Dugout canoe exhibit extended Exploring the vessel’s history and importance

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A 400-year-old pine dugout canoe. .
Brad Deramus looks at a bald cypress tree canoe more than 26-feet long constructed by Chickasaws in 1500.
Brad Deramus, director of operations for the Chickasaw Cultural Center, touches a centuries-old remnant of a dugout canoe found by Florida high schools students in 2000.
This old canoe is preserved with Fiberglass so children can step in for pictures.

Dugout canoe exhibit extended
Exploring the vessel’s history and importance

SULPHUR – Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur is one of the state’s many must-see attractions, drawing more than 300,000 visitors since it opened in 2010.

It’s a celebration of Chickasaw history and culture and the largest single-tribe cultural center in the nation.

That’s reason enough for a visit, but here’s one more. “Dugout Canoes: Paddling Through the Americas,” an exhibit on loan from Florida, has been extended through Sept. 27.

Skillfully crafted dugout canoes allowed Native Americans to explore beyond their immediate surroundings and haul furs and other goods to trade markets.

In 2000, a cache of ancient dugout canoes was found by a group of high school students from Gainesville, Fla. It is believed to be the largest discovery of its kind.

What looked like logs, barely visible in a drought-stricken lake, turned out to be 101 dugout canoes, many intact but buried too deep and on top of each other to be safely removed. Lab tests showed the canoes were 500 to 5,000 years old.

That discovery led to the exhibit, which opened first in Florida. It explores the history and importance of the vessel.

While none of the canoes discovered in the lake are included in the Chickasaw Cultural Center exhibit, remnants from that find and others in the area are on view. A video and display also highlight the Florida discovery and its significance.

One of the showpieces is a 400-year-old pine dugout canoe. Tools to make the vehicles — some dating to 600 A.D. – are also on display. Making a canoe was a lengthy process, from taking down a tree, working weeks to burn, carve and scrap the interior and then finish it so it was water worthy. Guides are available to answer questions and explain tools and techniques.

Visitors can touch many of the display items, feel the texture and see what could be accomplished with primitive tools. Stones, paddles and fishing gear are included in the exhibit.

A century old dugout canoe that has been preserved with Fiberglass is especially tempting for children, who can shed their shoes, step in and imagine paddling down a river.

Interactive stations allow visitors to use a stencil to decorate their own paddle and create a rubbing of a Mayan image showing the “paddler Gods.”

Displayed in the art gallery away from the main dugout exhibit is a huge canoe estimated to be 514 years old. Discovered intact and preserved from a swamp in the Mississippi Delta, it is on loan from the Department of Mississippi Archives and History to complement the exhibit.

The 26-foot-long canoe weighs more than 1,000 pounds and is made from a single bald cypress tree.

The Chickasaw Cultural Center is at 867 Charles Cooper Memorial Drive in Sulphur. For more information, call (580) 622-7130 or go to chickasawculturalcenter.com.

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