19. Mesolithic and Neolithic Legacies: Dugouts and Lashed-Plank Watercraft
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19 Mesolithic and Neolithic Legacies Dugouts and Lashed-­ Plank Watercraft This Kura-­hau-­po A canoe to brave the ocean winds A canoe to dare the clouds of heaven —Maori prayer, New Zealand Later in time than rafts and skin boats but still very anciently, wooden displace­ ment-­hulled craft, an entirely distinct tradition, came into existence. Unlike rafts and hide craft, early wooden-­ hulled boats possessed the potential of much further development and ultimately diversified into a variety of kinds of vessels, in­ clud­ ing those that led up to contemporary ships. Bark Canoes: Barking up the Wrong Tree The earliest canoes—and arguably the earliest true hulled craft, perhaps preceding even rafts and skin boats—seem likely to have been those consisting merely of a partial cylinder of bark stripped from a suitable tree, the ends of the half tube being plugged with clay, gathered and bound, or sewn together and sealed. Simple bark canoes are associated with Paleolithic-­ level technologies and have a peripheral distribution in the Old World, being found in East Africa and in north­ ern and east­ ern Australia, with a few apparently residual occurrences in Malaysia. This distribution implies that in the areas lying between the east­ ern and west­ ern areas of modern bark-­ boat occurrence, such craft were replaced by more recently developed, more efficient vessels: dugout canoes. Bark canoes themselves lacked the potential for much further evolution using that material. In the Americas, simple sewn-­bark craft occurred in south­ern Chile, another marginal area. However, although Australian bark canoes have been shown capable of crossing water gaps of significance, it is almost inconceivable that they could have reached South America across the Pacific. Where the far more sophisticated birchbark canoe of North America’s and Siberia’s boreal forests comes in is unclear.1 It may have first developed as a hybrid between primitive bark canoes and framed skin boats. They, too, are unlikely candidates for use in transoceanic traffic, although the Beothuk of New- Dugouts and Lashed-Plank Watercraft / 197 foundland did paddle up to 50 miles between coastal islands in 20-­ foot bark canoes. Any more extensive travel seems likely ordinarily to have involved more substantial and stable craft than these. Simple Dugout Canoes of the Shallows The dugout canoe or logboat is very possibly a descendent of the bark-­ roll craft or might conceivably have been inspired by the removal of the edible pith from split sago-­ palm trunks. To make a primitive logboat, a downed tree would be split with wedges, with most of one of the halves then being carved out by means of ax and adze and/or fire. This hollowing made the dugout much more buoyant than a solid half log. In its early stages, at least, the craft was normally propelled by pole or paddle. The logboat’s beginnings are to be sought at the Late Pleistocene mesolithic technological level, when hafted edge-­ ground stone tools became available. Unlike frail bark craft, dugouts are widely known archaeologically, as far back as 7900–6500 BC in west­ ern Europe, by 6000 BC in Nigeria as well as on ­ China’s lower Yangzi River and in Korea, and by 7500–3500 BC in Japan; a 3000-­ BC example comes from the US Southeast. Whatever its point or points of origin, the dugout became extremely broadly distributed among neolithic-­ level and more elaborate cultures in forested areas of both hemispheres, sometimes reaching lengths of 70 feet or more. Although dugout manufacture and use are thousands of years old, the type’s vast distribution is probably more a reflection of its relative utility and consequent rather rapid spread than it is a function of really extreme age as in the cases of primitive bark canoes and simple rafts, which are fragile in the first instance and constantly wet in the sec­ ond. Too, not being streamlined, paddled rafts are relatively slow and cumbersome. If one takes a unitary view of the dugout’s origin, one would probably look to timbered and river-­ veined South­ east Asia as the region of emergence.2 Dugouts were no doubt at first used mainly for moving around on streams and lakes and in calm, near-­ shore waters of coastal areas. Although on North America’s Northwest Coast they sometimes went up to at least 40 miles out on the open sea after whales, single, round-­ bottomed dugouts without outriggers (see below) are not really suitable for long-­ distance ocean...