Relic of bygone culture on display in Live Oak

Ted Baker, left, poses with Camp Weed Executive Director Joe Chamberlain behind the 800-year-old dugout canoe Baker has bequeathed to the Episcopal Diocese of Florida's Camp Weed and the Cerveny Conference Center in Live Oak. (Submitted photo)

Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 12:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 12:12 p.m.

When youngsters at a Live Oak summer camp want to explore White Lake, they paddle out in sleek, factory-built fiberglass canoes.


If you go

Where: Bishop Edwin Weed Camp and Bishop Frank Cerveny Conference Center
11057 Camp Weed Place
Live Oak, FL 32060
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call for Sunday availability.
Contact: 386-364-5250

Centuries ago, people did it differently.

First, they had to find and cut down a suitable tree. Then, they would hollow it out with fire.

The past and present have come together with the addition of a preserved, nearly 1,000-year-old canoe to the Bishop Edwin Weed Camp and Bishop Frank Cerveny Conference Center in Live Oak.

The 10-foot canoe was carbon dated to 1090 A.D., said Joe Chamberlain, the executive director of the facility.

He explained that the carbon dating process is not precise and gives a range of possible ages, meaning the canoe could be between 700 and 922 years old.

In 1989, the canoe was found on property near Grandin, in Putnam County, that belonged to Florida Rock Industries, a construction mining company now owned by Vulcan Materials Co.

Florida Rock found a half dozen hollowed-out canoes, Chamberlain said, and the company had one preserved at the University of Florida.

Elise LeCompte, now the registrar at the Florida Museum of Natural History, was an anthropology graduate student who helped with the canoe's conservation.

"Most of the water-logged objects that are found have to be preserved in some way," she said, or else "they dry and crack and fall apart."

For nearly a year after the canoe's discovery, LeCompte and others soaked it in a wax and water solution, which she said "buoys up the [wood's] cell structure and keeps it from collapsing."

While the canoe was probably much lighter when it was originally used, Chamberlain said, it now weighs about 400 pounds due to the conservation process.

"That thing is heavy as iron," he said.

For the next two decades, Chamberlain said, Florida Rock displayed the canoe in the company's office building lobby in Jacksonville.

On Oct. 3, Edward "Ted" Baker, former chairman of Florida Rock and an active member of the Episcopal diocese, donated the canoe to the center.

Chamberlain said he told Baker about a discovery UF made on the center's 522-acre property that marked the site as a place where the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto passed through in 1539.

"He knew I was interested in the history of our property and the early Indians here and the Spanish's first encounters with them," Chamberlain said.

The canoe is a product of the native people who spoke the Timucua language. They flourished in north Florida until the 17th century when Spanish domination and European plagues decimated their population.

LeCompte said organic artifacts, like the canoe, help experts understand more about how the Timucua tribes lived. They are rare finds because they are not as easily preserved as stone, ceramic and glass objects.

"You can tell a little bit about a culture from those items," she said, "but to really know about the whole culture you need to have the organics as well."

The Timucua likely hollowed out the canoe with fire, Chamberlain said, and charred marks are still visible on the bottom of the canoe.

"It is very unusual to find one in that good of shape," said Susan Lance, the center's director of sales and marketing. "It was quite a find."

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