The significance of the living boatbuilding tradition of expanded logboats

MTheol, PhD Thomas Frank, tofr@km.dk, Denmark

Handout for online meeting 28.12. 2021

It is without doubt important that UNESCO has accepted the Soomaa boatbuilding craft. This is significant for Estonia and all the places where these boats are still made. In our time, it is possible to protect and preserve an ancient craft. This is unique in world history. Boats are symbols of everyday life, civilization and travelling. This particular craft was not only part of everyday life it was the precondition for travelling from the North to the East in The Middle Ages. More importantly, it might have been the precondition for the migrations from the East to the North in The Bronze Age. It is likely that it was the preliminary part of the Scandinavian shipbuilding tradition. Due to this craft, we are beginning to understand our common past and see history in a new light.

Varangians water routs

I study the religious and cultural exchanges of the past. My approach is to explore the routes and the significance of waterways. The general idea is that small vessels were the core of these exchanges. 

The main result of my last two expeditions together with the study of literary and material evidence is the proof that this technology was used in The Middle Ages. It was the precondition for important religious and cultural exchanges in this period. The results will be published in spring 2022.

However, the question of the origin of the technology behind the expanded logboat remains.

Did the Slavic peoples, Scandinavians, or others invent the expanded logboat? (In so far, as the technology of this boat type is so advanced that it must have been developed in one place, which is a reasonable hypothesis). Did Scandinavians bring the craft to Old Rus before or during the early Viking Age, since there are finds of it in present day Denmark as early as 1th century BC?  Alternatively, did the technology originate in the East?    

According to new genomic discoveries, the Yamnaya culture moved from the Russian steps to the North. Together with this knowledge and our knowledge of these vessels, a new hypothesis imposes itself:

Was this boat (technology) in fact brought from present day Russia to the North where it became part of the development of the Viking ship (larger clinker built vessels) in The Bronze Age? Moreover, did Scandinavians, when they more than 2000 years later returned to Russia in The Middle Ages, find this technology preserved in the original form, with which they were somehow familiar?

Analysis of the sources and the expanded logboat presents many new questions. Just as it tells, the story how Scandinavians together with Slavs in great numbers met Christian culture far abroad it could tell the much older but somewhat similar story of culture moving north from the East and the region were the craft still exists more than a thousand years before Christianity appeared as a new religion.

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