Archaeologists dig up ancient canoe off Daufuskie

The Island Packet of Hilton Head

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) –  November 2012

A bit of centuries-old history has been freed from the muck off Daufuskie

The dugout canoe, probably hand-hewn in the 18th century, was first found on Turtle Island in May. Daufuskie Island residents and University of South Carolina archaeologists, aided by natural erosion around the craft, were able to break the mud’s grip earlier this month.

James Spirek, a USC underwater archaeologist, oversaw the dig and says the boat probably was hand-carved from a single log.

By whom remains a mystery.

“Based on how well this seems to be built, it suggests it was hewn with tools,” said Spirek, who also helped raise the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley from Charleston Harbor in 2000.

It may have been “Indians using iron tools. I think more than likely it was ... European.”

He hopes the canoe can one day undergo radiocarbon dating, which can determine its age within 50 years.

Daufuskie resident John Hill discovered the canoe while paddleboarding with his wife and several other outdoor enthusiasts. Hill initially mistook the craft for a piece of lumber.

It was in fact a piece of the past.

Considering the area’s rich history – one marked by Indian wars and Revolutionary and Civil war conflicts – Hill suggested the canoe might have been used in battle.

“I got a look at it when we were digging it out. It looks like something went through the back corner. Maybe that’s what ended up sinking it,” he said.

Although the vessel was found along the shore, old maps of Turtle Island suggest the area in which it was discovered was once an inlet or saltwater pond. Spirek said the canoe was probably buried bit by bit over the years.

“At least two feet or three feet (of sand) built up over it at some point in time,” he said. “That helped preserve it.”

The soil, however, was not airtight. Cracks, fissures and a barnacle on the hull suggest it was exposed to salt water.

In the weeks following the canoe’s discovery, several state archaeologists examined it and created an excavation plan. They also had to find a new home for the vessel, which is owned by the state.

Wick Scurry, owner of several businesses, including a ferry between Daufuskie and Hilton Head Island, ultimately provided that home.

Although the canoe was found mostly intact, it broke into three large pieces during the excavation. The pieces are submerged in a freshwater solution in a tank inside Scurry’s restaurant, the Old Daufuskie Crab Co.

The canoe could remain underwater there for as long as two years, a move that will help preserve it. It also will be treated with a substance that prevents cracking and warping.

The goal is simple: put the pieces back together, and with them, a small part of the past.

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