Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sailboats and Solarboats

This post follows "Reefing and Tacking from Libya to Crete" and goes along with an earlier post on  "Solar Jewelry - Mary Cahill"

Beakers traveled in logboats and cleated plankers, but there may be another boat known to them.
Irish lunulae and solar cross (Coggalbeg, Co. Roscommon)

The Egyptian vessel I included is several centuries younger than the British lunula above, and also the type of boat differs somewhat.  There are better examples of boats with similar prows, however you'll notice some similarities between these two which will suffice...

The decoration of the bow and stern is similar between the two examples.  The EBA plankers that we have were internally cleated and sewn, whereas these boats appear to be externally sewn on the bow and stern in a shoe-lace pattern or are at least skeumorphs of an obsolete design of greater antiquity.

Another interesting aspect are the high prows of the lunulae.  This seems to indicate a boat with a greater surface area above the water line and that may be indicative of how the boat was propelled.

I believe in that original paper Mary Cahill noted how the prow fans appear to have been intentionally twisted in a number of the gold lunulae that have been found.  And finally, you'll notice that all golden lunulae (I believe) lack any decoration below the gun rail on the hull.  The last evidence seems to seal the deal on lunulae being solar boats (although there are complex mythological associations between this boar's tusk, bows, the moon, etc)


  1. I've lost the references but years ago I read one or two very interesting papers on ancient navigation, largely focused on Chalcolithic Iberia that seemed to show evidence of mixed hollow log + sewn planks boats. If I recall correctly, the core ship was still made of a log boat but it was expanded upwards with sewn planks. Eventually I guess better designs would totally remove the need for the logboat core.

    Sadly I can't recall many details. In any case I would think that Atlantic navigation was until the Bronze Age at least as advanced as Mediterranean one, let alone Egyptian river boating. If you google for "Minoan boat" (well documented thanks to Thera's art) they are somewhat similar to your Egyptian example in design but show a clear difference between bow and stern, in some cases even showing similitude with later war galley designs (with rostrum but still with single deck).

    The front-back symmetry of the Egyptian boat in fact does not make sense... except if you travel through a river, where turning around may not be practical and instead just changing the position of the steering oar and the pilot would be much easier.

    I reckon that the similitude of the decorative pattern is striking but it is most doubtful that Western Europeans would be influenced by Egypt of all places (or vice versa). Eteocypriot, Minoan or Cycladic influences are much more likely in fact. And Minoan/Cycladic ships do not have that pattern at all.

    I wouldn't dare to interpret the lunulas but two things come to my mind:

    1. By shape they resemble the crescent Moon and at least some archaeoastronomists have defended that ancient Megalithic peoples were able to predict lunar eclipses, using the "saros" method (known to have been used in Mesopotamia as well) and based on counts that basically used the numbers 4 and 19 (although higher numbers have also been argued for). I would not overemphasize the role of the Sun in ancient beliefs or astronomy: the Moon is at least as important.

    2. The end "fans" and overall design make me think of Celtic torques of later times. It would not be the only symbol transposed to Celtic culture, in my town's archaeological museum there are triskels (not lauburuak = svastikas but triskels with three heads!) engraved on stone of "Neolithic" date. The very "Celtic cross" (which traditionally represents Earth and the cardinal axes of the world as we perceive it from Earth) is apparent in the two round pieces that accompany the first lunula of this entry.

    1. To clarify, I was suggesting no direct relationship with the Egyptian boat, but using it more or less as an example of a sailboat from around that era. I would guess that similar designs might be found throughout the Mediterranean around that time, as you said.
      After mentioning the Aegean boats, I searched and found this site which shows some of the classes of ships, very interesting.

      Also, I would agree that lunulae are basically 'moons' but have complex metaphorical associations. Greek mythology seems to combine many of these methaphors/attributes in Selene. (Greek being a proxy)
      The gold lunulae, as opposed to other lunulae, I would assume are solar boats rather than lunar boats. In that case, I am less sure that it is also a moon.

      Generally, it seems large sailing vessels were present in most of the Mediterranean by 3,000 B.C., I would guess this was certainly the case in Iberia, Sardinia, Sicily and Italy as well, however I haven't found any references to that yet.

    2. That page is very interesting indeed. If your hypothesis has merit, the most similar ships are those of types III and IV, which correspond with the 1800-1500 BCE period, i.e. what is the Early Bronze Age in the West. Do you know the dates attributed to these lunulae? I would agree that the gold could be associated with the Sun but it could have been just chosen because of its value, both economical and prestige-wise.

    3. I don't believe that any of the lunulae have good dates, based on decoration of sheet foil they are assumed to fall within the Beaker/Food Vessel period around 2,000 B.C. I believe almost all of them were plow/detectorist finds or found under rocks. Strangely, never in a grave.

  2. I would question the name solar-boat or solar bark.
    To me, sky boat is more accurate, in essence "sky bow.ed", as if bowing under a load, bearing a cargo, originally referring to a woman bearing a child but generalized (eg. carriage, chariot), and to bowing to enter a small dome hut (before doorways evolved, the dome/shield was lifted for egress.

    The oldest cargo-carrying watercraft were punted coracles, which were inverted roundshields/dome huts/baskets, these ancient craft were rainforest derived, handwoven pliable wicker
    Rafts with tied ends (prow fans) were much later, associated with conical dwellings in open sky territory, rigid poles.

    Dugout logboats were still later, with side planking evolving with the need for larger carrying capacity per vessel, the log diminishing to the keel.

    High prows indicate rough water / ocean travel, coracles have them.

    woven roundshield: magen(Hebrew) magal(Basque) pacal(Maya) macan(Malay) targa(Celt)
    woven dome hut: mongolu(Mbuti) mongulu(Baka)
    moon: luna(Latin) bulan(Malay)

  3. Hi BBB,
    Have you seen the recent articles by Johan Ling arguing for Mediterranean influences on Scandinavian boats (as seen in rock art)? He suggests that this is a product of the metal 'trade' in the Bronze Age, after c. 1600 BC. A bit post Beaker, but still interesting.

    In terms of findspots for lunulae, have you read about the Coggalbeg hoard, found in a skip in Dublin?


    1. Coggalbeg Hoard, yes, and updated! I grabbed pictures from a folder.

      I haven't seen the reference to Mediterranean influences on Scandinavian boats, but I did look up his paper/chapter 'Bronze Age Rock Art in Northern Europe" and another one making the case for the metal trade and the presence of these large boats. While I didn't see the specific reference, some of the earlier, larger boats do look like boats from the Eastern Mediterranean.