3,000-year-old boat enters new Perth Museum after unique conservation treatment

16 October 2023
Carpow Logboat, 1,000 BC, oak. On display at Perth Museum and Art Gallery in 2017 before latest conservation at National Museums Scotland. Photo, Culture Perth and Kinross
The Carpow logboat has moved into Perth Museum, ahead of the attraction’s reopening in spring 2024.

What is the Carpow logboat?

The Carpow logboat is one of the first objects to enter the new museum and at 9 metres long, is also the largest object going on display. Carved from a single 400-year-old oak tree trunk, it then lay buried in the banks of the River Tay, near Perth, for 3,000 years until it was discovered 22 years ago. It was acquired by Perth & Kinross Council for display and preservation at Perth Museum & Art Gallery, with generous support from the National Fund for Acquisitions. 

Th​e ​​​​​​Carpow Logboat enters the new PerthMuseum. Photo: Julie Howden

Content continues after advertisements

Specialist conservation work

The logboat is returning to Perth after a year of specialist conservation work at the National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh. After 10 years on display at Perth Museum & Art Gallery, the wood had started to ‘unroll’ and flatten out. National Museums Scotland conservators have undertaken delicate reshaping work and crack repairs to stabilise the ancient structure and adapt the display cradle to ensure the object is preserved for future generations. Specialist electric blankets were used as part of the treatment to warm up the wood before gently bending the fragile structure back to its original shape.

 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Want history news direct to your inbox? Join the History Scotland newsletter today!  🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

One of the most exciting archaeological discoveries made in Tayside this century, the logboat was first officially reported in 2001 in the mudflats at Carpow during a summer of exceptionally low river levels. An archaeological assessment, led by Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust, established that the protruding wood was a 9m/30ft long logboat.

A rare survival

The vessel is a rare survival of the Bronze age due to the peaty soil composition of the Perth and Tay Estuary area, a unique environment that preserves ancient organic material that would usually be lost to time. Radiocarbon-dated to around 1,000 BC, the logboat is one of the oldest and best-preserved of its kind in Scotland, giving a tantalising glimpse of the thriving life and advanced technology of the past on Perth’s doorstep. 

The boat could have been used for a range of purposes, from a cargo craft, fishing vessel, a platform from which to make offerings in the middle of the river, or as a ferry for up to 14 people. The Carpow stretch of the river had several ferry sites as recently as the 19th century, some of them operational since at least the Roman Iron Age. The boat’s find-spot was close to one of the busiest of these crossings. 

Following its discovery and painstaking excavation in the summer of 2006, the waterlogged boat spent six years undergoing stabilisation of the saturated timbers and controlled draying at the National Museums Collection Centre, originally led by Senior Artefact Conservator Dr Theo Skinner and assisted by Jane Clark and Charles Stable. Charles also undertook the latest conservation work to return the boat to its original shape.

The logboat enters Perth Museum. Photo: Julie Howden

Charles Stable, Artefact Conservator at National Museums Scotland, said: “It’s been a privilege to work on this fascinating object, not only when it was discovered, but now in preparation for its redisplay. Although it’s large and heavy, it’s also very fragile, making the conservation work rather complex. The wood naturally wants to relax and flatten out, so we’ve had to gently warm it up, making it more pliable and allowing us to reshape it.

“I’ve become very familiar with the boat over years of working on it and the small details I’ve noticed are incredible; footrests for the pilot, for example, which really made me think about the people who used it. I look forward to seeing it redisplayed and recontextualised in this exciting new space.”

Conservation and installation of the Carpow Logboat was undertaken by National Museums Scotland and Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation, funded by donations from Whisky Auctioneer Ltd.

For more on Perth Museum, visit their website