The geographical background renders maritime remains of extreme significance in understanding the prehistoric development of Scotland. Some key research areas are discussed below.
Early prehistoric settlement and use of islands, notably the Hebrides Apart from initial colonisation and subsequent contact, there is also the question of the use of islands, notably for fishing. The value of the sea to Mesolithic populations is an important research topic (see Hardy and Wickham-Jones 2002), although the absence of evidence for sea-craft is a significant challenge.
Neolithic and Bronze Age ‘trade’ in raw materials This is a significant research topic, though with little primary evidence as such. Examples of the potential of work in this area include research into the pitchstone trade (Ballin 2009). It is worth noting that such heavy, durable and intrinsically valuable cargoes as roughouts and semi-manufactures are well suited to transport in early watercraft. The maritime role of early craftsmen is also a promising research area, with the Eigg metalworking deposit as an example (RCAHMS 2003).
Contact in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age The nature of contact between different groups on a local to international level is a key research area, some specific topics include: what was the mechanism by which Roman material found its way beyond the ‘Empire’? (see Robertson 1983); what is the significance of the Broighter boat model, the Irish votive deposit that is said to be a skin boat? (see Farrell and Penny 1975); were ‘Venetic’ ships found around Scotland in the IA? Is there any evidence in Scotland for leather sails and/or chain rigging, or indeed chainwork of any type, such as that found in Llyn Cerrig Bach, Merioneth (see Macdonald 2007)?
Living and dying in the Early Historic and Norse periods Connections between settlement and maritime aspects of society is an important research theme. This period is characterised in the North and West by an increasing conjunction between settlement and maritime use, epitomised by the development of Norse settlements in maritime situations (e.g. Brough of Birsay with its boathouse) and the move towards castles and fortifications in ‘maritime’ situations in the West, notably the range of forts studied by Alcock (e.g. Dunollie, Dumbarton). One example of a current research programme is the Papar project, which focuses on the place names of Papar and the archaeological remains, historical documentation and surviving ecclesiastical sculpture (see http://www.paparproject.org.uk/). The connection between maritime and funerary/religious belief is another key research area, with boat burials, such as at Scar on Orkney (Owen & Dalland 1999), hinting at wider connections.
Logboats Notwithstanding the Carpow discovery (Strachan 2010), it must be stressed that the available body of evidence is currently minimal in quantity, and quality. The record is also potentially misleading in that is consists almost entirely of poorly-recorded oak examples – oak hardens and preserves remarkably well by self-induration when left in peat, giving it a remarkably high survival value which grossly exaggerates the importance of the use of this timber. The limited dimensions of the oak available in Scotland (on the edge of the distribution of the species) must, realistically, have resulted in many (if not most) of the logboats used being made from softwood and/or paired examples or log rafts, which would allow the use of smaller timbers than would be required for the construction of ‘conventional’ examples. This may be one part of a research strand that could be pursued in the future;
It should also be noted that the logboat, as a type, is inherently cross-period. Individual examples have been recorded from the Bronze Age to the post-Medieval. though their placement within the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities at the British Museum recognises a particular concentration of use. Their typological links with, and reuse as other categories of artefact (including cooking-troughs, log-coffins, industrial and salt troughs) has long been recognised and forms another potential research area (Mowat 1996, 137-148).