The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe: The Longest Dugout Recorded in Florida


This past Saturday we had the privilege of visiting the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture , as they were host to a wonderful lecture on local history. While there we finally got to see the infamous Apalachicola

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida.

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Master Site File)

Traders’ Canoe. I have heard mention of it before and I have always been curious to see it. You are probably wondering why I would be so excited about a dugout canoe, right? What if I told you that it was the longest dugout canoe ever recovered, in one piece, in the state of Florida? It is over 50 feet long! 50 feet, 4 inches to be exact! Imagine trying to paddle such a beast upstream! This dugout was initially found in 2006 by two gentleman that were out bass fishing on the Apalachicola River. While they were loading their boat onto a trailer they noticed what appeared to be a board sticking out of the water. When their trailer struck it the object floated higher out of the water and they knew immediately they had come across an old dugout canoe. They attempted to pull it out of the water to load it onto their trailer, but soon realized it was too long. One of the gentleman operated a nearby sawmill, and so was able to arrange for a logging truck to transport it  to the sawmill for safe keeping. They then reported the find to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They recognized the potential significance of their find and wanted to do the right thing by reporting it to the proper authorities. The dugout quickly became a local celebrity, receiving numerous visitors wanting to witness this behemoth firsthand. A few days after the initial discovery archaeologists from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research were able to visit the dugout and work with other state officials and the individuals who discovered the dugout to come up with a plan to make sure that it was properly cared for and preserved.

Archaeologists generally discourage people from removing dugouts or other wooden artifacts from water or muck. These objects are usually quite saturated and have been that way for a long time. The state usually receives calls about dugouts becoming exposed during drought events, when water levels drop and they are found sticking out of the mud.  Once they are removed they start to dry out quickly and can degrade into a pile of nothing more than saw dust quite rapidly. It takes a trained conservator to ensure that the wooden object is dried carefully and in a controlled manner so that damage is kept to a minimum. Additionally, in some cases various conservation treatments are applied to ensure that the cellular structure of the object remains stable for years to come. These treatments can be very lengthy and sometimes expensive, and until the object can be treated properly, it is best preserved in place. If you are ever in a situation where you  find a dugout canoe or any other archaeological remains, you may call the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research to report it. You can also contact your local FPAN office, as all of us work closely with the folks at the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

After the the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe was properly conserved, archaeologists could see tool marks on the boat which indicated that it was made using metal tools, but with techniques commonly used by Native Americans. The fact that metal tools were used, along with the shape of the canoe, suggest that it was manufactured sometime between 1750 and 1850. Dugout canoes had long since been used by Native Americans but the technology was adapted and modified to meet the needs of Florida’s many early European settlers. It is possible that it was made by Native American craftsmen under the direction of Americans, the British or  the Spanish.

The Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

Hundreds of dugout canoes have been recovered from Florida’s lakes and rivers. Some of you may remember the dugout that was recovered from Lake Munson a few years ago. During the 2000 drought event, hundreds of dugouts and dugout fragments were recorded in Newnan Lake near Gainesville. Forty  wood samples were taken from the Newnan canoes and were found to be between 3,200 and 5,000 years old. Most dugout canoes measure between 18 and 20 feet. The traders’ canoe is more than twice that length! The traders’ canoe was also manufactured from a single cypress log. The majority of dugouts that have been recorded in Florida have been carved from pine logs, although cypress dugouts are not unheard of in Florida. It is quite possible that Florida has the largest concentration of dugout canoes in the Americans, possibly the world. Our state’s unique aquatic environment, complete with anaerobic muck river and lake bottoms, lends itself to the preservation of these delicate artifacts. In an anaerobic environment, few bacteria can survive and thus, they cannot contribute to the deterioration of organic material. In other words, there are less bacteria nibbling on the wooden artifacts and so objects that might otherwise degrade are preserved and provide archaeologists and the public a unique glimpse of our past.

If you want to check out the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe for yourself, and I encourage you to do so, it is on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture! Their hours of operation are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12 noon to 5 PM.  It is located on the corner of Avenue E and Water Street in one of the beautifully restored cotton warehouses on the Apalachicola River.  You can make a day trip out of it and continue your forays into the local maritime culture by visiting the Apalachicola Maritime Museum as well!

Florida Proposed House Bill 803/Senate Bill 1054

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According to the Florida Historical Resources Act (Ch. 267 of the Florida Statutes), historical and archaeological sites and artifacts located on State-owned lands, including submerged lands, belong to the people of Florida. Excavating, disturbing, or collecting is prohibited in order to protect information about our State’s past. Recently a bill has been filed with the Florida House (HB803) and it’s companion bill was filed with the Florida Senate (SB1054) that would allow for collectors to obtain a $100 permit that would then entitle them to collect on state submerged lands. This bill allows for the excavation of “isolated finds” with hand tools. There are many issues concerning this bill. First and foremost, these lands are protected because of their sensitive nature and that is why they have been protected under Ch. 267. They are held in the public trust for all Florida citizens and the cultural and natural resources on these lands (both submerged and terrestrial) are protected for everyone to enjoy. Additionally, the use of excavation tools by non-professionals (or untrained/unsupervised avocationals) could lead to the permanent destruction of significant archaeological sites through non-scientific methodological excavation. These sites, unlike most natural resources, do not grow back over time. Once they are lost, they are gone forever, along with the potentially significant information about the past which they contain. Even isolated finds, those that are no longer in their original context, have the potential to provide us with information and one cannot confirm that an artifact is indeed isolated unless they excavate (thus risk destroying the site in the process).

Many of us grow up finding arrowheads on family farms or other places, and that is how many of us initially become interested in archaeology. The problem here isn’t little kids picking up arrowheads on grandpa’s farm. The problem is that these objects are a part of our common past and belong to everyone, not just to people who want to take them. Just like sea oats belong to everyone and provide a vital role for our beaches and so are protected by law, artifacts belong to everyone and provide vital information about our heritage and so are protected by law. It is currently legal to collect on private lands with permission of the landowner. There are also organizations like FPAN and the Florida Anthropological Society that invite and encourage those that are interested in archaeology to get involved by volunteering. Legitimate avocational organizations will have a strict code of ethics that they expect their members and volunteers to abide by and will encourage also the participation of professionals that are interested in working and teaching the public about archaeology. Archaeology is not about collecting things – it’s about what those “things” can tell us about the people who made and used them. Archaeologists care about past human behaviors and activities, and we learn about that through the objects people left behind. When those objects are collected willy-nilly and are removed from the surrounding landscape and other artifacts, we lose information. Organizations and academic programs like the Florida Anthropological Society and FPAN provide many ways for citizens to assist and become involved in meaningful archaeological research that provides information about our past, not simply picking up random objects.

If you take the time to read the bills, which I encourage you to do,  you will  notice that it requires that permit holders report on their findings. That seems like a good idea, right? The problem is that it’s been tried before in Florida and failed – the Isolated Finds program was implemented so that people could certain keep artifacts they found in Florida rivers and all they had to do was turn in information, and it was free! Very few IF reports were sent in, however, and the state discontinued IF due to wide-spread non-compliance among the river diver collecting community. Issuing permits would make tracking collectors easier for the state, but also would require additional staffing as well as additional law enforcement time, a cost which will ultimately be paid by tax payers. In order to pay for the program by charging for permits, each permit would cost hundreds of dollars, making them out of range for most citizens, which would defeat the purpose of a “citizen’s” permit.

On our website we have compiled various resources and answers to common questions about these bills and other previously proposed legislation regarding the collection of artifacts on public lands. I hope that you will take the time to read the bills and read what we have compiled. Ultimately the responsibility of protecting our state’s cultural resources falls to the citizens and we encourage your participation. Included in our list of resources is a link where you can find your local representatives. We hope that you will educate yourself and be encouraged to write, call or email them to express your concerns.

First Floridians, First American Conference in Monticello (October 4-6, 2012)

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The First Floridians conference will run from October 4 through October 6. It will be held in Monticello at the historic Opera House. There is no charge for registering for this conference, which can be done via the conference

The Historic Monticello Opera House, the location of the First Floridians Conference.

website, This conference will discuss the early people of Florida, including the Apalachee of Jefferson County. It will also touch on the coming of the Spanish and the local mission sites. One presentation will explain how the diversity of plant life in the Aucilla Basin attracted and fostered settlement throughout the ages. It will also examine how remnants of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Muskogee (Creek) Tribe of Florida formed.

Speakers will include Dr. Mary Glowacki, Florida’s State Archaeologist; Neil Wallis of the Florida Museum of Natural History; Barbara Hines of the Florida Public Archaeology Network; Glen Doran, Professor of Anthropology and Department Chair at Florida State University; Harley Means, Assistant Florida State Geologist; James Dunbar, retired Archaeologist with the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research and many other knowledgeable professionals.

On Saturday, October 6, the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the Panhandle Archaeological Society at Tallahassee will be co-hosting a Public Archaeology Education Day from 9:30am to 5pm on the ground floor of the Monticello Opera House. This is an opportunity for the public to learn various ways to get involved in local archaeological and historic preservation. The public is also invited to bring any artifacts that they may have found on their property. Archaeologist from various organizations in the area will be on hand to help identify any artifacts brought in. Please be mindful of the local, state and federal laws when collecting artifacts. It is unlawful to collect artifacts from state or federal lands or on lands which you do not have permission to do so. Additionally, please remember that artifacts can only tell us so much. It is the context in which it is found that can provide us with the most information. Before you do remove an artifact from your garden or yard, consider taking a second to take a photograph of it before you remove it and perhaps making its location on a map. You can use a common item, such as a coin, as a scale simply by placing it next to the item in the photograph. This will help us possibly provide more information about the potential archaeological site that exists on your property and you will be helping archaeologists contribute to our understanding of our state’s great history.

We hope that you will consider joining us for what is sure to be a wonderful conference. Monticello is a beautiful location for such a conference, as the town has such a rich history. So while there, be sure to take some time to explore local sites.


Society for Historical Archaeology 2012 Conference in Review

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Barbara Hines, blog author, visiting Ft. McHenry.

This past week I met up with historical archaeologists from around the world in Baltimore for the  45th Annual Society for Historical Archaeology Conference. The first lecture I

Original cross brace of the flag pole at Ft. McHenry, discovered by archaeologists.

attended was the keynote speaker, Eamonn P. Kelly, who is keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland. He is in charge of the Irish Archaeological Collections and gave a wonderful talk titled, “Secrets of the Bog Bodies”.  I attended multiple paper sessions throughout the week, some on terrestrial archaeology and others on underwater topics. Session topics ranged from the public interpretation of shipwrecks (where Dr. Della Scott-Ireton, Director of FPAN Northwest,  unveiled the SSEAS program, which stands for Submerged Sites Education and Stewardship program) to the African Diaspora in a Global Context (where Monica Beck, with UWF, gave a paper on the Ormans and Merchantilism in the Port of Apalachicola. Many will remember Monica from the Orman House project). In addition I attended a great session titled, “Three-Minute Material Culture Forum: Artifacts and Identities”. During this panel each speaker has three minutes to discuss an artifact and what we can learn from it. After every five or so speakers there is time for group discussion. It was a great session and I thought it was such an innovative way to get a glimpse into archaeology from around different areas around the world! Don’t worry, I am keeping this format in mind for future public outreach events in the North Central region!

In addition to all the paper sessions, I attended the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC)  meeting. As a member of the committee, the social media liaison for the

The Baltimore Civil War Museum

committee and the liaison to the Public Education and Interpretation Committee (PEIC), I had a lot to discuss! If you like this blog, you should also check out the SHA blog to see what they have going on! The blog has just been launched, so there is a ton of brand new content! Speaking of the PEIC, they put on a phenomenal Public Archaeology Day at Fort McHenry. While there I had the chance to explore the fort and learn all about the history of the Star Spangled Banner! Becky O’Sullivan, FPAN intern at our West Central office, joined me on the tour. After that, we took some time to see other historic sites throughout the city of Baltimore. There is a ton of history in Baltimore, more than I could see in half a day! We stopped in at the Baltimore Civil War Museum; saw the Phoenix Shot Tower (where lead shot used to be manufactured); scoped out the Civil War Battleship, Constellation; visited the historic cemetery where Edgar Allen Poe is buried, and toured the historic neighborhood located throughout Baltimore. Of course, no tour of Baltimore would be complete without eating some crab! So for lunch, Becky and I stopped in at one of the many seafood restaurants in Baltimore and had ourselves a delicious crab cake! All in all, I would say that the 2012 SHA Conference was a great success

Edgar Allen Poe's grave marker at his original grave site.

and I came home with a wealth of knowledge and a renewed appreciation of our country’s history!