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'Words can't describe how exciting it was': Macon men find historic canoe in Oconee River

Right now, it's at Georgia Southern University awaiting testing.

MACON, Ga. — You may have taken a trip down the Oconee River tubing, canoeing, or kayaking. The next time you go down, keep your eyes open for artifacts from the past, because one group of guys brought home an incredible find.

It all happened in November. Four guys went out on the Oconee with a group called Blackwater Paddle.  

It was a five-day trip. On the fourth night, they pulled onto a sandbar to camp for the evening, and what they found will one day sit in a museum.

Jamie Brack was the one fella from Macon.

"Words can't describe how exciting that was. Knowing that we found a piece of history that could be 100 years old was phenomenal, he said.

Brack said the adventure began when another guy, James Thompson, went out to look for firewood.

"'Man, this thing looks like it's hollow, and if it's hollow, tapered at both ends, like there's no way -- there's no way that it's what I think it is,'" Thompson recalled, but James pegged it right -- he had stumbled upon an old, well-preserved canoe.

He ran back to tell his friends.

"We looked at it humbly and were awestruck by history," Thompson said

"There was some thought put into it -- the stern and the bow, they were 10 inches thick," Brack described.

The crew upended it, gently tied it to their kayaks, and paddled eight miles with their treasure in tow from Montgomery County. 

When they got home, they contacted a lot of organizations, including the Department of Natural Resources. DNR then reached out to Georgia Southern to house and conserve the vessel. The canoe belongs to the state since it came out of a Georgia waterway. Professor Kurt Knoerl brought his students out to take a look and pick it up.

"Right now, the canoe is at the Georgia Southern archaeological warehouse in a storage facility that is environmentally-controlled," Knoerl said

Knoerl says because of COVID-19, they haven't gotten a chance to run tree ring tests that will tell them the exact age, but he estimated for us.

"It's clear someone spent a lot of time trying to shape this. That would push the date to the mid- to late 19th centuries," he said, which would be some time in the 1800s.

As for the guys, even though they may have had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, they say they'll always keep their eyes open when they're out on Central Georgia waterways.

"We're going to be looking for anything we can possibly find," Brack said with a smile.

Once Georgia Southern restores the canoe, they hope to put it on display next spring.

Knoerl says this is the second boat found on the Oconee. The first one dates back to the 1700s.

Knoerl says each boat pulled from the river is state property.  Removing things without the state's permission on Georgia rivers is potentially illegal. Contact the Department of Natural Resources for more information.

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