Dufuna Canoe: History or Myth?

The Discovery

According to archaeologists world over calibrated C-14 dates for the dug- out from Pesse, Netherlands discovered in 1957 existed over 8000 (8265 ± 275bp) years ago, remains the oldest in the world and later in 1992, Noyen-Sur seine in France, became the host of another ancient boat with about 8000 (7960 ± 100bp) years old, which is the second largest of such discovery in the world.

These discoveries further assert the expression of pride of many Europeans that their present dominance in technological advancements dates back to pre-historic age. Africa then, “was not considered in this context as no pre-historic fruits were known from Egypt or Sub- Saharan Africa with dates nearly as old as those of the European boats”, said Professor Peter Breunig, a German archaeologist.
Interestingly, on the 4th of may, 1987, in the Sahel environment of Yobe State to be specific, Dufuna village, which lies between Potiskum and Gashua local government areas along the komaduga Gana river, a discovery was made by a mundane Fulani man who was struggling as usual in the Lantewa Dune fields as the terrain is to dig a well at the outskirt of Dufuna for his livestock’s.
In the course of digging, Ya’u encountered a hard wood and he nearly got rid of it completely as an unnecessary hurdle in his quest to find water. But realising that the wood was perforated it then dawn at him that, “this may be an interestingly find”, said Abubakar Garba, an archaeologist and guardian connoisseur of Dufuna Canoe, with the Trans-Saharan Studies in the University of Maiduguri.
“The then Borno State Government before the creation of Yobe State contacted me as an archaeologist. That was how the journey back into 8000 years, right at Dufuna started”, said Garba. According to him, Mallam Ya’u, the quintessential Fulani cow herdsman reported his find to the appropriate authorities and the initial excavation was sponsored by the University of Maiduguri, between 1989 and 1990, to ascertain whether what they were dealing with was actually a canoe”. The amount to be expended on further exploration was so enormous that neither the University nor the State and Federal Governments of Nigeria could have given much backing to the project, in view of our ailing economy,” said Garba.
However, with the collaboration of the Germans, through a project tagged Frankfurt/Maiduguri Joint Research Project, became the justification that the discovery of Dufuna canoe based on radio carbon dating is the third oldest in the world. Common sense, has it that Dufuna has elegant finishing, while the first two discoveries in Europe “whose blunts ends and thick sides seems crude in comparison with Dufuna”, said Breuniq, underscore the fact that the European boats maybe built during or around 8000 years but the elegance and mastery of Dufuna canoe showed an art long before 8000 years.
“It is highly probable that the Dufuna canoe does not represent the beginning of a tradition, but had already undergone a long development, and that the origins of water transport in Africa lie even further back in time” said Breuniq. Unfortunately, unlike Netherlands and France the unique artifacts of Dufuna canoe receives less attention from historians, the media and the authorities in an attempt “to prepare it for national and international exhibition” in sharp contrast to that of Europe that is revered by all.
The story of 8000 years

“Well, Dufuna canoe tells a lot of stories, it is telling us about environment, that 55,000 years ago, the Mega Chad or the Lake Chad has a huge volume of water, which covers the whole of Maiduguri and parts of Yobe State up to Geidam”, said Garba. Today there is no aquatic life in any of these places only human settlement. Possibly, the Dufuna canoe was used by the population of that area or that time either for fishing, or for haulage or just sea faring.
“The canoe also tells other aspects, At least, since you have a canoe in that area, at that time that means there was an activity going on between that area and other areas not close to this locality” said Garba adding that “ Dufuna has given us the length of history, when you talk of kanem-Borno or the Safewa dynasty, you always thought of 1000 years but linking this to Dufuna you will know that this environment has an activity or population that existed more than 8500 years ago” Garba stressed.
How accurate is radio carbon dating?

“We have several dating in archaeology, or simply C-14 dating, all organic materials take in oxygen during their life span, so when they die these oxygen’s deteriorates and the nucleus of all organic matter have 14 particles, these 14 particles normally disintegrate and they decay and disappear as a result of the death of any organism. In the laboratory they determine (after several technical consideration) the age of any organic material, though there are other types of dating” said Garba.
The radio carbon dating method has been widely accepted by many scientists as showing that humans lived back to at least 50,000 B.C.E. Radio carbon clock looked simple and straight forward when demonstrated, but it is now known to be prone to many kinds of error. After a twenty years use of the method, a conference on radio carbon chronology and other related methods of dating was held in Upsala, Sweden in 1969 the discussions there between Chemists who practice the method, said another account.
According to Garba, two laboratories in the Universities of Kiel and Cologne in Germany arrived at the date “we believe our discovery emanated from”. But according to many accountants, many laboratories that carry out radio carbon dating of human artifacts are considerably less accurate than they claimed to be.
A study commissioned by Britain’s Science and Engineering Research Council stated that, samples of knowing age were sent to 38 labs around the world to be dated, only seven of these labs produced results that were deemed “satisfactory”. These shortcomings underscores the dogmatic assertions often made about the age of ancient artifacts especially as it contradicts religious believes.
According to the Science Magazine of December 11, 1959 page 1630, “What bids to be classical examples of C- 14 irresponsibility is the 6000 years spread of 11 determinations for Jarmo…, a pre- historic village in North Eastern Iraq, Which, in the basis of all archaeological evidence, was not occupied for more than 500 consecutive years” According to this religious line of argument, there is thus no provable evidence to favour an earlier date than 2369B.C.E for the start of the post flood human society, said one account.
However, whether or not Dufuna Canoe is about 8000 years, the fact that no body, clan or tribe lay claims to its ownership and for a large canoe made from African mahogany, constructed with stone age tools, with a length of 8.40 metres and a maximum breadth and height of around 0.5 metres that was stuck in the hard surface at a depth of 4.5 metres, vindicates itself as a product of a generation long gone and forgotten by our civilization. Therefore, Dufuna is an artifact that deserved to be celebrated, nurtured and remembered as a relic that provides the only window into the lives and times of our ancestors more than any other discovery in this part of the world.
The Excavation
Over 50 men in Dufuna and its environs under took the final excavation in 1994, led by Frankfurt (Germany) and University of Maiduguri with Breunig and Garba. According to the account of Breunig, the find that was made at the site of Dufuna, based on the trial excavation of Abubakar Garba, showed that the nature of the deposits over laying the boat was such that it could only be uncovered by extensive area excavation.
“The boat is stratified below clays and sands whose alternating sequence is evidence of depositing in standing and flowing water, presumably as a result of shift in the river channel. Some of the clay layers contains pollen, and thus may be placed in at least a partial vegetation sequence. There are no associated finds. A few shreds and charcoal fragments were found in the layers above the boat. In the layer of a grey clay directly above the course send in which the boat lies, a small, complete under coated pot was found. A tree trunk is embedded in the same layer, transverse to the axis of the boat”, stated Breunig, adding that, the boat has a C- 14 date of 2614 ± 48bp (KN- 4682) while that of the host stood about 8000 years.
According to Breunig, the samples were of woods taken from two positions several metres apart on the boat. “There is no reason to doubt the broad date of the boat”. However, Breunig said, the difference in age between the boat and the trunk above it, indicates a break in sedimentation of around 5000 years, for which there is currently no explanation. Scientific studies are planned to address this specific question”.Breunig explained.
For Garba the successful excavation and the preservation of the canoe in a Museum built by the Yobe state Government “is a relief” but not the kind of accomplishment he has hoped. “There is no political will in the part of the government to prepare Dufuna for national and international exhibitions.
Garba forwarded a bill of 3.5 million naira to the custodian of Dufuna canoe, Yobe state to remove the art from the chemical it has been stocked in for over 10 years and under take repairs of the damaged parts of the canoe. But getting 3.5 million to enable Breunig and other experts to get Dufuna in a favourable condition for exhibition requires the kind of lobbying a busy Garba would not have time to engage in. However, he is still optimistic that if Dufuna lies for over 8000 years before its discovery, 10 years is too short a time for our politicians to repair it.
The Tourism Potentials

The Yobe state government has set up a bureau with a retinue of staff to take care of Dufuna, built a Museum worth over 7million naira and has supported  researches on Dufuna, “There are clear indications that the discovery of Dufuna canoe is significant to Yobe state,” said Barrister Aliyu Shehu, the Commissioner of Tourism in the state.
According to Barrister Shehu, he believes, “if Garba, being a stake holder on Dufuna submitted his proposal to the appropriate channel, there may not be this problem”. But has the State Government placed Dufuna on its priority list? “Being the third oldest of such discovery in the world and the oldest in Africa one would expect Yobe state Government to give Dufuna the necessary support it requires,” said a senior Yobe State Civil Servant, adding that, “Dufuna has the potential of bringing thousands of tourists to Yobe  from the different parts of the world”.
An environment that hosts an artifact like Dufuna has every right to be a tourism hub, like that of Netherlands and France. “We are aware and I want to assure you that Dufuna is so dear to us and will be given every attention it requires”, said the Commissioner of Tourism in the State. “Yobe state is virtually interlocked and far away from Nigeria, so we suggested to stage exhibitions in Lagos and Abuja e.t.c as well. But people are saying, why should we allow Dufuna to Lagos and Abuja,” said Garba. Obviously, there is a lot of politics going on Dufuna, the story was told, during one of Garba and Breunig visits to a former military administrator in Yobe state that said, “Why should I spend one million on just a wood”, said the MILAD.
Then, the request was a million naira but now, it is 3.5 million naira to solve the problems only in part, “only God knows what the bill will be tomorrow,” said the Civil Servant. “I believe if Dufuna gets the boost it requires, the amount of revenue to government and residence in the state and Nigeria as a whole will be enormous” Garba concluded.

Experts say there is the need to explore the entire landscape of Dufuna probably; another finding may resolve some of the mysteries Dufuna canoe has poised. But if the canoe is receiving Oliver Twist treatment how much more can be expended in combing vast Lantewa dune fields of Dufuna, searching for the unknown?
The hunter- gatherers of Dufuna probably used to exploiting the famous Komadugu Gana river of Yobe state or the flood waters of the Lake Chad. Although, climate change made the Komadugu to exist only during the raining season while the Lake Chad has now receded to a slim river hundreds of kilometres away from Dufuna.

All hands must be on deck to save Dufuna canoe not to die from either the lack- lustre attitude of Governments or their mismanagement and a civilization that care less for history and environment. Ya’u, the herdsman that discovered Dufuna will be remembered for making this unprecedented finding, but apparently, if enlightened, he may regret exposing Dufuna to a world crueler than the depth of the surface, where it lay quietly for nearly 8000 years before his diggers found it.

2 thoughts on “Dufuna Canoe: History or Myth?

  1. Some errors here and there in the publication.
    Quoting a 1959 article on the reliability of radio carbon dating shows lack of familiarity with progress in science.
    The final excavation was in 1998.
    It would just be fair to acknowledge the role of NCMM in this project.

    • Most of the articles you see here were lifted from the sent folder of my emails, the edited and published articles are not online. Most of the newspapers I worked for then didn’t develop their online platforms.
      Thank you for your observations, working every day to improve.

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