Dugout canoes are among the oldest forms of watercraft and were used by ancient peoples in North, Central and South America for centuries. They played an important role in their everyday lives, having an impact on everything from travel and trade to communication and politics.
The fascinating history of dugout canoes is the focus of an ongoing exhibit inside St. Augustine’s Government House.
Sponsored by the University of Florida, the exhibit tells the story behind the world’s largest archaeological find that happened near Gainesville 16 years ago. That’s when a severe drought caused water levels at Newnans Lake to fall, exposing a treasure trove of prehistoric canoes hidden for centuries. Many were made of pine while others were hollowed out of cypress trees.
“I think people have an inherent fascination with all boats and their history, precisely because they have been so important to our lives for so many thousands of years.” – Darcie MacMahon, exhibits director at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF
The centerpiece of the St. Augustine exhibit is a 21-foot-long canoe made by the Timucuan people of Florida. It was carved from a single tree and dates back more than five centuries.
A looping video shows how dugout canoes continue to be made in modern times using painstaking, age-old techniques. Another canoe on display was constructed 40 years ago on Vancouver Island and is colorfully painted to represent the crest of a Canadian family.
There are also cases that feature ancient artifacts, tools and models. Before leaving, visitors can sit in a reproduction of a dugout canoe and have a friend snap a photo.
“Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas” continues through January 2017 at Government House, 48 King Street in St. Augustine. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free.