Ancient Việt 10: Bách Việt Barbarian Woodworkers


(Continued from Ancient Việt 9: Bách Việt Barbarians)

It’s shameful, how utterly barbaric tattoos look on a body.  Of course, no civilized guy is going to go all tribal and ink himself in such uncivilized manner, would he?

But I digress.  We’re talking about wood–and before you even go there, no, it’s not of the male persuasion.


The first thing that the Bách Việt barbarians need in order to build their ships is wood.  Since wood comes from forests, these barbarians are going to have to send some of their kinsmen to go into the forest and fell a huge number of logs.

I hear there’s an entire industry revolving around the technology of felling logs, but eh.  What do I know. 

These logs would then have to be transported to some type of a barbarian-esque mill in order to process the rough cut logs.  Some need to be cut into straight planks that can then be joined together.  Some need to be curved using special barbarian techniques, of which I would love to go into detail, but due to the limited scope of this article, I can’t.  

But wait a minute.  I haven’t even gotten to this part yet.  We’re still stuck at log-transportation, which will require some barbaric ingenuity.  Since we’ve been told that these barbarians don’t have horses, we have to figure out another method of transportation.  

Lucky for these troglodytes, there are other animals that are better suited to the task of hauling than the average workhorse, such as elephants and buffalo (see my earlier post on Damn Stubborn Water Buffalo), so we will go with that.  


Hmm.  But wait a minute.  These animals need to be cared for, which means there has to be some type of animal husbandry system setup to take care of these animals.  This means these Bách Việt barbarians also had to have a fully-functioning agricultural system to feed all these animals and people who are doing the work of shipbuilding.  This requires a sophisticated food production system.  

But I digress.  We’re still talking about wood here.

Since wood boats don’t build themselves, they are going to need carpenters, and not just any old furniture carpenter, mind you.  They have to know about shipbuilding and the types of wood that would be required because, you see, you can’t just take any old piece of felled wood and bang them together with any old nails in any old way, and then sail that baby.  

OK, you MIGHT make it down a river with a lashed together raft, but to go into that Peaceful Blue (Thái Bình Dương) aka Pacific Ocean, you need to know a few more things.

Actually, you need to know A LOT more things!


Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.  You are looking at a person who knows the harsh reality of being stuck, clinging onto a tiny fishing vessel, crammed tight with desperate scared people, in the middle of Nowheresville-Pacific-Ocean, for weeks.

The waves are choppy.  The wind is strong.  The nights often bring rain, and when it rains, it pours.  It’s hard to sleep while clinging to the deck and trying not to fall overboard.  And the salt–the salt gets into everything.  It dries on your skin, your clothes, your hair.  It makes the boards of the ships dry and succumb to the effects of wind, air, and water, not to mention the physical wave action against joints and seams.

Even if you did have access to teak and other water-resistant types of wood (which our barbarians did have access to) if you don’t build the ship with treated wood, they won’t last long, out in this rough condition.  Do not presume to joke around with the Pacific Ocean.  You will die.

Seasoning wood requires an intimate knowledge of basic chemistry to prevent dry rot, mildew, and premature decay.  The wood (and canvas and cordage, of which the technology of textile must also have been mastered) must be steeped in some type of barbarically-derived solution of corrosive sublimate and water for a few days.  In modern times, we use a solution of chloride of zinc and water.  If you haven’t seasoned the wood properly, you will kill everyone onboard. [1]

I have no clue what they used back then, but this is just the first step.  We then have to know which types of wood to use for each separate area of a single ship.  If you use wood from the wrong kind of tree, in the wrong place, you will kill everyone onboard.

So anyhoo, let’s just assume that these Bách Việt barbarians had a seriously high level of woodworking technology.  The next thing we need to talk about is metalworking, because if you don’t use the right kinds of metal to hold the ship together, guess what–you will kill everyone onboard.  

(Continue to Ancient Việt 11: Bách Việt Barbarian Metallurgists)

[1]  A Manual for Naval Cadets By John McNeill Boyd c. 1857

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