The Royal Yacht

I have written a number times in this blog of details concerning the logboat find from Loch Kinord known in the 19th century as the Royal Yacht, however, the recent AD 550-650 radiocarbon result has prompted me to bring all that detail together in a single post here, as well as add some of my additional thoughts.

The Royal Yacht was found in 1858 in Loch Kinord, during a dry summer. This was the first logboat discovery from Loch Kinord (a further three at least were discovered, including two in close proximity to each other near the west shore of the loch and a third near Prison Island). The name ‘Royal Yacht’ was given to the find in reference to the loch’s local association with Malcolm Canmore. Although, only six years previously, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought the nearby Balmoral Castle, and ‘Royal’ associations were very much in vogue at the time.

In 1859, the boat was removed from the loch by a team of over 50 people using poles and ropes. The antiquarian Rev. J. G. Michie describes some detail concerning the boat, most notably two large splits which appear to have been repaired in antiquity using ‘dove tailing’ joints to prevent further splitting. The boat was displayed in Aberdeen the following year and then taken to Aboyne Castle. It seems that during its time in Aboyne Castle the boat largely disintegrated (a common fate among logboats discovered in the 19th century – only around 20% of logboats found in the 19th century survive to this day), but a fragment survived and was donated to what has become the Marischal College Museum Collection. This was what was radiocarbon dated.

The group of logboats from Loch Kinord are a rather remarkable collection from a single loch. In addition to the logboats, accounts of ‘innumerable’ wooden artefacts recovered from Loch Kinord in the 19th century speak to the incredible preservation conditions in Loch Kinord. I have cut together a brief video of underwater footage from within the loch that can be viewed at the link below. The first part of the video shows just how good the visibility can be in the right conditions, and the second part just how poor they can be too.

Video Link [[HERE]]

What is also amazing to think about it, is that the preservation in Loch Kinord is unlikely to be especially unique. Loch Kinord’s water benefits from less intensive agriculture around its shore and in its catchment area, but regardless, there are many hundreds (if not thousands) of lochs in Scotland with similar preservation conditions.

Since there is no telling the date of the other logboats from Loch Kinord, we must look further afield for parallels to the Royal Yacht. I briefly discussed in a previous post the logboat from Loch of Kinnordy, and this boat’s carved animal bow is an intriguing detail potentially hinting at what might have been lost from the Royal Yacht. There is a further animal carved bow logboat dating from the 5th century AD – the Errol 2 logboat. This boat was found by fishermen in the inner Tay estuary in 1895. You can read the Canmore site record [[here]]. While there is no evidence of an animal carving on the bow of the Royal Yacht, Michie describes the logboat being found in very shallow water and the upper portions of the boat being ‘worn down’. It is tempting to think that the Royal Yacht also featured an animal carving on the bow too.

Radiocarbon dated logboats from the Early Medieval period in eastern Scotland

Radiocarbon dated logboats from the Early Medieval period in eastern Scotland

Using animal imagery on watercraft has an exceptionally long history throughout the world, and indeed there are numerous arguments amongst maritime archaeologists that animal shapes were used to inform crucial elements of boat and ship design as recently as the 18th century. Whether animal form was used in logboat design is difficult to prove, although the longevity of the logboat building tradition might to speak to its conceptual and design simplicity. However, the relationship between animal imagery and watercraft goes far beyond design and concept.

It is easy to imagine, although the archaeological evidence remains scant, that animistic belief systems were prevalent in the first millennium AD in Scotland. The best evidence we have from this period comes from symbol stones where animals are depicted with some frequency (although by no means the most numerous group of symbols). Salmon, birds and the Pictish beastie all appear on a number of symbol stones. While not the only interpretation, Pictish symbol stones may have communicated some kind of identity, and it is possible that animal carvings on logboats were communicating a similar thing as a kind of ownership. This may not have been straight forward property ownership as we might think today (i.e. I carved my name on it so it is mine), but perhaps it was communicating that by boarding the logboat you were now in someone’s sphere of control. This idea ties in nicely with what is recorded in Early Medieval literature in Ireland regarding crannogs which describe in a number of places crannogs as having designated harbours or landing sites on shore and that these harbours were viewed as part of the area under the control of the crannog.

I do not wish to undervalue the practical element of logboats, they certainly would have been useful to get from point A to point B. However, like crannogs, the less functional aspects of logboats are intriguing, despite the details remaining archaeologically elusive. Further investigation at Loch Kinord may be able to shed light on the landscape (or waterscape) that the Royal Yacht and the other logboats known from Loch Kinord were used. Investigating how these boats might relate to Castle and Prison Island as well the as wider archaeological landscape around the loch is likely to yield interesting results.

Advertisements

Radiocarbon dating two artefacts found in Loch Kinord

Results are in for the radiocarbon dating of two artefacts found in Loch Kinord in the 19th century. The artefacts are a shaft of a bronze spearhead and a fragment of a logboat which when found measured over 9m in length. The spearhead had been suggested to have a Late Bronze Age date, between 1000 BC and 800 BC, based on the style of the metal work. However, the preserved wooden shaft found within the spearhead had not been directly dated and there was suspicion that it might be a Victorian re-creation dating to the time the spearhead was found.

Bronze Spearhead

But we can now say that is not the case, the radiocarbon result has confirmed and tightened the date range that the typology of the spearhead suggested – late Bronze Age from the 9th century BC. This is the very end of the Bronze Age and coincidentally this is the period of the very earliest radiocarbon determinations from a handful of crannog sites. You can read more about Late Bronze Age metal work in [[this]] lengthy paper (it was written 50 years ago, so forgive it for some things that have been reconsidered).

In addition to the shaft of the spearhead, a fragment of a logboat was also radiocarbon dated. The logboat was also found in Loch Kinord in the 19th century, and was known at the time as the ‘Royal Yacht’ referring the local association between the loch and Malcolm Canmore. Logboats in Scotland date from as early as the Mesolithic through the Medieval period. This has made the radiocarbon date exceptionally important as there is no other way to even narrow down 6-7 thousand years of possible use.

Logboat Fragment

However, the result was 6th-7th century AD. This is a very interesting result for a number of reasons. First, the date, roughly AD 550-650 is just more than a century before the radiocarbon date from a pile from Prison Island – possibly indicating contemporary use. Early Medieval logboat use is well attested in the archaeological records of Britain and Ireland, so there are many potential parallels to discuss. But one that stands out is a logboat dated to 8th century AD from the Loch of Kinnordy near Kirriemuir (the names of the lochs, Kinord and Kinnordy, are coincidence). If you check the Canmore site record [[here]], you can click on the digitised image of a drawing by Robert Mowat of the Kinnordy boat. Note the animistic head on the prow, a hint of what might have been lost from the ‘Royal Yacht’.

There are more radiocarbon date results to be returned from Loch Kinord in the coming weeks and months.

Thanks to the Aberdeen Humanities Fund for providing funding for the radiocarbon dates. Thanks also to Marishcal College Museum Curator Neil Curtis for granting permission for the samples to be taken. I must also thank Caroline and Ray again who were so helpful in taking the samples.

Fieldwork at the Loch of Leys

On 24 April, myself and Laura McHaride (a fellow PhD student) went out coring at the Loch of Leys. We collected cores through the sediment that made up the bottom of the former loch. This loch has a crannog which has the distinction of being the very first recorded excavation of crannog in Scotland. The work Laura and myself and have begun hopes to develop an understanding of what is going on in the wider landscape through pollen analysis of the cored sediment. Laura will be leading the pollen analysis (this kind of scientific method is outside of my skill set), and I hope to complement this work with more investigation at the crannog itself.

The lower section of the core has very nice sedimentation you can see in this photo.

The lower section of the core had very nice banded sedimentation.

The Loch of Leys crannog has an interesting history, not only for being the very first to be excavated. The island is referenced in a charter dated 1324 and signed by Robert the Bruce who gives the island to the Burnett family. In the late 15th century the family built a new residence, Crathes Castle which was occupied into the 20th century. This family still owns the land today, and Crathes Castle is now a National Trust property. 1324 is the earliest mention of this crannog, but it is clear in the charter that the island is already occupied. Robert the Bruce takes the land, the loch and ‘the island within it’ from the Wauchope family and gives it to the Burnetts. So we know that the island must have been built and occupied before this time. The excavation of the crannog in 1850 after the loch was drained is recorded, but details are vague. From descriptions of the excavation is clear that island itself is wholly artificial and the kind of construction described is consistent with an Iron Age or Early Medieval crannog – much earlier than the historic references mention. You can read the Canmore site record [[here]] and the 1850 excavation [[here]]. Results will take some time to gather from the core, and updates will be posted here in due course.