On the trail of Florida’s ancient canoes
Rick Schulting is collaborating with colleagues in the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research and the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Peabody Museum of Anthropology and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in a project aimed at sourcing the ancient canoes of Florida using strontium isotope analysis.
Lake Pierce Canoe. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Archaeological Research
Some 400 prehistoric and protohistoric dugout canoes have been recovered from Florida's inland waterways. Most striking is their clear clustering, with many found in large groups of up to 100 (e.g., Newnans Lake). These locations may represent canoe caches, found at the headwaters of Florida's major east-west watersheds. We propose to investigate the origins of a sample of 50 canoes using strontium isotope analysis. Strontium isotopes are taken up in groundwater during a tree's growth. The ratio of two isotopes of strontium (87Sr/86Sr) vary according to the age and type of bedrock. Florida's main geological formations are oriented north-south, and so the greatest variability is generally encountered when moving east-west. An important part of the project is the establishment of baseline values for modern trees growing in a varity of locations representing the different geologies present. The isotopic analysis of the canoes at selected locations should enable us to determine the proportion that are 'local' to the geology of that region, compared to those originating further afield. Furthermore, because over 100 canoes have been directly radiocarbon dated, we will be able to begin to investigate change over time in the proportion of local/distant canoes present at particular locations, with implications for the dynamic expansion and contraction of communication/exchange networks over time. The project results will be placed within the wider context of Floridan prehistory, with its evidence of changing intensity of contact.
The research is being undertaken in collaboration with Christophe Snoeck of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Julie Duggins of the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, Donna Ruhl and Neill Wallis of the Florida Museum of Natural History, and Ryan Wheeler of the Peabody Museum of Anthropology.
Mandarin Lake canoe, North Florida. Photo courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History (Taken by Kristen Grace)
One of over 100 canoes from Newnans Lake. Photo courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History (taken by Jeff Gage)