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Saami technique

Notosersk boat

Saami boat collected by Gustav Hallström in Notosersk in 1909

Sewing was quite common in Saami boatbuilding tradition, plenty of archaeological finds were made in Lapland; The best now preserved boat was built in the village of Notosersk (Notojaur, now Notozero), Kola peninsula, in Russia (picture on the top of this page). The boat was taken to Sweden by ethnographist Gustav Hallström around the year 1909, and now it it belongs to the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm. He also made photo pictures then, as well as written documentation of the building technique -- see picture1 (43.6Kb) , picture2 (25Kb) ) and probably the only existing original picture of a sewing boatbuilder at work (51Kb). Picture was taken in 1909, so the boat on it can hardly be the same one as on first pictures and in Nordiska Museet , but it is a very similar one and the sewing technique is just the same. For sewing thread linden bast rope of 2-3 plies was used; quite an unusual material for Saami tradition, since they have no linden trees that high to the North -- the climate is too cold. The bast was actually imported in some roundabout way -- it was bast sacks or rugs for flour or grain coming from central Russia. Originally Saami must have used roots, hemp ropes or reindeer sinews for the purpose.

The ropes are 3-4mm thick -- much thinner than the 8mm holes (see picture (45Kb) ). To my judgment they are too thin and weak ( generally, it makes sense to use threads as thick as they would go through the holes; the diameter of holes and the depth of grooves between them are limited only by thickness of planks -- so the strength of seams would be only limited by planks themselves). Indeed, the seams gave way and broke in many places when the boat was still in use, and were repaired (rather clumsily) with treenails and metal nails.

The boat is 4.4m long and 1.17m wide; it was built entirely of spruce. Planks are 13-17mm thick, and the design of planking is unnecessary complicated and extremely labor consuming -- 2nd strakes are carved with a sort of profiled edge, protruding at an angle to the rest of the plank, to facilitate a sharp corner between 1st and 2nd strakes. At the hood ends all planks have transition points, where they are carved so that the seams between them look like some interlocking structures difficult to explain. At these points the seams between 2nd and 3rd strakes transit from clinker almost into kravel (visible on the picture at the top of the page), and the 2nd strake ceases to have its profiled edge. (see also this picture (44Kb) ).

All ribs (28Kb) were made of two knee-shaped pieces each, with a joint in the middle. All knee-shaped parts were carved out of lower part of a spruce tree with a big root growing at a right angle (24.5Kb). Stem pieces were made in exactly the same way, one of them carved together with the whole keel out of the same tree. Ribs were treenailed to the planking, as well as hood ends of the strakes to the stems. One peculiar detail: the surface of all rib ledges where they were fitted to the planks was carved concave (see picture (21Kb) ). These details, though they look unnecessary and un logic, can be of great importance for an ethnologist, studying Saami traditions.

See also reference to the paper.



Valkijärvi boat

One of the biggest now preserved pieces of Valkijärvi boat

The other comparatively well preserved Saami boat was found in Valkijarvi in Lappland. (see picture (19Kb)) It impresses as a very thin and light boat -- planks being 7-10mm thick, preserved pieces of ribs and a stem 3-7cm in crossection (the whole boat being 4-5 m long and 90cm wide). Remaining sewing holes and grooves are no more then 3-4mm wide. It was presumably sewn with spruce roots, but the material is not preserved. Perhaps the boat was designed so light to be carried one one's shoulders over long enough distances between different waterways. The material of all parts is spruce; the find is undated. As opposed to Notosersk boat, the ribs don't even have ledges for clinker strakes, let alone the hollowed surface fitted to the planks.

See also reference to the paper.

Oars were preserved for both these boats, all of of them made out of spruce logs split into halves, forward facing side of an oar presented to the inside of a log, -- exactly the same tradition as in Russian Carelia. In most of other traditions oars were made out of a single (usually pine) thin log each.



Hallström, G., 1910, Båtar och båtbyggnad i ryska lappmarken. Fataburen 1909: 85-100. Stockholm (The only existing documentation of the building of sewn boat- in Notosersk, Nuotjaur, peninsula of Kola, in 1909).

Westerdahl Christer., 1985, Sewn boats of the North:A preliminary catalogue with introductory comments. The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration (1985) 14.1 33-62


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