07 May 2012

Round boats

A fisherman casts his net as his wife paddles a boat while breastfeeding her child, in the waters of Vembanad Lake, in the southern Indian city of Kochi.

This photo (credit Reuters, via the Telegraph) reminded me that this ancient pattern for a boat is still in active use today.  A couple years ago I posted this video of the construction of a coracle-

- at Neatorama, along with these comments:
This video incorporates footage from 1935, in which Irish craftsmen build a coracle from willow and an ox hide, then use the craft to set their nets in the River Boyne. One has to admire the skill and experience required to propel a keel-less craft in a reasonably straight line. As the narrator notes, these river craft are related to the larger currachs that were capable of substantial ocean voyages.
The Irish documentary notes that the pattern goes back to the Bronze Age, but there are suggestions that a similar shape may have been used for Noah's Ark (or for the prototypic vessel that gave rise to Noah's Ark).  A Sumerian tablet dating from about 1,700 BC gives directions for the building of a craft to rescue people and animals from an impending flood, and the description is for a circular craft:
In his translation, the god who has decided to spare one just man speaks to Atram-Hasis, a Sumerian king who lived before the flood and who is the Noah figure in earlier versions of the ark story. "Wall, wall! Reed wall, reed wall! Atram-Hasis, pay heed to my advice, that you may live forever! Destroy your house, build a boat; despise possessions And save life! Draw out the boat that you will build with a circular design; Let its length and breadth be the same."
(Reposted from May 2011 by mistake)


  1. That's a rather large-appearing child to still be breastfeeding....

  2. And, speaking from some experience, an rather unlikely position to be doing it from, for the woman...not to mention that there is no visible suggestion that that is what she is doing. I think that child is not feeding, just sleeping.

  3. Tywikiwdbi is chock-full of thought-provoking stuff. Your post reminded me of a book that I think you'd enjoy, given your the interests you show on this blog.


    Those coracles, the ox-hide and willow version, from the west coast of Ireland, inspired historian and explorer Tim Severin to wonder if the stories of St Brendan sailing to the west, really did indicate the possibility that Brendan had sailed to north america, maybe almost a thousand years before Columbus, in an ox-hide boat.
    In order to test the hypothesis, Severin went to Ireland and learned curragh-making, then... ox-hide tanning, and ship-building.
    And then, of course, with his crew, he sailed west, across the atlantic, to america.

    I saw his ship, some years ago, it is, or was then, in the National museum of Iceland.

    The rather beautiful fishing-coracle image brings to mind enormous floating lily-leaves.

  4. Thanks, soubriquet. Our library system has four copies and I've requested one. Shouldn't take long to arrive.

  5. The suggestions about the shape of Noah's ark are funny.

    The dimensions are given directly. 300x50x30 cubits. That 6:1 length:width ratio is still what is currently used for large ocean going vessels as it is the most stable.


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