PARRIS ISLAND - The most intriguing feature of the six-century-old canoe is its faintest one: the wearing away of the wood in the hull at the stern.
The Parris Island Museum holds a combination of Marine Corps, military history and regional cultural exhibits. It is open to the public. For more information, http://parrisislandmuseum.com.
LOCATION: 111 Panama St., Parris Island Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, Beaufort.
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Daily. Closed New Years, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
ADMISSION: Free. Access to Parris Island, an active military base, may be dependent upon current security needs. Call the depot visitor's center, 843-228-3650. At the front gate, tell the guard you wish to visit the museum. Be prepared to show a driver's license, proof of vehicle insurance, and proof of vehicle registration.
The indentation appears to have been worn out by the feet of the native Americans who stood there pivoting to pole through the water. You can almost feel your bare foot rub the white pine, balancing aboard a life lived here four centuries ago in the Lowcountry estuaries.
This singular piece of coastal heritage goes on exhibit Wednesday at the U.S. Marine Corps' Parris Island Museum, open to the public. Admission is free. The canoe, discovered in the marsh at the Corps' recruiting depot here, dates to 1300-1420 A.D., pre European settlement.
"There have been hundreds of these found, but this is the only one I know of that's been properly restored and displayed in this region," said museum archaeologist Kim Zawacki.
"Kids will press up against the glass (to see it closer)," said curator Stephen Wise.
Reassembled from 18 fragments, the 21-foot long craft will be on display behind Plexiglas in an exhibit depicting the marsh where it was found. It still shows char marks and striations of the burn-and-scrape method native craftsmen used to create the durable boats that Carolinas explorer John Lawson in 1701 called "very lasting and free of rot."
The canoe still shows an upturned bow and an almost pedestaled stern where the pilot could sit, typical of canoes of the era. Just one of the mysteries surrounding the craft is that its wood is white pine, a species native to the South Carolina mountains but not found naturally below the fall line near Columbia. The wood could well have been carved into a hull more than 100 miles away and piloted downstream.
"It embodies how they made these things," said East Carolina professor Lynn Harris, who led a university team that assembled the canoe from the fragments.
The rail of the canoe was exposed as an outline among oysters along the Beaufort River when local sports diver and collector James Cooler came across it in 1988. The wood has undergone extensive preservation.
The Marine Corps' ownership of the artifact is a quirk of chance. Because of training and security needs, the Corps owns property around the island down the low tide line, rather than the usual high tide line.
So a prehistoric canoe has found a place in a largely military themed museum featuring exhibits such as the ejection cockpit from an F-4 training jet. The hand-hewn craft that plied the Lowcountry before Europeans arrived in their sloops will be on display in a museum hallway, outside the native American culture exhibit room of pottery shards, tobacco pipes and other uncovered artifacts. At first sight, it's framed by two Civil War cannon barrels at the hall's end, where a Sharps carbine sits with a stock hand-carved by a Beaufort-area Confederate.
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