A whole new look at the 1,200-year-old canoe found in Lake Mendota
New 3D scans allow researchers to begin studying the boat while it is being preserved.
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - In a facility described as looking like the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark, “except in the Wisconsin, there’s a vintage Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and lots of historic beer barrels,” images were captured that offer a whole new perspective on the 1,200-year-old canoe pulled from Lake Mendota last fall.
The director of UW’s Grainger Engineering Design and Innovation Laboratory, Lennon Rodgers, scanned 3D renderings of the 15-foot fishing boat that was discovered last June and pulled ashore at Spring Harbor Beach five months later. The Wisconsin Historical Society estimates the canoe dates back to the year 850 c.e.
The renderings will allow researchers to dive right in and begin combing over the details of the boat while the real life one undergoes what is expected to be a multi-year preservation effort. Wisconsin State Archaeologist James Skibo described Lake Mendota as the most studied lake in the world and says he has similar goals for the canoe it swallowed back when Charlemagne’s grandchildren still ruled much of Europe.
“I want to make this the most studied canoe in the world. We want to use every resource available to learn as much as we can about this vessel to tell a variety of stories,” Skibo said. Skibo and the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Senior Collections Manager Scott Roller cold-called Rodgers to come take the scans before the preservation work started – a call Rodgers said he was happy to take.
“I really enjoy working in interdisciplinary settings,” Rodgers said. “I hung out with these archaeologists and historians and I could see they think differently from engineers. That’s why I’m attracted to these projects. They have a fresh, different approach to problem solving, and we as engineers can work with them in a complementary way.”
Only a few dozen other canoes have been found and none of them had the types of artifacts that this one did, the UW statement explained. So far, researchers have gleaned that the canoe was most likely used by the effigy mound builders from that era. The boat was likely sunk on purpose, as opposed to other ones that were found buried, which was a tactic used for winter storage.
With crews hoisting the canoe from its custom soaking tank, Rodgers took two scans: one with his iPhone, using the lidar sensor that powers its Face ID and photogrammetry and a second one with a 3D scanner with a resolution down to 0.05 millimeters.
“Now we have a really good three-dimensional scan of this object. You can see all the way down to the tool marks,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers’ work generated a computer model that can be spun around, flipped, zoomed in on or whatever a researcher needs to do to get a better look.
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