Facts on the Dugout Canoe

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Shipbuilding is a science and an art. One of the less complex designs, and one of the earliest, is the dugout canoe, a canoe made from a log that is hollowed out.

People have discovered dugout canoes in such places as Central Europe, East and Southeast Asia, West Africa, North America, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, New Zealand and Australia.

History: Oldest Canoes

The art of making dugout canoes stretches back into history. The process of making a dugout canoe tended to develop in areas that had a good resource of timber.

The oldest known dugout canoe was found in the Netherlands, and is known as the Pesse canoe. Carbon dating results estimate that the Pesse canoe dates from 8200 to 7600BC. Stepping forward from 8200BC to AD2011, this makes the Pesse canoe believed to be around 10,000 years old.

An 8,000-year-old dugout canoe was found in the Lower Yangzi River. Stepping back 8,000 years from AD2011 means it was constructed around 6000BC.

In North America the oldest known dugout canoes come from DeLeon Springs, Florida. These canoes have been dated to be around 6,000 years old, meaning they were constructed around 4000BC.

Around 2000BC, people from Taiwan and Malaysia made dugout canoes. In addition to carving the log, they were known to use the outrigger, a construction attached to the side of the canoe to stabilise it for oceanic travel.


Several methods exist for making dugout canoes. One method involves using fire to burn out the interior of the boot. The log was burnt down some, and then the boat builders would scrape out the interior some. Then they burnt the log out some more. The specific style of a dugout canoe depended on the culture and the canoe's intended use.

Another method doesn't use fire and just carves logs to the desired dimensions.


The kind of wood used depended on such things as the region and availability. The Polynesians used koa logs. The Iroquois used elm wood. In eastern North America, logs from the chestnut or the pine were used, and oak was used as well.


Dugout canoes aren't just the traditional way certain ethnicities used to travel on the water. The Corps of Discovery, headed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, made use of dugout canoes.

During World War II, John F. Kennedy's patrol boat the PT 109 was attacked and sank. He and the rest of the crew were found by a search party from the Solomon Islands who looked for them in dugout canoes. The Solomon Islands still make use of dugout canoes today.