July - August 2006. Previous DES reports (2001, 74; 2002, 90; 2003,104) describe the discovery of the logboat and the evaluation excavation of the buried stern. The excellent preservation of the logboat, its late Bronze Age date and its position in a high energy inter-tidal environment prompted the excavation and lift. Excavation of the sand and gravel surrounding and filling the vessel gradually revealed the full length of the craft to be 9.25m. The width of the logboat is roughly 1.2m at the stern and 0.7m at the bow. The stern lay almost 1m below the ground surface and excavation required constant water removal during the three- to four-hour tidal windows. Once excavated, the logboat was rigged to float using air-filled barrels secured to the vessel with protective padding and straps. As the incoming tide rose the logboat was floated and moved to the soft mud on the riverside overnight. The following day, the logboat was towed 1.5km to Newburgh quay, where it was put into a custom-built frame and lifted from the river onto a lorry. The logboat was then transported to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh, where it is being conserved.

Study of the logboat has revealed tool markings related to its construction and use. Organic deposits also survive, such as moss caulking used to secure the transom and resins used in repairs of cracks. An environmental study was carried out and will involve the radiocarbon dating of inter-tidal peats and submerged tree stumps of the Carpow Bank and analysis of samples found within the vessel, including rodent-gnawed hazelnuts. Post-excavation analysis is ongoing in preparation for final publication as a monograph.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust; National Museums of Scotland; Historic Scotland.

D Strachan 2006

Note (February 2017)

Creation and discovery

Next time you walk past a large tree think about how you would go about turning it into a logboat. Around 3,000 years ago people living close to the River Tay chose a large oak tree and cut it down, they shaped the log and hollowed out the inside. In this way they made themselves a logboat, around 11 metres long, which is roughly the same length as two large cars end to end.

But this boat leaked and had to be repaired at least twice to stop the water getting in! Unfortunately, it still leaked and it ended up sinking, or was abandoned and became an archaeological site. It sat in the intertidal mud of Carpow Bank, just downstream from where the River Earn enters the River Tay. In its final resting place the logboat was covered by estuarine mud and was preserved in the wet, muddy environment.

What happened when the logboat was rediscovered in August 2001? The people who rediscovered it reported it to the McManus Museum in Dundee, a foresight which initiated a chain of events that eventually led to the excavation and lifting of the logboat in 2006. Once excavated it was analysed to establish its age, form, functions, stages of construction and repairs, and to gain insights into the lives of the creators of this Bronze Age boat. It became the focus of a 4 year research project, which led to the publication of a great book by David Strachan, the Manager at Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (Strachan 2010).

Creating a logboat takes skill, craft, an eye for straight lines, knowledge of the natural resources available and experience of the waters that the boat will be used in. Cutting down a tree and shaping it into a logboat would have taken a communal effort and may have taken up to three weeks full-time labour to complete. Perhaps a family elder was the one who decided which oak tree to cut down, or was it a young person who had had enough of their old family boat and wanted to build their own? From analysis of the Carpow logboat we can begin to reconstruct the ‘life’ of the tree and develop stories of the people who used it to navigate the waters of the Tay and Earn rivers.

The preserved logboat has a number of clues that can help the archaeologist to understand how it was made and what tools were used. The boat is made up of two main pieces of wood: the tree trunk that formed the hull and a transom board, which blocked the stern (blunt) end of the boat. Bronze Age tools, such as bronze axes and adzes, with blades of around 5 centimetres in width, would have been used to cut and shape the logboat. The marks that these tools leave on the timber can help us to understand how the boat was constructed. For example, the tool marks on the transom are well-preserved and analysis by a specialist indicated that some of the work was probably undertaken from left to right. This logboat has had two transoms, which indicates that one was not enough to keep the water out and the users had to construct a second transom to plug the leaks.

Context and function

So how does the Carpow logboat fit with other Scottish logboats and how does it move our understanding forwards about water craft on the River Tay? The Carpow boat means that there are now around 160 logboat finds from all over Scotland. Many of these were discovered during loch drainage and ‘improvement’ works in the 18th and 19th centuries and unfortunately few have survived. Some of the surviving boats have been dated using radiocarbon techniques and the dates range from around 1,000 years ago to around 4,000 years ago. The Carpow boat was also radiocarbon dated, to around 3,000 years ago and that date makes it the second oldest logboat in Scotland. Given the date and its location we can begin to reconstruct aspects of the environment in which it was used and what it was used for. For example, the size of the boat and the shape of the hull suggest that it wasn’t very stable and certainly would have been safest when used in inland rivers, rather than further out to sea, where the conditions would have required a more stable boat. Because of its size it could have been used to ferry people around, but also livestock and produce, such as animal hides or carcasses. In addition, a logboat could also enable people to fish in different parts of the river system.

As you can see, just one large tree provided people in the past with a method of travelling around the rivers Tay and Earn, and it also enabled archaeologists to reconstruct past lives from 3,000 years ago. The logboat will go on display again from 21 March 2017 at Perth Museum and Art Gallery.


Strachan, D. 2010 Carpow in Context: A Late Bronze Age Logboat from the Tay, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Alex Hale - Archaeology Project Manager


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