Ancient Native American canoe discovered in north Louisiana

Photo courtesy Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser's Office

SHREVEPORT, La. — An ancient Native American canoe that’s anywhere between 800 and 1,500 years old has been found on the bank of the Red River in Caddo Parish just northwest of Shreveport.

According to a news release from Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s office, the canoe was found on property owned by McKneely Family Partnership owned by Robin and Sharon Kavanaugh and Kay McNeely.

The canoe was found half-buried on a steep riverbank. It is 33-and-a-half feet long and up to two feet wide and two feet high. It is likely made of cypress, although the wood hasn’t been identified yet.

The bottom of the canoe still retains the rounded shape of the tree trunk, although the bark has been stripped off. The sides are vertical and one to two inches thick. It is estimated to weigh between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds, although much of this weight is due to it being waterlogged. 

The Caddo Nation has expressed interest in the canoe as they have lived in Northwest Louisiana for at least the last 1,200 years. The Osage Nation has also expressed interest in the canoe as they traded and hunted in this region over the last 1,000 years.

The canoe may represent an important historical artifact that was made and used by one of these tribes.

“This canoe links us to the past and connects us with our present. It will allow us to learn about the Native Americans and the people who lived here before us,” Nungesser said. 

Both ends of the canoe have nearly the same shape due to the double-ended style. At the ends, platforms and a step down form a distinct seat above the floor and the canoe. Carved from a single tree trunk, the Native Americans used stone tools to chip away at the wood and used fire to slowly char areas that could then be more easily scraped out. 

It would have taken many months to create a canoe of this size. Today, the canoe is about 70 percent complete because half of one side and end are missing.

“The dugout canoe is a remarkable discovery for its size and degree of preservation,” said Division of Archaeology Director Chip McGimsey. “It is a beautiful example of our American Indian heritage. It may have been used by ancestors of today’s modern tribes, giving them a direct connection to their past.”

It took a team of nearly 20 people and a bulldozer about seven hours to build a crate around the canoe to protect it and move it onto a truck.

A sample of the wood has been sent off to be radiocarbon dated at Beta Analytic, Inc., of Miami.

Officials expect to know within a week when the tree was cut down. in this instance, it is reasonable to assume that the tree was cut down to make the canoe and thus the date should reflect the canoe’s age.

The canoe was taken Thursday by truck to the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where it will be conserved and prepared for display. 

This process is anticipated to take a number of months. When the conservation process is complete, the canoe will be brought back to Louisiana and displayed at a location yet to be determined.