Monday, 8 May 2017

F.30 Model Raft in the UCL Ethnographic Collections

Object F.30 in the UCL Ethnographic Collections is an early 20th century model raft with unattached keel board, sail, mast, and six paddles (each element labelled with the object number) (Figure 1). The collection’s information on the object says the United Free Church collected it from Formosa (as Taiwan was known until the mid-twentieth-century) and comparison with nearly identical models in museums confirms this provenance (BM As1960,10.464; BM As.6698; Greenhill 1976, 101, Fig. 53). While the real rafts, tekpai, can reach up to 6m in length (Nihon chiri taikei 1930, 143 cited by Naoko and Guo 2017), the model is only 29cm long and 151.09g. Like full-size tekpai, F.30 is made from bamboo and wood secured with rattan and natural plant-fibres and has a Lin-grass sail, with no additional decoration and all elements naturally coloured (Cf. BM As1960,10.464; Nihon chiri taikei 1930, 143 cited by Naoko and Guo 2017). 

F.30's biography shows its significance lies in the evidence it provides for early anthropological study of Taiwanese indigenous peoples by Japanese colonists and British missionaries in the early 20th century. It also illustrates the materials and techniques of traditional aboriginal raft-building that was stopped by Japanese imperial rule. F.30 is significant now for its potential ability to help with the revitalization of that craft as part of the Aboriginal Rights Movement in Taiwan and its ability to contribute to the history of boatbuilding and early navigation.

F.30 is in stable condition, but there are a few aspects that could use attention and affect possible future use. The brittle condition of the Lin-grass sail is too fragile for the sail to be unrolled for display or observation. The strips of rattan that control the movement of the paddle-mounts are not secured between the canes of the raft and are easily dislodged from this loose structure, while one is missing along with three of the paddle-mounts. The fibrous thread used to tie elements to the vessel body is frayed in some places, threatening the stability of the simple over-under knots with which it is tied. The rattan strips coiled around the bamboo canes have had pressure and friction exerted on them by the tensely pulled fibrous thread where it overlaps them. This has caused the rattan to split in one location on the underside of the vessel, and careless or excessive handling or hydroscopic expansion that causes the thread to exert more friction and pressure could result in more breaks, weakening the binding-role of the rattan.

Figure 1: Object F.30 
Image: the author courtesy of UCL Collections

Figure 2 (Left): The fraying ends of the fibrous thread under 30x magnification with a DinoLite 7000 microscope
Photo: the author courtesy of UCL Collections

Figure 3 (Right): Detail of location where rattan has split due to pressure and friction of fibrous thread
Photo: the author courtesy of UCL Collections


British Museum Collection Online. As1960,10.464 model/boat. Retrieved on 25 April 2017 from

British Museum Collection Online. As.6698 raft/model. Retrieved 25 April 2017 from

Florian, M-L.E., Kronkright, D.P., and Norton, R.E. (eds.), 1997. The Conservation of Artifacts Made form Plant Materials 3rd ed. Marina del Rey: Getty Conservation Institute.

Greenhill, B., 1976. Archaeology of the Boat: A new introductory study. London: Adam and Charles Black. 

Hu, C-Y., 2007. Taiwanese Aboriginal Art and Artifacts: Entangled Images of Colonization and Modernization. In: Y. Kikuchi (ed.), Refracted Modernity: Visual Culture and Identity in Colonial Taiwan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 193-215. Retrieved on 3 April 2017 from

Naoko, I. and Guo, L., 2017. Digital Scholarship Services [wa0093] [Sailboat]. Retrieved on 25 April 2017 from

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2016-17), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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