The Eigg stemposts

Stempost from Skuldelev 3, the small trading ship found i Roskilde Fjord. The stempost is much alike the two stemposts found at Eigg. Photo: The Viking Ship Museum
Stempost from Skuldelev 3, the small trading ship found i Roskilde Fjord. The stempost is much alike the two stemposts found at Eigg

The island of Eigg has yielded a number of Viking finds, the one with the most far-reaching consequences being two unused yet shaped stempost for a boat of typical Scandinavian design.

The Vikings used the small fertile island of Eigg, after their initial raiding parties, as a settlement and base for peaceful trading with Ireland and beyond. Many of the island's place names are Scandinavian in origin and the island has revealed a number of Vikings finds.

The Eigg stemposts

In 1878, while a peat bog was being drained on the island, an unusual find of two shaped stem-posts dating from the Viking Age were discovered. Each was made from a single piece of oak, with the inner edge cut into steps to take the planks of a boat. This find has become crucial to the interpretation of the Viking ships and the way they were built.

Though the stems were cut to their final shape there were unused as there were no nail holes in them. They were presumably placed in the bog to keep them wet until they were to be used. This find proves that the Viking shipwright did not just play it by ear but had a pre-conceived idea of the shape of the ship's hull, since he knew the number of planks and their lines before the ship was built.

Faktum: In the case of the completely preserved stempost from the Skuldelev 3 ship it has been possible to demonstrate how this pre-conceived design is based on a set of circle segments with radii that relate proportionally to each other and to the keel length.

Monica Callaghan, Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery, University of Glasgow & Mikkel H. Thomsen