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Hurricane Irma Dugout Canoe: A Piece Of Florida History Unearthed

The carbon dating results are in and here's the scoop

Hurricane Irma Dugout Canoe: A Piece Of Florida History Unearthed

Irma's storm surge revealed a nearly 700-pound dugout canoe that washed up on Cocoa's shores almost a month ago.

Brevard County local Randy Lathrop discovered a mysterious hollowed-out canoe while on his morning bike ride after Irma had finished releasing her wrath on Florida. “I usually go out to the beach with my metal detector after the storms,” he mused. “I decided on a bike ride instead to survey the damage.”

Lathrop, having a background in nautical treasures as a historical shipwreck salvager, recognized the canoe immediately. "There was a front-end loader right down the road,” Randy explained. “This piece of history could have easily been mistaken for a piece of debris.”

He contacted the Department of Historical Resources, took a quick photo, and made a mad dash to a nearby friend's house to borrow a truck that the artifact could be loaded into. The large cypress canoe is nearly 700 pounds and 15 feet long, which made it quite a chore to move to a safe location.

Dugout canoes are generally made of hollowed-out cypress trees and were long used by Florida's Seminole Indians, among other tribes, according to the University of Florida.

There were what seemed to be carved notches in the side of the canoe, indicative of once having an outrigger attached.

Upon closer inspection, Lathrop noticed that the dugout portion had burn marks, implying that fire was used to hollow out the trunk. Before the use of metal tools, dugouts were burned with controlled fires and carefully carved with the help of an adze.

Lathrop found traces of red and white paint chips as well which he noted are colors commonly used by the Seminole tribe.

There was also a chiseled-out portion on the side that could suggest it once had an outrigger attached. "It would make sense if it was originally from our lagoon," Randy stated. An outrigger could be used to harness the wind in a wide body of water like the Indian River Lagoon or for stability in rougher conditions.

The most notable discovery was the square nails that could be found all over the canoe. Square nails were forged in the late 1700s to the early 1800s and were pretty much phased out in favor of round nails in the 1900s.

Close-up of one of the unique square nails used on the canoe.

"Florida has the highest concentration of archaeological dugouts in the world with more than 400 from the state." Archaeologist Julia Duggins elaborated, "Because Florida is so wet, it has an environment conducive to the preservation of wood."

Lathrop kept the canoe submerged in water, to prevent the wood from drying out, until experts could safely move it to an undisclosed location to examine it further. Nearly a month after its discovery, the results are finally back.

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Red and white paint chips were found inside the canoe

While radiocarbon dating is generally a reliable method, it can sometimes lead to more questions than answers. It does not produce a single date, but rather a range of dates with associated probabilities. The radiocarbon dating results for the Irma canoe returned three date ranges with associated probabilities.

There is a 50 percent probability the wood used to make the canoe dates between 1640 to 1680 A.D., a 37.2 percent probability it dates between 1760 to 1818 A.D., and an 8.6 percent probability that it dates to 1930 A.D. or later.

It is important to note that this gives us the probability of when the log used to make the canoe died or was cut down. The relic has some interesting features, like the presence of paint and wire nails, that indicate it may have been made in the 19th or 20th century, so this adds to the mystery.

Some possible explanations:

  1. The canoe was made in the 19th or 20th century but from an old log.
  2. The canoe was made in the 17th or 18th century, was used for many, many years, and was modified over time i.e. the addition of the wire nails.
  3. Even though the probability is lower, the canoe could have been built recently during the 20th century.

The dugout can be viewed in your own home via 3D imaging provided by the University of South Florida

The Bureau of Archeological Research (BAR) is having additional tests run on the paint and are further examining the canoe to learn as much as possible about it. You can view a 3D model of the canoe, courtesy of the University of South Florida.

BAR is transporting the canoe to the department's Conservation Lab where expert staff will begin the arduous process of preserving the canoe, so it can eventually be displayed locally for the Brevard area community and all Floridians to enjoy and learn from.

Even amongst her destruction, Irma revealed a piece of the past that would otherwise have remained at the bottom of the lagoon.




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