Cocoa canoe washed up by Hurricane Irma may date to 1600s

There's a 50-50 chance that the wood used to make the canoe that washed ashore in Cocoa during Hurricane Irma dates between 1640 and 1680 — generations before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The dugout canoe was discovered Sept. 11 along the Indian River Lagoon shoreline by Cocoa photographer Randy "Shots" Lathrop. He was checking out hurricane damages on his bicycle in the Indian River Drive neighborhood.

A Florida Division of Historical Resources archaeologist inspected the 15-foot log vessel, and radiocarbon dating results were released Thursday. The tests determined there is:

• A 50 percent probability the wood used to make the canoe dates between 1640 to 1680.

• A 37.2 percent probability the wood dates between 1760 to 1818.

• An 8.6 percent probability that it dates to 1930 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," said Sarah Revell, Florida Department of State spokeswoman.

"The canoe 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," she said.

Native Americans, Europeans, and American settlers used canoes for transportation throughout Florida history. The Cocoa canoe features square-headed iron nails, small splotches of possible red and white paint, and what may be "rope burns" notched in the wood. Lathrop suspects that an outrigger may have been attached at one time.

"I didn't think it'd be that old," Lathrop said of the canoe, which has attracted national media attention. "I'm no expert, but I was placing it somewhere in the middle-1800s, frankly. I was surprised. And it was good news."

Revell offered some possible explanations. In one scenario, the canoe was made in the 1800s or 1900s, but from an old log.

Or, perhaps the canoe was made in the 1600s or 1700s, saw use for many years, and was modified over time.

Then again, though the probability is lower, someone could have crafted the canoe during the 1900s, she said.

"Florida has the highest concentration of dugout canoes in the world. We have more than 400 documented dugout canoes in our state. Each canoe is important in that it adds to our database and helps fill out the picture of how people used these canoes over thousands of years," Revell said.

"This canoe is unique in that the radiocarbon dating indicates the wood is very old, but it has features that indicate it is more modern — so it is a bit of a mystery," she said. 

University of South Florida researchers have created a 3-D model of the canoe, which was stored in a Cocoa freshwater pond shortly after its discovery. The species of tree has not yet been determined, Revell said.

Thursday morning, Julie Duggins, archaeology supervisor with the Division of Historical Resources, picked up the canoe and transported it to a Tallahassee conservation laboratory.

"The process of preserving a canoe requires a great deal of patience and expertise. It could take a year or longer to complete the preservation process," Revell said.

"The canoe will first go through a desalinization process and any algae on the exterior will be removed. It will then be placed in a bath of polyethylene glycol for a year or more, which strengthens the structure of the wood and prevents shrinking or expanding," she said.

Ultimately, the canoe may be placed on permanent display in Brevard County.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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