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A coracle, shaped like a cauldron and constructed of dried reeds coated with tar, indigenous to the River Tigris. They vary in size from just over one metre to over 3.5 metres (4–12 ft) in diameter. This type of craft was far more widely distributed than might be thought. In China, where they were known as ‘skin boats’, they were widely used for many centuries, and they are present on Assyrian bas-reliefs. Herodotus, who visited Babylon in the 5th century bc, describes them as being made of willow with a covering of skin outside and that they were ‘round like a shield, without either stem or stern’. Describing them in the late 1930s one writer (see J. Hornell, ‘The Coracles of the Tigris and the Euphrates’, Mariner's Mirror, 24 (1938), 153) reported that, though on the decline, they were still being extensively used in Iraq where they were called quffah—Arabic for basket. This was very much how they were shaped and constructed, though the modern version was made watertight, not with animal skins, but with hot pitch covering the outside. They were used as water taxis and for transporting local produce, and varied considerably in size, some being large enough to carry two horses and several men. Even larger ones were used as lighters to discharge the cargoes of grain brought downriver from Mosul to Baghdad and it has been suggested they may have been the basis for designing Noah's Ark.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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