A dugout canoe washes ashore a Florida beach during Irma

COCOA, FL. - A submerged dugout canoe washed out of the Indian River Lagoon when Hurricane Irma's rain bands struck the Space Coast, and state historic officials await radiocarbon-dating results to reveal the boat's age.

Randy "Shots" Lathrop discovered the log canoe while bicycling and looking for storm damages Monday morning in his neighborhood along Indian River Drive, just north of State Road 528.

"Was this made by Native Americans? Was this made by shipwrecked sailors? Was this made by early pioneers?" Lathrop asked.

The canoe measures about 15 feet long, and it weighed hundreds of pounds because it was waterlogged, said Julie Duggins, a canoe expert with the Florida Division of Historical Resources.


A close-up view of the Cocoa canoe. (Photo: Courtesy of Randy "Shots" Lathrop)

The fragile watercraft is now stored in a water bath in Brevard County. If old wooden canoes are neither extremely dry nor extremely wet, they can deteriorate rapidly, Duggins said.

Canoes and log boats crafted by Native Americans, Europeans, and American settlers have been discovered at more than 200 sites across the Sunshine State, according to the department.

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These dugout canoes can range from a few hundred years old to well more than 6,000 years old, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

Many are discovered during droughts, when lake and riverbeds are exposed. During a 2000 drought, 101 dugout canoes were found at Newnans Lake near Gainesville — the world's largest trove of prehistoric canoes.

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A landscape-fine art photographer, Lathrop has shared roughly 70 pictures of the canoe with state officials. Seated at his computer Friday in his living room, he zoomed in on images that show:

  • Square-headed iron nails embedded in the wood.
  • Small splotches of what may be red and white paint.
  • Possible "rope burns" notched in the wood.

"This is the area I sort of suspect might have had an outrigger attached to it or something," Lathrop said, pointing at a photo toward the aft. "And there's one that's forward.

"Now once again, this is conjecture. But you can see the nail hole there. And these are square iron nails, very primitive," he said. 

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Lathrop notified the Division of Historical Resources after he discovered the canoe, and the department dispatched an archaeologist to the scene to inspect and document the vessel. Lathrop posted Facebook photos that were shared by nearly 75,000 people by Friday afternoon — and sparked online speculation as to the canoe's age.

Duggins said radiocarbon-dating results should be finished within the next few weeks. Plans and logistics for the canoe's long-term conservation and public display have not been finalized, she said.

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© 2017 FLORIDA TODAY


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