By KEITH MORELLI of The Tampa Tribune
ST. PETERSBURG – Stuck somewhere in the muck of Weedon Island is a significant piece of history.
A 45-foot canoe, buried for more than a thousand years and used by a long-dead culture of Native Americans, worked its way to the surface, and now authorities are trying to figure out how best to preserve it.
The vessel is carved out of a single pine tree, and archaeologists say it was used to paddle over the open waters of the bay — unlike the other ancient canoes uncovered in Florida over the years, which were used to ply the calmer waters of lakes and rivers.
With the back end of the canoe broken off, it measures 39 feet, 11 inches. If the missing piece was attached, archaeologists estimate 5 more feet would be added to the length. The size of the vessel and configuration of the bow leads archaeologists to think the vessel may have been used to trade with people living some distance away.
“It’s the longest prehistoric canoe ever found in the state of Florida,” said Weedon Island Preserve Center manager Phyllis Kolianos.
“I think it’s fascinating,” she said this morning. “I think it’s a very important find, and it’s very significant. It gives us an understanding that these weren’t simple people living here, that they were probably trading with other cultures.”
The dugout is the first pre-Columbian seagoing vessel uncovered in Florida. It points to a culture that thrived in what would become the Tampa Bay area and traded with others along the Gulf of Mexico coast and beyond. The influence of the Weedon Island culture stretched to places as far away as Georgia, archaeologists say.
Kolianos said carbon dating of the canoe shows it to be about 1,100 years old.
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