Drone Footage Reveals Sunken Ancient Logboat in Ireland’s River Boyne
A short video clip taken by citizen archaeologist and Ancient Origins’ guest author, Anthony Murphy, flying his drone high above the River Boyne in Ireland has been published in the Irish Times showing an unusual rectangular object sunken into the riverbed. According to Irish Central, the size and shape of the object has led archaeologists to tentatively identify it as a logboat, a type of simple, but sturdy, watercraft made from hollowed-out tree trunks.
The Long History of Logboats in Ireland
Logboats, also known as dugout boats, were made by hand with axes that were used to chop out their interiors. In an article published in Independent.ie, Dr. Stephen Davis, a professor from the University College Dublin School of Archaeology and expert on the subject explained that logboats have “an immensely long history of use in Ireland, with examples known from the Neolithic [all] the way up to medieval times.”
If an on site inspection confirms what the aerial footage seems to show, this would be the twelfth logboat found in the River Boyne over the past several years. “For thousands of years, rivers were Ireland’s highways,” highlighted Davis, “They offered fast travel through a landscape with few roads and significant woodland cover. So, it is no surprise that from time to time one of these boats sank.”
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Back in 2018, some individuals who were fishing in the river spotted an underwater logboat that was eventually proved through radiocarbon dating to be 5,000 years old, making it the first recovered logboat to be definitively linked to Neolithic period manufacture. According to a spokesperson for Ireland’s National Monuments Service, this most recent logboat “discovery” may have been spotted already several months ago, back in 2020. A brief inspection of that sunken logboat revealed evidence suggesting a medieval or post-medieval origin, meaning it would have been manufactured sometime between 400 and 1654 AD.
Murphy’s drone explorations first gained attention in 2017 when he discovered an ancient monument which was subsequently named Dronehenge. (Anthony Murphy / Mythical Ireland)
Citizen Archaeologist Sparks Drone Archaeology Renaissance
The logboat is just the latest fascinating discovery from Anthony Murphy, a citizen archaeologist and expert on ancient Irish history. Murphy, who is a journalist, author, and researcher, has been running a website called Mythical Irelandsince the year 2000. His special focus is on the heritage and historical mysteries of the Boyne Valley.
Boyne Valley is a geographical region located just north of Dublin, encompassing all of County Meath and the southern half of County Louth along Ireland’s east coast. It has become a popular tourist destination for history enthusiasts, thanks to being home to a rich and diverse collection of megalithic monuments, underground tombs, castles, ancient battle sites, and other remarkable archaeological and prehistoric treasures.
Murphy’s drone piloting explorations first gained attention in 2018 when he captured aerial images of a Neolithic stone circle in a drought-ravaged farmer’s field near Newgrange. What he discovered was the unmistakable outline of an ancient monument that was subsequently named Dronehenge, an apt label given how similar this monument must have been to Stonehenge when it was still standing. Murphy’s fortuitous find sparked a drone archaeology renaissance in his home territory, and several of his imitators have found similar circular ground markings or other signs of archaeological ruins in the Boyne Valley and beyond.
Murphy was actually searching for something else entirely when he captured what appears to be a logboat in the River Boyne in Ireland. (Anthony Murphy / Mythical Ireland)
No Dolphins, Only a Historical Treasure
Interestingly, on the day Murphy found the logboat he was searching for something else entirely. “I was actually looking for Kevin the dolphin that has been in the river in the past couple of weeks,” Murphy explained to the Irish Times. His reference is to a large male bottlenose dolphin, which has been nicknamed Kevin Costner, that was first spotted in the Shannon Estuary 28 years ago and has lately expanded his territory to include the River Boyne.
Murphy’s aerial surveys of the Boyne Valley didn’t turn up any evidence of Kevin but his discovery of the logboat was more than enough to assuage his disappointment. “I thought to myself, it doesn’t look like driftwood… this had a distinct look, it was very rectangular. It looked like it could be man-made,” he recalled. After analyzing the image further, he calculated that the object was approximately two feet wide and about eight feet long (or 0.6 by 2.4 m), fitting the known dimensions of a logboat.
“You would not expect to find items in the bed of the river by drone,” noted Murphy when describing his incredible find in Independent.ie. Seemingly, the recent lack of rainfall has meant that the water level during low tide has been exceptionally low. “It makes that sort of thing more visible, as it were.”
The discovery of this logboat in the River Boyne could be the start of a new era of archaeological exploration in the area. (Anthony Murphy / Mythical Ireland)
The Dawn of Exciting Times in Boyne Valley Archaeology
A new era of archaeological exploration is on the verge of opening in the Boyne Valley and in the River Boyne specifically. Supported by funding from the Royal Irish Academy and the National Monuments Service, Dr. Stephen Davis and his colleagues recently completed a sonar survey of the Boyne, and they uncovered a number of intriguing archaeological features that call for further exploration.
As for the newly discovered (or re-discovered) logboat, it too will be subject to more study and analysis very soon. Within the next few days, specialists will visit the location where the logboat has been observed to verify that the submerged object is what it appears to be. Assuming it is, they will assess its position and condition to determine if the boat can be removed from the riverbed without being damaged or destroyed.
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If the logboat is determined to be salvageable, removal would need to take place during low tide. Once carefully lifted out of the water, the boat would need to be transported to a suitable location so that preservation procedures could begin immediately, taking into account that exposure to the air could cause the wood to deteriorate rapidly.
“The Boyne is clearly an important river and has held both religious and practical significance for a very long time,” Dr. Davis noted, putting this recent find into context. Referring to logboats in particular, however, he was quick to point out that the River Boyne was not the only Irish waterway to produce such artifacts.
Unfortunately, “there has been relatively little systematic survey” of these rivers, he explained. This means that for the foreseeable future, professional and amateur archaeologists alike will be relying less on adequate funding and more on good fortune, as they seek out whatever treasures may still be lurking beneath the surface of Ireland’s inland rivers.
Top image: logboat Source: Anthony Murphy / Mythical Ireland
By Nathan Falde