Dugout Canoes-Canoes in the Lab


What happens to an old piece of wood in
water? When a piece of wood is submerged in water for a long time, the woody
structure starts to break down. Waterlogged wood must remain wet from the field
to the lab. Once in the lab, I clean the wood with tap water to remove the dirt,
algae and other microorganisms. To identify wood, I first take a small
sample from the artifact that is a thin enough section to see the individual
cells. I place the thin section on a slide and stain it to enhance the cell
structure and other anatomical features. After we take an archaeological sample
and make the thin sections of the wood so that we can get a fingerprint, we take
them into the laboratory and put them under the microscope so that we can
compare modern wood with prehistoric woods from the archaeological site using
three different views: a cross-section. and two others. It’s a combination of
those three that enables us to identify wood correctly. One of the other things
that we can do with archaeological remains, like prehistoric dugouts, is to
take wood samples and send them to laboratories where they can actually do
c-14 and other molecular type dating methods so that we can determine how old
those wood samples are from these canoes. I love archaeobotany because it
allows me to do all sorts of different things about plant remains and how
people used plants in the past. The treatment of these wooden artifacts is
important because so many of them have been recovered in the past that were never
treated. And when they’re not treated, they simply fall apart with time. So
those artifacts are lost to us. What we have to do with the preservation is to
substitute the water that’s in the wood cells with something else that will
bolster them up so that when the artifact is slowly dried after treatment,
it will retain its shape. You don’t want to have the
longitudinal and radial and tangential cracking that you would get if the piece
was not treated. This board is very similar to a dugout canoe in that they
will both receive treatment in polyethylene glycol, The main difference
is that the canoe, being larger, will require treatment for about two to three
years, and the mortar here would probably be in treatment for about one year.
Wooden artifacts are rare throughout the Americas and we need to do everything we
can to preserve them. They represent a part of the culture that’s easily lost,
if not properly preserved. To me, every site’s different–every site tells a
different story–and that’s what makes my life exciting, because every day, and
every time I go to a different archaeological site, I learn to use my
trade in many different ways to answer many different questions. you

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