• Holger Rasmussen


Danish dugout, Archaeology, bog dugout, knubskib, ege


The Hasselø Dugout
A Contribution to the History of the Danish Dugouts

The great difficulty in the study of the history of the dugout is that the types remain fundamentally unchanged through long periods. It is primarily impossible to decide typologically if a dugout dates from antiquity or belongs to our own time.

This is the case with Danish dugouts as well as with dugouts in general. The problem of throwing light on the history of the dugout can be approached in two ways:

1) Dating as many boats as possible in an attempt to single out the types of the various periods. This is especially important for archeologists as there has previously been a tendency to consider all earth-found dugouts as pre­historic. Pollen analysis, the new method used by natural science to obtain exact dating, constitutes a valuable improvement. By means of this method Troels-Smith succeeded, for the first time with certainty, in determining the types of dugouts that have been in use in Denmark in the Early Neolithic Period (see note 1).

2) Studying recent dugouts, a method which has the advantage that it is possible to obtain correct information about construction and use. Helge Søgaard has, on an all-literary basis, given a survey of the use of dugouts in Denmark in historic times (see note 7) without having in any way exhausted the subject. A rather more detailed treatment of the subject is attempted here, the starting point being a dugout in the Danish National Museum (3rd. Depart­ment) collections, and the verbal tradition attached to it, collected by the author and supplemented by information from literature.

The dugout in question (mus. no. S 175 75/1907) was acquired in 1887 from the small island of Hasselø, situated in the sound between Lolland and Falster. The dimensions of the boat are: length 498 centimeters - breadth 66-92 centi­meters - lateral elevation 45 centimeters. It is hollowed out from a beech trunk and has two chiselled-out thwarts. The bottom is completely flat. On the outside, along the entire length of the gunwale edge, has been mounted an oaken batten, fastened by wooden nails at an angle. Nailed to the batten have been some wooden blocks to mount the rowlocks, of which one is still in situ. Furthermore, the batten is perforated by vertical holes, bored side by side. The use of these holes is uncertain. See measuring and photoes.

The Use of Dugouts on Hasselø
An extensive diking-project in the 1870s joined Hasselø to Falster. Simultaneously a moving of the farms began and a disintegration of the old, characteristic island features followed. The most extraordinary feature was undoubtedly the islanders' extensive use of dugouts. A local boat-constructor, E. C. Benzon, who by experience knew the conditions very well and passed on information on the dugouts to the National Museum in 1885 (see note 15), related that dugouts were in almost exclusive use in 1850. Only 4-5 boats still remained in use in 1885.

The Hasselø islanders raised mostly vegetables which they took to the markets in the neighboring towns. They could sail directly to Nykøbing on Falster but to reach the towns on Lolland they had to use horsedrawn carts for transport of the vegetables. To carry merchandise and means of transport across the sound two dugouts. were tied together side by side and horses and carts were placed athwart the boats. The same procedure was used for carrying the cattle to the summer pastures on a couple of small islands in the sound. The dugouts were used singly by the milking maids when they went to the small islands to milk the cattle, on trips to wash laundry when the women rowed out until they found clear water, and finally for fishing, primarily for eels.

The boats were propelled by rowing or poling. Poling was carried out standing in the stem hold of the boat, by means of a pole, crooked at the lower end. In deep water oars were used for rowing. They were so long that the handles were crossed over the narrow boat. In rare cases a little square sail was used but only in a stern wind. There are traces of a mast at the bow thwart of the National Museum dugout. When under sail the boat was steered by an oar from the stern.

The farmers got the trunks for the boats in a forest on Lolland and carried them across the frozen sound on sledges in the winter. The first step of the construction work was a rough cutting and hollowing to approach the final shape of the boat. Adzes, generally with a curved blade, was used for this job. An informant from Falster (see note 33) disclosed that his grandfather (born 1828), used fire to soften the wood when he hollowed out the boat. After the boat had been given the first chopping it was lowered into the water off Hasselø village and anchored to some big stones. It remained lying there for from 2-3 to 10 years. The explanations of the reason for this procedure vary. It has been contended that it was done to soften the wood and make it easier to do the final chopping, but the question of the durability of the boat is also mentioned and this might be the more probable reason of the two.

After the period in the water the boat was taken to the shore and completed. The proper thickness of sides and bottom was estimated by eye-measure. However, some narrow perforations in the bottom of the Hasselø dugout and in many of the other Danish dugouts are interpreted by the author as a means of deciding the thickness of the bottom in accordance with the procedure used in Eastern Europe (see literature mentioned in note 68) and in certain parts of Switzerland (see note 69). Construction of the boat was often a cooperative enterprise, the conclusion of which was marked by a celebration ("hulegilde").

The reasons why the Hasselø islanders ceased to use dugouts were partly the above mentioned diking project, partly - and essentially - the difficulties involved in getting trunks sufficiently massive to make the boats. The last Hasselø dugout was probably made around 1860.

The Use of Dugouts elsewhere in Denmark
Everywhere in Denmark where natural conditions permitted it dugouts were in use in historic time. To be sure, they remain nowhere in use longer than on Hasselø but around 1850 they were still rather common. They were, in cases where this can be stated with certainty, of the same type as the Hasselø boat: flat bottom and one or two chiselled-out thwarts. The listed descriptions give additional information. Kruse's description (see note 46) of a dugout from the Silkeborg lakes in the eastern part of Jutland was accompanied by a drawing (see fig. 1) showing that the boat was propelled by paddling. The drawing is so far the oldest picture of a Danish dugout known. From the same part of the country there is another description (see note 47), giving detailed information of the acquisition of the trunks that were rough-out on the spot where they were felled and then sailed home for final treatment. After some 10 years the sides of the boat would rot and the bottom would then be used as bottom in a planked boat.

The philological term for the dugout separates Denmark in two parts, "ege" being used in Eastern Danish while "knubskib" is the usual term in Jutland. In the Southern part of Eastern Jutland the term "kan (n) e" also appears, possibly a borrowed word. In East Denmark the term "ege" is transferred to the composite flat-bottomed boats (see fig. 6 and 9).

European parallels
Dugouts of the type described here were widely used in Middle and Western Europe in historic time. In the Mediteranean area somewhat different types appear and in Eastern Europe the vast area of the aesping begins (see note 58). To throw light on the history of the West and Middle European dugout, some parallel material, mainly from the area of the Alps, is mentioned, (see notes 61 seg.). As a whole the uniformity with the Danish material is striking. To illustrate the use of double-dugouts as ferries, descriptions from Albania and Russia are mentioned (see note 72 and 73). Combined dugouts and out­rigger-dugouts are not known to have been used in Denmark.

The European material provides several contributions to illustrate the propelling of the boat (see notes 76-80). Among other things poles with a specially shaped lower end which is also known from small Danish boats in our days.

From the recent West and Middle European material, the hypothesis is arrived at - also claimed by Oscar Paret, although reached by a different route

(see note 81) - that the dugout with flat bottom and chiselled out thwart appears late while dugouts of trunk-round cross section have been in use at any rate from the Early Neolithic Period.

Survey of finds of Danish dugouts
A survey is given of Danish dugouts, mainly bog-found, catalogued and with corresponding map. Group one represents the Hasselø type with flat bottom and chiselled-out thwart (circle signature on map). Group two comprise all other finds without any attempt being made to classify into types (triangle signature on map).

Holger Rasmussen





Rasmussen, H. (1953). Hasselø-egen. Kuml, 3(3), 15–46. Hentet fra https://tidsskrift.dk/kuml/article/view/97107