7-year-old finds dugout canoe during scuba lesson

Seven-year-old Koen Ergle found a dugout canoe that could be hundreds, even thousands of years old, while taking scuba diving lessons with his grandfather in Owen Lake in the Ocala National Forest east of Ocala, Florida. Former Marion County sheriff Ken Ergle and his grandson Koen were scuba diving in eight feet of water when Koen saw a piece of dark wood. His grandfather dismissed it as scrap from an old dock, but the boy insisted they investigate.

“He was on my secondary respirator and I could hear him making noises and pointing to the wood,” Ken Ergle said. “I started fanning the sand off and still wasn’t quite sure what it was.”

Koen said it looked like a canoe.

After two weekends of digging, what emerged was indeed a nearly 20-foot long canoe.

“This is very complete, this is in very good shape. These are the ones we can really learn from,” said Julia Byrd, senior archaeologist for the Bureau of Archaeological Research, Division of Historical Resources, who was on site Thursday.

There are still indications in the wood of how the canoe was crafted. Charred areas in the dug-out are remnants of the burning that was done to hollow out of the log and make a suitably concave interior.

Julia Byrd photographed the canoe, took detailed measurements and samples. The samples will be analyzed to determine which wood the canoe is made out of and to radiocarbon date it. Native Americans lived in the area starting 15,000 years ago, so the canoe could be pre-historic or from more recent history. A shard of Native American pottery was discovered near the canoe and it’s in a style dating back 2,000 years, but that could be a coincidence.

The Ergle family has donated the canoe to the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology.

“We are just tickled that the family decided to donate it to the museum. What we are trying to do is get nice quality finds from Marion County. This is an extremely good quality find,” said Lee Brown, who is affiliated with the museum.

Next up for the canoe is two years of drying. The moisture must be extracted very gradually to ensure the wood doesn’t warp and crack. This can be done using PEG like with the Mary Rose, freeze drying like with La Belle or low, long heat like with the bog oak kiln. In this case, however, experts will be wrapping it in plastic to ensure it dries slowly.