St. Petersburg, Florida – Early Tuesday morning, Pinellas County staff members and archaeologists climbed into boats and started a journey back in time.
Once they neared the shoreline of Weedon Island, the crews began the careful work of uncovering a piece of history. Using hand tools, they excavated a 40-foot dugout canoe, thought to be 1,100 years old.
The find is exciting. It’s the largest canoe ever found in Florida in a salt water environment and it helps tell the story of the Manasota Culture.
“That tells you these people were traveling on the Bay; perhaps trade, transportation, fishing,” says Phyllis Kolianos, a county archaeologist and coordinator for the Pinellas County preserve education centers.
The canoe was actually discovered 10 years ago. Harry Koran, an amateur archaeologist from Largo, was exploring the shoreline of Weedon Island looking for artifacts, when something caught his eye.
“I noticed a piece of wood in the ground, which was so perfectly in line, it looked more than just a tree branch,” says Koran, who observed all of Tuesday’s efforts to move the canoe.
To prevent the canoe from fracturing, workers cut it into sections and then brought them to shore by boat. Once out of the boat, the fragile pieces were sprayed with water and cleaned and finally lowered into a large tank containing fresh water. Over time, solutions in the tank will vary to preserve the canoe.
The preservation process is expected to take about two years and then this ancient canoe will take one more journey to a display at Weedon Island Preserve. “We have a 50-foot hallway and it will fit perfectly,” says Kolianos.
The public can hear the story and see videotape of the canoe’s excavation during a special program on March 12. It takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center.
A private group, Friends of Weedon Island, raised $30,000 for the excavation and preservation of the canoe.
www.wtsp.com – 3/2/11 – Kathryn Bursch