Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ancient (?) Dugout Canoe Found in Florida

AP photo. Click to enlarge.
According to an AP article carried by Fox News (among others), a well-preserved dugout canoe was recently recovered from a lake near Ocala, Florida. The article includes little detail about the boat, other than its approximate length ("nearly" 20 feet), but it is generally factual, and it makes no assumptions, wild or otherwise, as in the case of a possibly-marine-related finding reported in Wales

In spite of the AP reporter's good efforts, however, the Fox headline writer felt compelled to juice the news, calling the find an "ancient" canoe when, in fact, its age is unknown. While "ancient" isn't an objective term, I think most would agree that it shouldn't be applied to archaeological finds in North America dating to the 19th century or later. Until carbon dating is completed, it's impossible to say whether the canoe at hand is any older than that. 

It could, in fact, be younger. From the photo, it looks to be in excellent condition. The caption to the AP photo refers to a "burn mark" on the inside of the boat, but doesn't indicate whether this was an artifact of the construction process. Burning was a common method used to hollow out a logboat, especially prior to the introduction of steel tools by Europeans into the Americas, but other explanations for the mark are possible.

As I observed in the previous post about the finding in Wales, the general news media is often a poor source of science information. This is often due, I'm sure, to the lack of science training among general-news reporters, and to the tight deadlines they face which prevent them from carefully checking and clarifying facts and statements. In the present case, however, it was the headline writer who's at fault, trying to make more of a story than is really there.

That this was Fox's doing can be easily demonstrated. Google the first sentence of the AP article, and you'll see the story reported verbatim by many news sources. Only Fox inserted the word "ancient" into the headline.

(Thanks to Anneli Skaar for pointing out the article.)

1 comment:

  1. You're right! You can't say 'ancient' if you do not know how old that boat is. I believe that the reporter is only doing what they need to do rather than gathering information and facts. On their side, they should be given deadline extensions to not pressure themselves so they'll come up factual and believable.