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Historic canoe recovery

In the fall of 2020, a group of paddlers discovered a historic wooden dugout canoe in the Chattooga River. The following summer, the Chattooga Conservancy worked in coordination with the SC Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology (SCIAA) and the U.S. Forest Service (FS) to lead a multi-part extraction effort to preserve this unique piece of history. The canoe is now on display for public viewing at the Gauge Coffee House in Long Creek, SC.

This is actually the second dugout canoe discovery in the river in recent years, following the 2004 recovery of a canoe that was carbon-dated to the 1700s and determined to be of Native American origin. The first can now be seen at the Oconee History Museum in Walhalla, SC. Watch “The Great Canoe Rescue” about the effort on their website.

The origin of this latest canoe, whether built by Native Americans or early European settlers, is uncertain. Archaeologists at the University of South Carolina initially estimated the boat could be 200-250 years old. Hatchet or ax marks indicate it was constructed after the arrival of European settlers, and a single square nail was found in one end. We collaborated with the SCIAA and reached out to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians as we worked to piece together clues of the canoe’s origins.

Due to the remote location of the canoe, difficult terrain, and the canoe’s size, the extraction effort required extensive planning, multiple volunteers, and several work days. We carefully assessed removal options with the SCIAA and FS before getting to work. For safe transport from the river, we constructed a protective cradle for the canoe to be carried in. The first stage of the canoe recovery process involved hiking the cradle to the river, then carefully removing the canoe from its pinned position on the edge of the river and securing it into the cradle. With the guidance of a rope access professional, we then worked with a series of pulleys and winches to pull the canoe up steep slopes, floated it across the river, and hiked it out.

We approached numerous organizations in South Carolina and Georgia about housing the canoe, and ultimately, the SCIAA successfully negotiated with the Gauge Coffee House to publicly display the canoe just a short drive from the river.

The canoe recovery would not have been possible without the help of an incredible group of volunteers. Huge thanks to all who participated!

Read more: The State: Discovery of historic canoe sparks recovery effort in SC