Photo | USA Archeology Museum
Dr. Greg Waselkov recently led the excavation of a 1,200-year-old canoe canal on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. He’ll discuss the findings on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 6 p.m. at the USA Marx Library in Mobile.
Ancient tribes living on the Fort Morgan Peninsula some 1,400 years ago who wanted to travel from Mobile Bay to other areas on the coast faced a formidable trip in a dugout canoe.
One way to trim time and effort off these travels for trade and transportation was to dig canoe canals to connect large bodies of water and make this travel easier.
“We know ancient Native Americans had extensive trade and travel routes around the continent,” Dr. Greg Waselkov of the University of South Alabama (USA) said.
One such canal was discovered in recent years in Gulf Shores along the Fort Morgan Peninsula. On Feb. 7 Waselkov, a USA professor emeritus, will give a talk on “An Ancient Canoe Canal in Gulf Shores, Alabama” at the USA Marx Library (note: this event has been moved from the Archaeology Museum due to intense interest). It is free, open to the public and begins at 6 p.m.
“This canal would have saved many hours of paddling for those wishing to go from Mobile Bay to the Pensacola or Biloxi areas and beyond,” Waselkov said. “And it would have made from much safer travel in the back bays, by avoiding the open waters of the Gulf. This was one exceptional piece of a very large transportation system of great antiquity.”
The canal was about a half-mile long and connected Oyster Bay to Little Lagoon, giving a direct connection from Mobile Bay to the Gulf, Waselkov said. It was originally about 30 feet wide and six to eight feet deep. While most of it is indiscernible there are at least two existing sections of the canal that have not been covered by the sands of time.
“There are two well-preserved sections of the Gulf Shores canal, each about 400 feet long,” Waselkov said. “The southernmost section is the canal’s southern terminus where it entered Little Lagoon, and this part is owned by the city of Gulf Shores, so its preservation seems assured. This may be the westernmost ancient canoe canal yet identified in the Southeast. The city of Gulf Shores plans to highlight a preserved section of the canal in a heritage trail.”
Waselkov said he began hearing about the canal about two years ago from locals who asked USA to investigate.
“People living in the area of Fort Morgan Peninsula have always known about the feature and have long attributed it to ancient Native Americans,” Waselkov said. “It was known as the ‘Indian ditch’ in the 20th century. Harry King, a longtime resident of Gulf Shores, took a keen interest in the feature some years ago and he asked me to investigate it. In February 2017 we began small-scale excavations with the help of volunteers in the canal and an adjacent shell midden, and we excavated a cross section through the canal last fall.”
While there were likely more in the area that have faded with time, it is still a rare find for this part of the Southeast, Waselkov said.
“The only other similarly well-preserved portion of an ancient dugout canoe canal is in Everglades National Park, so the existence of one in our own backyard is pretty extraordinary,” he said.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).