Friday, March 15, 2013


David Moyer  [Responding to the previous post.]

Don,  Yes, there are some who believe that stones were used to boil maple sap in big dugouts. You should know that most professional archaeologists and historians tend to agree that while possible there is no evidence that people did this in the prehistoric past. There is no ethnohistoric sources from the 17th century that talk about Indians making maple sugar including the entire Jesuit Relations.

This is a big topic, and there's a lot of evidence on both sides. People first began to recognize that Indians probably didn't make sugar before kettles beginning in the 1890s, so it's a long running debate. There is also excellent biological evidence that Natives did not eat sugar in their diets (think diabetes), and a lot of this debate for early sugaring has moved from the anthropology journals to the Journal of Ethnobiology- see bibliography.

That said, there have been many who have done experimental work on boiling maple sap with stones. In fact, if you want to see someone boiling sap in a dugout NOW is the time. My friend Barry Keegan has been doing experiments on prehistoric sap boiling for many years, and every Sunday in March he demonstrates it at the Farmer's Museum as part of their Pancake Breakfast fund raisers (They also demonstrate early historic sugaring techniques, but the prehistoric stuff is a real attention-getter). It's not a bad breakfast, and while not all the buildings at the museum are open to walk through you can wander the museum grounds and enter some of the buildings, even visit the Cardiff Giant without paying any admission charge- just breakfast.You could definitely get good pics for your blog and ask him a lot of questions. Barry published on his sap experiments in a brief article which I can make a copy of for you. I've also attached a short bibliography to get you started.

Barry believes that prehistoric people probably did boil sap, although he's told me as an aside that he hasn't ever produced a batch which you would consider edible. A big problem is that when you dump the stones into the sap the sap immediately adjacent to the stone becomes thicker and sticks to the stones, creating sticky hot rocks, which he ends up having to scrape with a stick or paddle. Dirt, silt and quartz granules from the granite leach out of the stones as well, and while the result impresses museum visitors, it would not impress Julia Child. Impressive but not effective. He's told me they definitely didn't use pots, and that all the pots he's ever tried have broken as part of the process, hence the the dugout. Last we spoke he said he was thinking of trying soapstone pots directly in the fire, but this is even less supported ethnohistorically...

BTW you can also condense sap by leaving it out to freeze...

BTW- dugouts were used as gutters adjacent to long houses to keep the ground dry, collect water in case of fire, etc.. Bill Engelbrect talked about this a little bit at a state meeting a few years ago.    Dave

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Donald A. Windsor

On Maple Sunday, 10 March 2013, at the Chenango County Historical Society's Museum campus, Reggie Card of Earlville told me that dugout logs were used by Native Americans to evaporate maple sap.  They put the sap into the log and then dropped in hot stones to heat it.  The model resembled a dugout canoe, so when I saw it, I immediately thought of Dave Walker's dugout canoe. 

Here are photos of the model that Reggie built for his presentations on the early history of maple syrup.

I now wonder if our Dave Walker canoe, which does not look as if it could safely transport anyone, could have been used for maple syrup.  We suspect it was used for harvesting wild rice. Background on this canoe is on this blog posting of Tuesday August 16, 2011.  Also, its shallow dugout and wide area would enhance concentration by freezing. 

Google has a lot on dugout logs for sap, but so far it seems to be all anecdotal comments.  I am searching for a real archaeological paper. Scientific papers on Google are usually not readable by nonsubscribers, so I may have to rely on interlibrary loans.

I asked David Moyer for his comments.  They appear on the next posting.