ST. PETERSBURG – More than 1,000 years ago it was their station wagon.
On Tuesday, a 40-foot canoe that helped natives based in the area of Weedon Island trade, travel and fish was excavated from the muck and sand that covered and helped preserve it for centuries.
It’s the first prehistoric canoe found in saltwater in Florida, said Phyllis Kolianos, program coordinator at Weedon Island Preserve. Archaeologists define prehistoric in North and South America as anything prior to Columbus’ arrival.
Archaeologists had a window of opportunity during low tide and worked from 7 a.m. to noon to remove the canoe that dates to A.D. 890 and belonged to the Manasota culture during the Weedon Island late period, which lasted from A.D. 200 to A.D. 900, Kolianos said.
The canoe was excavated and then sawed into four 10-foot-long sections in an effort to better preserve it. The canoe’s base is intact, but the sides have deteriorated, Kolianos said.
The canoe was placed in a holding tank containing polyethylene glycol to help preserve it. It will remain in the tank at the Weedon Island Preserve for two years. The canoe then will be put together and displayed at the Weedon Island Preserve and Natural History Center, Kolianos said.
The canoe was discovered in 2001 when beachcomber Harold Koran saw it on the shoreline of the bay and thought it was a piece of wood board in the sand.
Because the preserve didn’t have a history center when the canoe was found, no one was informed about it for years.
In 2007, archaeologists dug around the canoe to measure it and take wood samples for carbon dating. A long pole about 3 inches in diameter also was found. The pole could have been used to propel the canoe or roll it onto shore.
The canoe once again was covered with muck to preserve it while the Weedon Island Preserve waited to raise money for the excavation and preservation.
The Friends of Weedon Island, a support group for the preserve, has committed $30,000 for excavation, preservation and to later display it, Kolianos said.
“It’s an incredible find,” Kolianos said.
The Tampa Tribune – 3/2/11 – JOSÉ PATIÑO GIRONA