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1,200-year-old fishing canoe lifted from Lake Mendota

Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 6:17 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 2, 2021 at 10:25 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - An ancient artifact submerged in Lake Mendota for 1,200 years is seeing the light of day.

The Wisconsin Historical Society pulled a fishing canoe above waters Tuesday, after nearly five hours of excavation. The team of divers was joined by neighbors, local leaders and history buffs at Spring Harbor Beach.

“We’re able to see a relic being brought up out of the water that most people aren’t going to have a chance to, first, know about or even see,” Kathy Cruice, who lives in the Spring Harbor neighborhood, said.

According to the historical society, a state agency, the canoe dates back approximately to the year 850.

“We have no canoes of this age that are this in tact, and this is the first one that’s been found with artifacts still inside. So it absolutely is unprecedented for us,” Amy Rosebrough, staff archaeologist, said.

The discovery came earlier this year, Rosebrough said. A diver was testing scuba equipment and by “sheer chance” found the boat about 30 feet underwater. It contained fishing equipment like weights to hold down a net.

Historians believe the canoe belonged to ancestors of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Bill Quackenbush, tribal historic preservation officer, said he will collaborate with the historical society to preserve the canoe.

“Culturally, at times, tribes do have sensitive issues regarding the outside world looking at us from their viewpoint and assuming their knowledge is more or greater than ours,” he said. “But when it comes to items of this nature, of a more practical nature, if it’s going to protect and preserve [the] history and culture of us, humankind and mankind in this area, we’re totally all in support of that.”

The work now turns to answering the canoe’s biggest mysteries, including why the boat was lost.

Rosebrough said the canoe will go from the beach to a conservation facility. The process of saving the boat, she said, may take a couple years.

She noted, “Once it’s out of the water, we have a very rapid countdown that starts. [The canoe] will start to degrade almost immediately.”

She said she hopes the canoe will be a featured display in the historical society’s new museum.

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