About Reed Rafts

About Reed Rafts

When were the first reed rafts built? Were ancient mariners able to cover long distance with reed rafts? Is it possible that ancient cultures used marine currents and winds as highways instead of barriers searching for new lands?

The construction of reed raft is one of the world's oldest nautical technologies. Throughout history, the reed rafts have been built in almost all parts of the world where this plant grows, particularly in regions near the Mediterranean, South America and Easter Island. Today there are only a handful of places that still practice the ancient art of construction of such rafts; one of them is Bolivia, on the shores of Titicaca lake.

The rafts built there are typically 2-7 meters long and one third in width. Although these dimensions are small, in the late ninth century, Ephraim Squier recorded that this type of boats (reed rafts) were large enough to carry 60 people. Several decades later, Hiram Bingham, who discovered Machu Picchu, described a reed raft that could support the weight of a mule driver and his team of oxen. In the 1970s, reed rafts capable of carrying 20 people still were used in locations in Peru, near the river Ramis, the longest river that flows into Titicaca Lake (Alexi Vranich , Poul Harmon, Chris Knutson , 2005).

Bolivian reed raft builders, descendants of the Aymara culture, are noted as the most important reed boat builders in world today. The art they create has been passed down from generation to generation and survives in the Peruvian and Bolivian shore of Titicaca Lake, where the construction of reed raft is now mainly a tourist attraction. Boats made of wood, which last much longer, now lead the attraction on the lake. The Incas were inspired to build their reed rafts with the Tiwanaku and Moche cultures technology and engineering that inhabited South American territories.


Reed Boat Builders on the Viracocha II, Viña del Mar, Chile. 2003                    Reed Boat builders and the Bolivian President, Evo Morales in La Paz (2016)




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