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The Prometheus Project. Log boats are one of man’s earliest modes of water transport dating back over 10,000 years; some cultures still build and use this type of boat today. Despite this long heritage there is much debate over the construction techniques use to build these ancient boats. Archaeologists argue that when they discover ancient log boats they find no evidence for the use of fire in their construction. This is in comparison to more modern cultures where the use of fire is common practice to make hollowing out the boat easier. It is common sense then to wander if it was possible that our ancestors used fire in the construction of their boats too but the evidence for this is not visible in the archaeological record. ‘The Prometheus’ experiment aims to see if it is possible to create a log boat using fire to hollow out the boat without leaving any evidence for its use. A 2.5m long half oak trunk is being used as the base of the boat whilst the shaping and hollowing of the craft is being done with replica Bronze Age tools. The Bronze Age seems to have been a hay day for log boat construction in Britain with a number of archaeological finds allowing us to determine the size, shape and materials used in their construction. Oak is the most commonly found material to be used for the boats construction. The tools being used for the project are replicas of a Bronze Age axe head found in the Meon Valley. They have been hafted as axes and azdes for the different angles needed on the boat. In total two short handled axes, two short handled adzes and two long handled adzes have been made thanks to the CBA Challange funding grant. The burning out of the boat is done by setting a charcoal fire along the centre of the boat to the desired length. The fire is then left to burn for a day adding more fuel when needed. This fuel can be more charcoal or the chippings from a previous days hollowing. The fire is then removed and the charred wood removed using the Bronze tools. Wet clay is used to stop burning where it is not needed. The Challange Funding received has also gone towards the cost of the charcoal required for the boats construction. When close to the required thickness the burning will be stopped and the tools used to see if the evidence of the use of fire can be removed. One half of the boat will be cleaned completely using Bronze Age tools while the other half left as a rougher finish to see if the evidence is removed through use over time. ‘The Prometheus’ experiment is being carried out at Butser Ancient Farm by a group of volunteers and hopes to be launched at a special event at the end of August (after careful testing!). The boat will also take pride of place during the Butser Ancient Farm’s National Archaeology Week celebrations.

The Prometheus Project  

An outline for the research being carried out into the construction methods of ancient log boats through experimental archaeology.