Postgraduate Research Archaeology Symposium

Charlotte Dixon (2016)

Keywords: Models, museums, cultural value, Sri Lanka, outrigger canoe


Models of boats from different parts of the world are commonly found in ethnographic museum collections, yet they are considerably understudied and rarely displayed. This paper considers the potential of these intricately crafted objects as evidence for traditional boats and attempts to place them in their wider sociocultural contexts. By asking questions about their production and collection, as well as exploring physical attributes, this paper seeks to raise awareness of such objects and how they can be used in future studies of traditional boats to research boat types, construction techniques and cultural value.

Through the presentation of a particular group of models from Sri Lanka this paper will demonstrate how certain types of boats have been represented in model form more than others. In addition, the high level of detail found on models of outrigger canoes, or oru, will be discussed along with their representation in other iconographic forms, such as postcards. By focusing on oru the cultural value of these boats for local Sri Lankan communities will be considered, as well as their meaning and value for international collectors. In doing so, this paper uses a three tiered approach to reflect on the boats represented in model form; their connection with local cultures and model makers; and their significance for collectors and museums.