To Do: Migrate

This paper is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Julie B. Duggins
Florida Bureau of Archeological Research, Division of Historic Resources

Florida is home to the largest concentration of dugout canoes in the world. The national significance of these resources is uncontested due to sheer sample size and because dugouts represent the oldest direct evidence of watercraft. In addition to significance, there is agreement that the fragile, organic artifacts are worthy of preservation. The Department of State’s conservation lab has treated numerous canoes over the years, and, perhaps more telling, private citizens have repeatedly paid out of pocket for PEG or spent their free time delicately unwrapping and rewrapping a slow-drying canoe. If there is agreement that Florida’s canoes are significant on a worldwide scale and worthy of preservation, why, then, are only a fraction of the hundreds of dugouts from Florida listed on the National Register of Historic Places?

I argue that restrictive National Register categories mirrored by research questions with limited breadth have reduced the number of canoe nominations from Florida. I combat both problems by reframing research questions and, more practically, by first exploring solutions in two NR categories: the Discontiguous District and the Landscape.

Conventional Categories
More of Florida’s canoes are not recognized collectively, it seems, because Florida’s canoes are physically scattered and not all individual canoes have individual research potential. Canoes are recorded as archaeological sites, therefore people assume the nomination category would be “site,” even when a district or landscape might be more appropriate. This hurdle mirrors a problem in canoe research, where analysis and documentation focuses on single canoes within constricted areas or specific time periods. Listed in 2001, the Pithlachocco Canoe Site (Newnans Lake) was nominated as a “site” with National Register boundaries much smaller than the archaeological site boundaries. The Pithlachocco Canoe Site is the world’s densest concentration of canoes in a single lake (Smith 2002), but the site does not adequately represent the full distribution of Florida’s dugouts, which spans 6,000 years of maritime navigation in lakes, rivers, creeks, and the ocean.

One underlying problem is that most canoe “sites” are in fact just a single artifact, the canoe. Canoe recording, much like other boat recording, has been highly focused on methodology and data collection from the vessel itself. Methods include detailed sketches, thin sections of wood, radiocarbon dates, and a concerted effort to stabilize the artifact. Because recording methods often lack peripheral vision, even site-level interpretations of canoes focus on the boat.

As single artifacts, and as objects recognized as archaeological sites, Florida could individually nominate many of the 423 canoes. An individual canoe may establish the earliest direct evidence of watercraft in the western hemisphere (De Leon Springs), or one unfinished canoe may illuminate canoe manufacture methods (Wakulla Unfinished Canoe). An Archaic period canoe with a thwart or projecting bow may singlehandedly overturn the notions some researchers used to hold about the unilinear nature of canoe typology (Wheeler et al. 2003). This information is important, and site-level research and individual nominations are sometimes appropriate. But, to recognize only individual significance of Florida’s canoes would be to miss an opportunity to use the largest sample size of log boats in the world. I argue that collectively, Florida’s 423 dugout canoes hold exponentially more information potential.

Discontiguous District v. Landscape
To recognize the significance of all of Florida’s canoes, there are two options: the Discontiguous District and the Landscape. I will briefly consider each with respect to Florida’s dataset.
“For scattered archaeological properties, a discontiguous district is appropriate when the deposits are related to each other through cultural affiliation, period of use, or site type” (Little et al. 2000). Covering forty-one of Florida’s sixty-seven counties, dugout canoes are dispersed and spatially discrete. The space between canoes does not diminish the significance of the resources comprising the district. As a discontiguous district, Florida’s canoes are related to each other through site type rather than cultural affiliation or period of use. As defined, a district must “possess a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites,” and as the densest concentration of canoes in the world, the canoe district would exist statewide. Recognition as a district would imply that all of Florida’s canoes represent a unified entity, even though they are dispersed across a large geographic area.

As NPS defines it, a Cultural Landscape is a “geographic area, including both natural and cultural resources . . . that has been influenced by or reflects human activity . . . “ (NPS 2013). This definition is broad enough to encompass areas of canoe use, but it stresses physical features and ignores the cognitive aspects of other landscape definitions (McClelland et al. 1999). More specific to prehistoric boats and navigation routes, a maritime cultural landscape is “the whole network of sailing routes,” which for canoes would be the riverine transportation network of interconnected lakes and waterways (Westerdahl 1992, 6). Unlike a discontiguous district, a maritime cultural landscape includes old as well as new routes, meaning the now out-of-use transportation routes can be considered. Canoes have become isolated on the modern landscape as some waterways are no longer navigable due to natural water fluctuations and man-made alterations. Last, the “ports and harbors along the coast” or the villages near canoe concentrations fall within the landscape (Westerdahl 1992, 6).

Superficially, a discontiguous district seems to be a more appropriate fit for Florida’s canoes, because the National Register definition for landscape currently focuses on physical elements not cognitive constructs implied by physical elements (NPS 2013). Most of Florida’s canoe sites lack the classic associated features of a port. Almost no canoe sites have associated docks, or physical evidence of interface between the water and the land. Many canoe sites probably lie adjacent to villages or campsites, but most adjacent uplands are unsurveyed, so no sites have yet been identified.

Whether through a district nomination or a landscape nomination, canoes fall under Criterion D: “have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.” What is the information Florida’s canoes might collectively yield? And, should the nature of the information influence the category of recognition? To nominate canoes as a discontiguous district held together by site type and separated in space, is to imply that we are analyzing canoes site by site.
But what if it is the spatial relationships themselves that yield important information? Recent research suggests that the information potential of Florida’s dugout canoes lies not in the discrete objects but, rather, in the association of canoes with navigable water bodies. And despite the lack of associated villages and ports, if this association and context are the important information in prehistory and history, it follows that one might use a Maritime Cultural Landscape to recognize the context, rather than a Discontiguous District to recognize the site type.

Why Are Florida’s Canoes Significant?
Over the past three years, my agency has digitized the dugout canoe files—transforming a physical filing cabinet into a Microsoft Access database and GIS. Digitization enables the ability to filter by one of over fifty variables, such as time period or bow shape or wood type. It was my assumption that by isolating these variables, we may begin to understand them better, and perhaps realize the potential of previously collected metrics: thin sections of wood, radiocarbon dates, and, in some cases, associated artifacts and sites.

But previous syntheses of Florida’s dugouts have already manually isolated variables, for example Newsom and Purdy’s 1990 morphological typology. In another synthesis and reevaluation ten years later, Wheeler et al. (2003) overturned the teleological concepts within this typology by focusing on Archaic period canoes from a single lake.
Somewhat ironically, despite the arduous journey of separating all the canoe data into seventy-four fields, my recent research on canoe distribution suggests that looking at the entire dataset, rather than picking out one or two canoe features, will capitalize on the information potential of dugouts. Therefore, it is not the database and GIS’s power to isolate variables that has provided the most insight, but it is the ability to compile all of the data in one digital location, zoom out, and infer broad patterns by asking big anthropological questions. I have found that the important anthropological information potential of Florida’s dugouts lies not in measurements and wood samples from the boats themselves, but in a deliberate consideration of overall canoe distribution in space and time.

Analyzed together, with consideration of the spatial distribution across Florida and the temporal span of 6,000 years, canoes have the potential to answer questions bigger than site-specific research. Big questions I am ready to ask are “Now that we have established that canoe morphology does not indicate a chronological typology, what do different canoe shapes indicate?” (Curci 2006; Wheeler et al. 2003). “Are canoe shapes functionally different or are shapes indicative of stylistic changes?” “If stylistic, can we begin to make inferences about canoe use within social groups or geographic culture areas?” “Geographically, how do Florida’s prehistoric populations map on to the landscape of rivers and lakes?” and “Do prehistoric populations and historic period groups use navigable rivers in the same way?” Archaeologists are not ready to answer all of these questions, but I am ready to answer one two-part question “Is the spatial distribution of Florida’s dugout canoes non-random? And, if it is non-random, does human behavior explain the pattern?”

First, distribution of canoes in space is non-random. The majority of canoes come from the lakes district in north-central Florida, nevermind for a moment that one-fourth of the entire canoe sample comes from a single lake. These observations do not require GIS, as University of Florida researchers drew this conclusion twenty-five years ago. But “does human behavior explain the pattern?” In 1990, Newsom and Purdy argued that the explanations for the non-random distribution did not lie in patterned human behavior, but instead in (1) environments conducive to preservation, and (2) researcher bias—aside, look up, which I have to point out meant proximity to the University of Florida—(Newsom and Purdy 1990, 167). In their own words, Newsom and Purdy wrote that the distribution was “ . . . more of a function of geology and hydrology than a reflection of the greater cultural importance of the dugout in the Northcentral highlands” (1990, 167).

I disagree and argue that human behavior explains the non-random spatial distribution. Although researcher bias and preservation play roles in shaping the canoe dataset, I look to other factors that may play a part, namely, a geographic distribution favoring edges of basins or what I call “drop spots” at major transportation interchanges. Westerdahl (1992, 6) calls these areas “transit points,” or “places where a river-based cultural area meets the outer world.”
In the interest of time, I will not explain the entire drop-spot hypothesis by presenting specific analyses of the data, and I will not even describe the ethnohistoric evidence we have for canoe caching. Instead, I have chosen to use four simple examples of canoe concentrations to illustrate my point. These four sites, Pithlachocco, Stricklin’s Peat Bog, Lake Hollingsworth, and Lake Trafford, represent the four largest canoe sites in Florida. Notice that the first two examples are in the North-Central Lakes Region, but, importantly, the second two are in Central Florida and South Florida. I concur with Newsom and Purdy that the lakes region is of paramount significance, but I will demonstrate why I have concluded that the concentrations of canoes in the lakes district reflects the area’s cultural importance as a major interchange, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico.

First I should orient you on Florida’s natural landscape. Florida has a central ridge, which acts like the continental divide. Rivers west of the ridge drain to the Gulf of Mexico, while rivers east of the divide drain to the Atlantic Ocean. The pre-drainage Everglades used to have a prehistoric extent. Florida has nine major basins, three drainage directions, and 314 plotted prehistoric and historic canoe locations. Each of Florida’s four largest canoe concentrations sits at the edge of two drainage basins near the headwaters of a river. The first example is Pithlachocco, the densest site with 101 canoes. What is now called Newnans Lake used to feed into a once wet Payne’s Prairie, which was connected to Orange Creek and eventually fed into the St. Johns River. The St. Johns, which flows northward, ultimately flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Just ten miles to the northeast by overland travel is Lake Santa Fe, which flows into the Santa Fe River, which meets the Suwannee River and ultimately flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Where does the concentration of canoes at Pithlachocco lie? On a relict of the northeastern shore, the closest point to the interchange with transportation to the Gulf of Mexico.

Second, Stricklin’s Peat Bog is also near Lake Santa Fe, located approximately ten miles to the Northeast. With nineteen canoes, it is the second largest canoe concentration from Florida. Stricklin’s is situated on the western edge of the St. Johns River Basin, connected to the Atlantic through creeks that feed into the St. Johns. Less than ten miles by overland travel is Lake Santa Fe, which feeds into the Santa Fe River, and reaches the Gulf through the Suwannee River.
Again, this concentration of canoes is situated in a critical natural environment, at the same Gulf to Atlantic junction. Yet Stricklin’s represents a different interchange because although Pithlachocco and Stricklin’s Peat bog are only twenty miles by overland travel, by river travel they are 125 miles apart. Stricklin’s may represent the north St. Johns junction, while Pithlachocco represents the Middle St. Johns station. This major interchange is even easier to see when all canoes are mapped. Note that the canoe locations are not within the St. Johns Basin or within the Suwannee Basin, but the concentration lies at the interface between the two.
The third largest canoe site is Lake Hollingsworth with fourteen canoes, located at the very northern extent of the Peace River watershed. Lake Hollingsworth is connected to Lake Hancock, which flows into the Peace River and eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico. Less than five miles by overland travel is the Alafia River, which connects to the Gulf. Also less than five miles from Lake Hollingsworth is Blackwater Creek, which flows to the Gulf via the Hillsborough River.

Lastly, in South Florida, is Lake Trafford, a site with ten canoes. Lake Trafford is located at the westernmost extent of the historic Everglades and at the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee Basin. The Everglades reach the Gulf, the Keys, and the Atlantic. Lake Trafford lies at the headwaters of Corkscrew Swamp, which flows through the Imperial to the Gulf of Mexico.
To summarize, the distribution is nonrandom, and it can be explained by human behavior. The natural landscape influenced human use, and the cultural landscape is a controlling of the natural environment. The location of Florida’s most dense canoe sites at the beginnings and ends of navigable waterways indicates important landscapes used as transportation interchanges. These interchanges create linkages between the riverine routes and the overland routes, representing a physical interface between the water and the land.

Drawing on cultural geography, I identify interchanges as critical transit points in a greater cross-basin transportation network. From this perspective, the natural landscape, or the orientation and location of rivers within what is now Florida, influenced human interaction and use of this landscape. The cultural landscapes that emerged and persisted over time have the potential to help archaeologists and historians recreate specific ancient mental maps. Thus, the mental imprinting and mapping of functional attributes of the environment (Lofgren 1981 in Westerdahl 1992), or cognitive landscape, is writ large in a canoe distribution that shows specific spatial connections. These spaces became places on the mental map, existing only because the location was embedded with cultural meaning (Dappert 2011, 247).

The nonrandom distribution in space is repeated and mirrored over time. In an effort to make accurate and specific statements about canoe use, researchers have tended to separate the dataset by time period (e.g., Wheeler et al. 2003; Newsom and Purdy 1990; Hartmann 1996; Meide 1995), such as Kandare’s 1983 conclusions about Mississippian canoes or Wheeler et al.’s Archaic period canoes (Wheeler et al. 2003). Formerly, archaeologists viewed outlying dates as a problem. We should probably recondition ourselves, at least in the case of canoes, to view such dates not as problematic, but as evidence for continuity of use.
The largest canoe sites are all multicomponent. Radiocarbon dates from Lake Trafford range from 1420 BP to 250 BP. Canoes from Stricklin’s Peat Bog dated between 1000 BP and 320 BP. And Pithlachocco canoes range from 4210 BP to 460 BP. Multicomponent canoe sites are important because they indicate a “tradition of usage.” Further evidence that a mental map exists and persists: canoe sites with long time spans are evidence of “well-used havens and routes” (Westerdahl 1992, 8), which implies that the cognitive landscape was so real and so important that the central places on the mental map remained relevant generation after generation.

Place names like “Pithlachocco,” meaning “place of many long boats” (Smith 2002, 150), demonstrate the importance and persistence of places over time. Seventy percent of the boats at Pithlachocco are Archaic, yet the place name comes from the Miccosukee language, as recorded at contact. The long tradition of use demonstrates that generation after generation learned that Pithlachocco, Trafford, Stricklin’s and Hollingsworth were places, important enough to incorporate into the cognitive landscape.

To summarize, canoes are significant and worthy of preservation but are typically studied site by site or canoe by canoe. Some of Florida’s canoes hold information at an individual scale, but at a large scale, Florida’s canoes collectively hold answers to bigger research questions, such as “does human behavior explain the nonrandom distribution of canoes?”

The densest concentration of canoes in the world could be viewed either as discontinuous resources in a district or as elements of a landscape, more specifically, a maritime cultural landscape. Preservationists are left with a choice between the two categories. I regard the source of canoe significance as influential in making this decision; in other words, the scale of significance relates to the category of nomination.

In response to big research questions, I identified four maritime cultural landscapes in Florida’s canoes. These landscapes recognize the significance of the space as a place on the natural landscape and long traditions of usage in addition to the log boat. The underlying importance of identifying ancient landscapes in concentrations of canoes is a better understanding of the cultural geography of Florida’s ancient groups, and a realization that log boats were not static objects scattered across Florida. They were made, used, and deposited by humans. Viewing Florida’s canoes collectively as a maritime cultural landscape is the first step in recognizing that the log boats hold value beyond the information stored in the carved wood alone, and that the contexts—in addition to the objects—are worthy of preservation.

References Cited
Curci, Jessica Lee. 2006. “Logboats of the Southeastern United States: Investigating the Question of Form.” Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Coastal Resources Management, East Carolina University, Greenville.

Dappert, Claire P. 2011. “US Shipbuilding Activities at American River, South Australia: Finding Significance of ‘Place’ in the Maritime Cultural Landscape,” in The Archaeology of Maritime Landscapes: When the Land Meets the Sea, edited by B. Ford. (New York: Springer), 247-66.

Kandare, Richard. 1983. “A Contextual Study of Mississippian Dugout Canoes: A Research Design for the Moundville Phase.” Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Little, Barbara, Erika Martin Seibert, Jan Townsend, John H. Sprinkle, Jr., and John Knoerl. 2000. National Register Bulletin Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Archaeological Properties. NRB 36. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Accessed online at

McClelland, Linda Flint, J. Timothy Keller, Genevieve P. Keller, and Robert Z. Melnick.1999. Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Rural Historic Landscapes. NRB 30. Accessed online at

Meide, Chuck. 1995. “The Dugout Canoe in the Americas: An Archaeological, Ethnohistorical, and Structural Overview.” Unpublished Florida State University paper, accessed online at

National Park Service (NPS). 2013. “Landscape Definitions Used by the National Register.” National Register of Historic Places Program: Landscape Initiative. Accessed online at

Newsom, Lee Ann, and Barbara A. Purdy. 1990. “Florida Canoes: A Maritime Heritage from the Past.” Florida Anthropologist 43 (3): 164-80.

Smith, Roger. 2002. “Florida Frontiers: From Ice Age to New Age,” in International Handbook of Underwater Archaeology, edited by Carol V. Ruppé and Janet F. Barstad. (New York: Springer), 143-68.

Westerdahl, Christer. 1992. “The Maritime Cultural Landscape,” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 21 (1): 5-14.

Wheeler, Ryan J., James J. Miller, Ray M. McGee, Donna Ruhl, Brenda Swann and Melissa Memory. 2003. “Archaic Period Canoes from Newnans Lake, Florida.” American Antiquity 68 (3): 533-51.

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