by Maegan A. Smith, Education & Outreach Coordinator
This story appeared in the October/November issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
When people think of shipwrecks, images of vessels deep in the ocean often come to mind. But sunken ships can be found in any body of water and come in various shapes and sizes. Throughout October, Louisiana celebrates the rich history and archaeology of our state, and to kick off the celebrations, we’ve released the Louisiana Archaeology Month poster, showcasing 13 shipwrecks found around the state.
The Red River Caddo dugout canoe, for example, is a vessel that was crafted from a single bald cypress tree sometime between 1298 and 1413 CE. Measuring more than 34 feet in length and nearly three feet in width, “it claims the title of the largest pre-contact watercraft ever found in the southeastern United States, narrowly surpassing a similar canoe excavated nearby in 1983,” according to the Red River Dugout Canoe exhibit on the Louisiana Division of Archaeology’s website.
Another fascinating shipwreck is the El Nuevo Constante, which wrecked near the Louisiana coast in 1766. “In September of that year, a hurricane struck a fleet of Spanish merchant ships as they sailed from Mexico to Spain,” according to the Division of Archaeology’s online exhibit. “The wreck of El Nuevo Constante lay submerged for 213 years. Then, in 1979, a shrimper caught some large copper ingots from the wreck in his nets. The ingots led to archaeological study of the shipwreck.”
More than 100 years after the El Nuevo Constante’s fateful voyage, the Brookhill and the Istrouma, two ferries that operated on the Mississippi River from 1896 to 1915 between Baton Rouge and Port Allen, sunk in a severe storm in 1915, possibly a hurricane. To see images and find out more about these shipwrecks, visit crt.state.la.us/cultural-development/archaeology/discover-archaeology/exhibits/index. (To find them easily, click on the Exhibits page under the Discover Archaeology tab and then click on the map.)
Louisiana celebrates International Archaeology Day on the third Saturday of the month, but celebrations throughout October are a great chance for residents and visitors to learn more about the archaeology and history of Louisiana and to protect, preserve and enjoy these important resources of our rich cultural heritage.
This year’s programs range from archaeology days with artifact identification and demonstrations, to trivia nights, presentations and more, highlighting the sites, finds and evidence that shape the history of our state. Returning or planning to join in for the first time this year? Visit the 2023 Archaeology Month page, located under the Discover Archaeology tab on the Division of Archaeology’s website (www.crt.state.la.us/cultural-development/archaeology/), to find or add programs in your area.
Last year, Louisiana Archaeology Month programs had more than 3,000 participants with a total of 46 educational opportunities, including exhibits, presentations, craft activities, trivia nights and more across the state. The Louisiana Division of Archaeology also collaborated with the United Houma Nation and the Houma Language Project for the 2022 Archaeology Month poster, which highlighted the Uma’ damáha’ tcetu’ (Grand Houmas Village) located in present-day Ascension Parish.
October is a busy month for the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development. Not only is October Louisiana Archaeology Month, it also is Atchafalaya National Heritage Month, Louisiana Folklife Month and National Arts and Humanities Month, which the Louisiana Division of the Arts celebrates through local programming. We look forward to celebrating Louisiana’s rich culture with you!