National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Peter H. Wood

Affiliation: University of Colorado - Boulder

Peter Hutchins Wood is Adjunct Professor of History with the University of Colorado- Boulder, and Emeritus Professor of History at Duke University.  He holds his degrees from Harvard University (Ph.D.), Oxford University (B.A.), and Harvard College (B.A.), and was a Rhodes Scholar.  His many research interests span early American history and the interactions of diverse cultures, race relations, American painting, and the history of documentary film.  He has published extensively, and received numerous awards and commendations for his work.  As the 2019/2020 AIA Steffy Lecturer, Professor Wood spoke on the ancient dugout canoes of the Mississippi-Missouri watershed.


Dugout canoes are by far the oldest and most enduring form of water transportation that humans have devised.  When archaeologists discuss the great Mississippian site at Cahokia near East St. Louis, a crucial piece of the puzzle still seems to be missing.  They know much about the great mound-building center, and about the trade goods and tribute that flowed to it.  But they rarely talk about how those objects moved great distances.

In recent years, dugout canoes dating back hundreds of years and measuring more than 30 feet in length have been recovered from the banks of tributary streams.  But so far, we have never recovered a much larger and older wooden canoe along the Mississippi or Missouri River.  (Indeed, we can’t even imagine the immense trees from which such dugouts were made a thousand years ago.  Such immense bottomland trees all but vanished in the 19th century.)  But indirect non-archaeological evidence strongly points to the existence and importance of such vessels.  This illustrated talk explores how long such boats were in use, why they disappeared, and why they are so difficult to find.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Lori Belknap and Molly Wawrzyniak, Wetlands and Waterways: The Key to Cahokia (Cahokia Mounds Museum Society, 2015).  30 Ramey St., Collinsville, IL, 62234

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