'Place of long boats' yields ancient secret
PITHLACHOCCO, Fla. (AFP.Jiji) They lay like ancient and forgotten American Indian warriors at the bottom of Newnan's Lake, named after the much romanticized 19th century Indian fighter, Col. Daniel Newnan.
It has always been somewhat of a mystery, this shallow lake near Gainesville, Fla., which was once called Pithlachocco, meaning "place of the long boats" in the Florida Seminole Indian language.
Why, the Seminoles had always wondered, had the lake been named after these boats? Did it mean, as some believed, that the lake itself had sometime long ago been in the shape of a long boat? These days no one is wondering anymore.
In what has been the greatest single discovery in North America of prehistoric Indian canoes, Florida state archaeologists claim that many of them date as far back as 3,000 B.C. and hint at a hunting and gathering society that ran concurrent with Archaic Greece and Pharaonic Egypt.
"Out of the 87 canoes we found, 36 fell between the ages of 3,000 B.C. and 1,000 B.C.," says Florida State Archaeologist Melissa Memory.
"They were made from logs, and in fact looked like modified logs. Each was 4.5 to 9.5 meters long. And they were constructed by burning the wood at the center and then scraping out the charcoal with stone and shell tools."
The find, Memory insists, is more important than the recent Miami Circle discovery of 1998, if only because the canoes are older. The Miami Circle, which is now believed to be the foundation for an American Indian council house or chief's house, only dated back to 300 B.C.
"Moreover," she said, "the fact that there are 5,000 year-old canoes at all proves that the Indians of this particular time were settling down, getting away from their nomadic past, and adapting to their particular environments."
Memory, who is employed with the Bureau of Archaeological Research (an agency of the Florida Department of State), began studying the canoes soon after their recent discovery was made last May independently by a lake resident and a group of Gainesville East Side High School students.
Her team of archaeologists believe this cache of canoes point to the presence of a large village site along the north shore that could have been inhabited from 1,000 B.C. to 1,000 A.D.
Aerial photographs would seem to confirm this, as does the recovery of several artifacts such as stone spear points, stone knives, ceramic vessels and some wooden fish traps.
"Interestingly, the 52 canoes that Memory's team radiocarbon-dated were found to cluster into three time periods" explains Florida Museum of Natural History Archaeologist Gerald Milanich.
Thirty-six canoes were found from the Late Archaic Period (from 3,000 to 1,000 B.C.); four canoes were from the Deptford Culture Period (from 700 to 300 B.C.); and 12 were from the Alachua Culture Period (from 700 to 1500 A.D.).
All of these time periods would appear to predate the Florida Seminoles, although the tribe strongly disagrees and is currently seeking ways they can protect what they see as their cultural find.
Now that all of the fieldwork is over, Memory has covered the canoes back up with sand to protect them from the wind and sun.
"The canoes are too spongy from their saturation over thousands of years with water to be saved. So it's difficult to think about removing them."