Lecturer Reflects History of Canoes

Lisa Clair ’21, Life & Style Editor

Emeritus Professor at Duke University, Dr. Peter H. Wood, presented a lecture about the importance of canoes in North America, specifically ancient dugout canoes and how they are a recent discovery. According to Wood, canoes are a large puzzle piece that now explains how materials were transported from community to community.

Throughout the lecture, Wood emphasized the importance of discovering dugout canoes, especially in areas surrounding Cahokia, IL and the Mississippi/Missouri watershed. Wood likened the recent discovery of canoes to “studying American culture for years and then discovering that we have cars.” Rivers were used for travel by Native Americans and European settlers and as a way to help export materials from one community to the next. Dugout canoes were extremely important to Native American society for both social and economic reasons, according to Wood.  

Wood also focused on the universal construction of dugout canoes, how the trees in the surrounding environment affected the canoes and how dugout canoes inspired construction of wooden ships until roughly the World War Two era. 

According to Wood, archaeologists have little evidence to work with due to natural causes and most of these ancient dugout canoes are now deteriorated. Wood suggested scholars examine written records from certain eras in an attempt to scour for new information. 

Attendees were interested in Wood’s work and the topic of his lecture. Christopher Bilodeau, associate professor of history, said Wood’s work is “wonderfully interdisciplinary.” Bilodeau also appreciated Wood’s incorporation of archaeological, anthropological and historical evidence because it makes the topic “[…]very comprehensible and very understandable for a lay audience, while simultaneously getting to very important historical issues.” 

Henry DeGarmo’22 said Wood’s topics in his lecture create a new way of thinking about different cultures in history. “[W]e can learn so much as a culture and then discover something as big and new such as this that we never could have considered,” said DeGarmo. DeGarmo continued that there are continuous discoveries in history and anthropology.  “It’s a never ending process,” DeGarmo said, “[…]it’s so interesting to see how truly little we know.”

“Missing the Boat: Ancient Dugout Canoes in the Mississippi-Missouri Watershed” took place on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 6:00 p.m. in Denny 317. The lecture was sponsored by the departments of Anthropology and Archaeology and by the Archaeological Institute of America, according to the Dickinson College website.