Dugout canoe questions

Dave Wermuth

Who hid my paddle?
A local nature center will be hosting a space for me and some canoes mid Sept. During discussion I asked about a dugout canoe that they were said to own. I was taken to the barn where it hangs and was able to take photos and measurements. I know nothing of dugouts and would be glad for any help.

What we think we know:
1. It's been hanging in the barn for 35+ years.
2. it was said to have been found in the mud somewhere near Lapeer County or SE Michigan.
3. Someone was said to have inspected it years ago and said it was not a real dugout but no one recalls who the person was or if they really knew.

What I observed:
1. It is 16' long, 12 or 13 inches wide and 8 or 9 inches deep.
2. It has what looks like bore holes in it.
3. One end is charred on the outside.
4. Tool marks might be adz like but i'm not sure.
5. The outside looks as if the bark was removed by insects and not by a man.

I can't imagine someone would go to all that work about 40 years ago and then bury it in the mud. Is there anyone who knows what this is? My photos are large file size so I'll need to copy/resize before I can post. Assuming pictures are wanted.
Dave Wermuth

Dave Wermuth

Who hid my paddle?
Photos of dugout

Ok here are the photos. I copied and resized to 50%. Full size available as emails if needed. the inside has about 40 years of debris as the canoe has hung in this spot for a long time.


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Dave Wermuth

Dave Wermuth

Who hid my paddle?

Trying again...ugh...


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Dave Wermuth

Dave Wermuth

Who hid my paddle?

that one only shows 3. I must have to wait longer to hit submit? More pics


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Morris canoe fan
In Memoriam

Sure looks like a dugout to me. I've seen several in the Caribbean, the Pacific Northwest, and at the Adirondack Museum. Could anyone tell what wood it is made of?

Just because someone discovered it 30 or 40 years ago does not necessarily determine its age. In a lake near Gainesville, Florida, a drought lowered the water level and in 2000 a bunch of old logs started to appear. Turns out they were more than 100 dugout canoes dating from 2,300 to 5,000 years ago. People continued to make dugouts even in areas were birchbark was available, such as in the Adirondacks and in Peterborough, Ontario, into the 20th century. You might inquire a bit more about where it was found. Apparently dugouts were stored on the water and later abandoned. Under the right conditions they were covered by water and mud that preserved them. If it was a lake that was at one time difficult to access, some fishermen might have built a dugout there and simply left it for use when they hiked in. In the winter, it may have been filled with rocks and submerged.

It looks like the sides on this boat were not spread out to create a more stable platform. The dugouts in Florida were similar, but usually longer.

It would be interesting to know what wood it is made of. Some dugouts in Ohio were made of white oak, but mostly pine was used in Florida. Very old dugouts were hollowed out with fire and stone or shell tools. If there's a university connection, someone might be able to have it carbon dated.


Dan Miller

cranky canoeist
Staff member
The Antique Boat Museum in Clayton has a dugout that was made in Michigan by David Shoppenagon around 1860. In researching it for an exhibit, I learned that a lot of the dugouts from the upper mid-west were made of "whitewood" (tulip poplar). In form, the ABM's canoe is quite different, but it too is very narrow (21.5" beam for a 17' length).

If you don't have a copy, look for Roberts and Shackleton "The Canoe, from Panama to the Arctic" at your local library. As I recall, it has some good information about dugouts.

Dave Wermuth

Dave Wermuth

Who hid my paddle?
That's a start. I do not know wood well but this looks like it could be spruce. We have no way to ask because there is no one to ask. One person has been at the center for 35 years and we are going on his recollection.
Dave Wermuth

Dave Wermuth

Who hid my paddle?
I have received a reply from the State archaeologist. He is doing some more checking with colleagues but suggest it may be late 18th or early 19th century and used in the logging industry. Not sure how that would be, but perhaps a timber cruiser needed to cross a lake?


New Member
They buried them in the mud to protect them from Oxygen (rot) and thieves. Hollowing dugouts with fire is a myth. Red