Path Of Discovery
When September 11th came around, the storm was nowhere to be seen. This is the day that Randy “Shots” Lathrop decided to get on his bike and take a ride down the shore of the Indian River Lagoon, which is located on the north side of Cocoa, Florida. Randy’s goal was to look around the area to take a closer a look at the damage that had been caused by Hurricane Irma. Then, he made a thrilling discovery…
The event that triggered Lathrop’s epic discovery started a few weeks prior when Hurricane Irma began its destructive course through the Caribbean. Having been made aware of its forecast of reaching the coast of Florida, State governor Rick Scott saw no choice but to announce a state of emergency to his people. This sent the people of Florida into a frenzy, with millions of people frantically stocking up on supplies and taking extreme measures to protect themselves from the storm that was approaching…
Within a matter of days, Hurricane Irma had reached Category 5 status. The State of Florida did everything in its power to prepare for such a vicious storm, opening over 700 emergency shelters. However, upon the hurricane’s arrival, many residents were left with no choice but to flee their homes. When everything was said and done, over 6.5 million people had evacuated their homes and were advised not to return until the storm had dissipated. Upon returning to their homes, Floridians braced themselves for the worst…
Damage & Destruction
When the coast was clear and Hurricane Irma had moved on to the state of Georgia, Floridians who were returning to their homes were about to witness some nasty scenes. The storm had caused so much damage, it is reported that over 65,000 buildings had been damaged by Irma, while at least 84 people lost their lives in storm-related incidents. With so many lives ruined and industries struggling to get back up and running, Florida was facing at least $50 billion worth of a damage.
Where Did This Canoe Come From?
After Hurricane Irma caused so much damage, the people of Florida struggled to see any good that came out of the natural catastrophe. However, one man found some light at the end of the tunnel when he discovered a mysterious washed-up canoe. On September 11, 2017, Randy “Shots” Lathrop was bicycling along the Indian River, minding his own business, until he noticed a strange-looking canoe washed up on the riverbed. Little did Randy know, he had just made a huge discovery…
In an interview with NBC, Randy explained just how lucky he was to stumble across such a conspicuous-looking piece of wood. “Any time we have any kind of a storm, certain parts of our coastline are just swarming with [people carrying] metal detectors, because they understand that items wash ashore after hurricanes,” he said. However, all it took was for Randy to be at the right place at the right time to discover the canoe, which became the heartbeat of this story.
While many passersby may have overlooked the canoe and driven on, Randy isn’t your typical passerby. In fact, he was immediately transfixed by the canoe. Although he wouldn’t consider himself an expert, by any means, Randy could tell it was of a hull design and that it only took one piece of wood to construct it. But probably the most important thing that Randy realized early on was that this canoe probably wasn’t new. It looked like it had been made a long time ago…
Aware that he had found something completely out of the ordinary, Randy knew that the canoe had potential and if he contacted the right people, he might be onto something huge. “I didn’t believe it, I was shocked,” he said. “Happy because it made perfect sense to me that it would end up here.” Without haste, Randy got in touch with one of his friends. However, it wasn’t any ordinary friend; he contacted this specific person because they were an archeologist…
Randy actually had good reason to be excited about his discovery. While they don’t come around that often, a number of ancient canoes, hailing from a variety of different eras, have been found in the state of Florida over the past few years alone. In fact, Florida has unearthed more prehistoric canoes than anywhere else in the country (about 200). With some of these boats being between 6,000 and 7,000 years old, Randy may have just stumbled across an ancient canoe himself. But how could he be sure?
Different Times, Different People
Florida is actually home to a canoe-riding culture that stretches back thousands of years. “We’ve got the highest concentration of dugout canoes in the world here,” Florida Bureau of Archeological Research’s Julie Duggins said. While some of the canoes that have been discovered in recent times are believed to have been made by Native Americans, others show signs of having belonged to Europeans. However, if a canoe is discovered in Florida, the state hereby owns it.
Capturing The Moment
Another reason that Randy Lathrop was riding around Florida soon after Hurricane Irma had come to an end was that he is a professional photographer, who loves nothing more than capturing incredible moments on camera. On his Facebook page, the man who goes by the nickname “Shots” has uploaded numerous photos he has taken from previous experiences. So when he stumbled across the mysterious canoe, Randy made a number of fascinating discoveries from his close attention to detail with a camera…
One of the most intriguing details that stood out to Randy about the canoe was the fact that it had square-headed iron nails. This sent Florida’s Division of Historical Resources into a frenzy, who Randy eventually got in touch with regarding the canoe. They mentioned the nails in a post on Facebook. “Overall, its appearance and the presence of a cut nail suggests it is not a pre-contact canoe,” they said. However, this was only scratching the surface, literally…
Another interesting observation that Randy made was about the colors of the wood in question. With small splotches of white and red paint, this heavily indicated that the canoe had been attached to something. Scientist Laura Smith was surprised by the type of wood the canoe was made out of. “One of the issues with the Irma Canoe is that it’s Red Cedar, which is quite unusual,” she said. “I guess this is the only canoe in the state of Florida that they recorded of this species.”
Time To Take Action
Randy was aware that he was obligated to inform someone about his discovery, due to its potential archeological significance. Therefore, he contacted the appropriate authorities about the canoe – Florida’s Division of Historical Resources. While waiting for the organization’s results, Randy made sure to protect the canoe from any further damage. So he called up a friend and, together, they took it to his place. Apparently, the canoe weighed about 700 pounds and was 15 feet long when discovered.
Randy knew that the canoe could potentially be very important, both historically and archeologically. As a proud historian, he wanted to do everything in his power ensure that it stayed safe. “As soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was,” he said. “My main concern was to secure it from harm’s way. I was able to go half a mile away and get my friend with a truck, and we struggled to get [it] into the back of the truck.”
The Cocoa Canoe
It wouldn’t take long before Randy became something of a minor celebrity around those parts. Although the canoe weighed about 700 pounds, “to me, it might as well have weighed 1,000 pounds. It’s been water soaked for years,” Randy said. Ever since his discovery became the talk of the town, people have started to refer to the canoe as the “Cocoa Canoe.” In order to keep it safe until further inspection, the canoe was relocated to a freshwater pond.
In The Lab
Eventually, Randy had it organized so that the canoe would fall in the safe hands of a team of researchers at a lab in Tallahassee. After the scientists removed all of the excess salt and algae from the canoe, they placed it in a tank full of polyethylene glycols. It was in here that the canoe would sit for 12 months. The reason for this was so that the wood would stay pure and resistant to decay for a lengthy period of time.
Time To Experiment
After months of preservation, it was finally time for the researchers to pull the canoe out of the tank and start to closely inspect it. Tests were carried out by the University of Georgia Center for Applied Isotope Studies. The results would hopefully determine not only when the canoe had been built, but also who might’ve built it. One researcher, Carla Hadden, happens to originally be from Florida. “I was lucky enough to get a sample of that canoe, and I was really excited,” she said.
Hard As Nails
Eventually, when the Division of Historical Resources returned to inspect the canoe, they pointed out the significance of the nails and how they could strongly hint at the canoe’s origins. As cut nails started being produced in the early 19th century, they struggled to believe that the vessel could be any older than that. Researchers also used carbon dating, as well as dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, to try and work out the date the canoe was constructed.
Three Possible Answers
The results that the researchers came up with were quite surprising. “When we got the results, I knew it was going to be kind of interesting to explain because rather than being able to say, ‘Oh this dates to exactly this year A.D.,’ we ended up with three discreet possible ranges,” Hadden said. “So it kind of added to the mystery of how old this canoe was rather than giving a definitive answer.”
400 Years Old?
With time, the researchers got back to Randy and shared with him their results. He couldn’t believe it when they told him that the canoe could possibly be 400 years old. “I didn’t think it’d be that old. I’m no expert, but I was placing it somewhere in the middle-1800s, frankly,” he said. “I was surprised. And it was good news.” And although the chances were that it had been built in one of three possible eras, Randy was thrilled about the potential that was clearly still there.
Despite Randy’s excitement, Florida Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell wanted to reiterate that there is still a long way to go before there is a definitive answer. “It is important to note that this gives us the probability of when the log [was] used to make the canoe died or was cut down,” she said. This means that while the canoe may have been made in the last hundred years, the tree trunk that was used may be much older.
While it’ll probably take some more time before the researchers have some concrete answers, this isn’t stopping people from getting excited about the “Cocoa Canoe.” If you are in Florida, you can actually see the canoe at Cape Canaveral City Hall. “Even though we don’t know exactly who made it and when they made it now, it’s only a matter of time before the technology catches up,” Molly Thomas said, who is the cultural programs manager at the city hall.