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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Prehistoric Logboat Conservation

In 2009, I had the opportunity to assist Sarah Watkins-Kenney and Lauren McMillan with taking samples from logboats at Pettigrew State Park. These boats had undergone sucrose conservation treatments in the 1980s and will need to be retreated because of the increasing deterioration of both sucrose and boats. The logboats were on display in a small shed near the lake which offered some protection from pollutants and weather conditions. The lack of temperature controls within this building led to an increased rate of sucrose deterioration.

The logboats are now awaiting conservation in an environmentally controlled building and their old shack has been demolished. These two canoes were one of a total of thirty canoes found in Lake Phelps. These were discovered in 1985 and twenty three were recorded in the late 80s.

Logboat from Lake Phelps at Pettigrew State Park. Photo by Lauren McMillan.
The Maritime Studies Conservation Lab at East Carolina University is currently conserving a log boat from Georgia. Nicole Wittig and Susanne Grieve, who are overseeing the conservation of the logboat sent me the following update and picture:

Discovered in a mid-river bar, this portion of a prehistoric dugout canoe was hewn from a single log. Currently the dugout is undergoing PEG treatment and will remain in solution for several more months before the drying process begins. In the weeks to come, samples from the canoe will be placed under scanning electron microscope (SEM) to determine effectiveness of PEG impregnation.

Emily Powell and Susanne Grieve in the PEG tank, mechanically cleaning the logboat. Photo by MSCL.

This last weekend, I visited Weedon Island Preserve and learned about their long logboat.  The Weedon Island Logboat is 39'11" but may have originally been even longer. In March, the canoe was excavated and is currently undergoing the initial stages of conservation. Phyllis Kolianos and Dr. Robert Austin are overseeing this project and discusses both conservation and curation (including environmental controls and exhibit design) during news interviews.

The dugout is soaking in a PEG1450 solution. Unfortunately, algae is growing like crazy which is a very common problem with waterlogged wood conservation. The algae problem continues and a number of solutions have been attempted. I had the chance to go and take a look at this dugout and seeing it first hand helped illustrated the significance of the problem. Luckily, both Phyllis Kolianos and Dr. Robert Austin are dedicating a lot of time and research to this project, to make sure that the dugout receives the best treatment possible.

Other prehistoric canoes of the Southeast-
Chattooga Canoe, SC
Cooper River Canoe, SC
Newnan's Lake Canoes, FL
Lake Munson Canoe, FL

For two decades, maritime and nautical archaeologists have focused on shipwrecks, for the most part sea-going vessels. In the United States, there has been very little focus on prehistoric boats or vessels, but I think this is starting to change. Two of these sites, Lake Phelps and Newnan's Lake had dozens of prehistoric canoes spanning thousands of years of habitation. Where else will you find a cluster of boats that offer such a diacronic view of maritime culture? There have also been an increasing number of fish weirs recorded in archaeological ecavations (Elliott 2003; Phelps 1989). I hope that the interest in prehistoric maritime archaeology continues to grow.

Native American Fish Weir. Photo by Joe Cook,

Phelps, David S. 1989. Ancient Pots and Dugout Canoes: Indian Life as Revealed by Archaeology at Lake Phelps.

Elliott, Rita Folse. 2003. Georgia's Inland Waters.

*Additional information added September 19, 2011

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Maritime Culture by Whitney Rose Petrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License