Felix Shico, visitor service assistant to the Chickasaw Cultural Center, helps explain an ancient scraping tool to a tourist enjoying “Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas.”
Published September 8, 2015
SULPHUR, OKLAHOMA – In less than one month, the world-class “Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas” will be packing up and leaving the Chickasaw Cultural Center.
For a year the exhibit has been front and center giving approximately 58,000 visitors insights into how Native Americans fashioned felled tree trunks into sea-worthy vessels used in transportation, hunting, trading and even warfare.
It closes its run September 27. The exhibit has been on loan from the Florida Museum of Natural History.
The story of how such an important archeological discovery was made begins in 2000 with a group of Florida High School students. They discovered 101 ancient canoes in a dry lake bed near Gainesville. The region was experiencing a severe drought when the canoes were discovered.
Mired in muck and soil of the lake bed, students discovered remnants of dugout canoes dating back an estimated 500-1,000 years. While some of the canoes were intact, most were only scattered bits and pieces of what once were impressive vessels. The students also learned a valuable lesson: excavating the intact vessels would destroy them.
When rain returned to the area, the lake filled. Canoes left behind are now protected in water and mud. Raising them would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in restorative work; it would take years before the general public would lay eyes upon them, experts have said.
What was salvaged and preserved is on display at “Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas.” The exhibit has been augmented by the state of Florida and by the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Stone tools, axes, scraping instruments, varied shaped canoe paddles for different conditions and other intriguing artifacts – some dating to 600 A.D. – are displayed. Carved ivory scenes of fishing and hunting by ancient tribes are displayed, too.
Many of the items are “hands on.” Visitors are actually encouraged to touch, feel and examine the items retrieved from the Florida excavation site. Chickasaw Cultural Center workers have been trained to help visitors navigate the exhibit and to explain its complexities. Interactive kiosks guide visitors through the exhibit as well.
A complete 400-year-old pine tree dugout canoe is on display. Also a canoe probably made by Chickasaws in 1500 also is on display at the Aapisa’ Art Gallery as a compliment to the formal dugout exhibit housed in the Chikasha Poya wing of the Chickasaw Cultural Center.