3,000-year-old dugout canoe recovered from Lake Mendota

A 3,000-year-old canoe was recovered from Lake Mendota, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. (Source: WMTV)
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 4:50 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2022 at 8:11 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A canoe dating back to 1000 B.C. was recovered Thursday from Lake Mendota, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Wisconsin Historical Society maritime archeologists and partners from Wisconsin’s Native Nations pulled the canoe from the lake this morning. Radioactive tests estimate the canoe to be about 3,000 years old and experts say it is the oldest canoe found in the Great Lakes region by 1,000 years.

Historical society members say the 14.5-foot dugout canoe was made from a single piece of white oak, sometime around 1000 B.C.. It was found in the lakebed by an archeologist during a recreational dive in May.

“Finding an additional historically significant canoe in Lake Mendota is truly incredible and unlocks invaluable research and educational opportunities to explore the technological, cultural, and stylistic changes that occurred in dugout canoe design over 3,000 years,” Wisconsin Historical Society state archaeologist Dr. James Skibo said.

Lake Mendota Canoe Recovery
Lake Mendota Canoe Recovery(Curt Lenz)

Skibo said where the canoe was discovered could offer an image into the past.

“Since it was located within 100 yards of where the first canoe was found at the bottom of a drop-off in the lakebed, the find has prompted us to research fluctuating water levels and ancient shorelines to explore the possibility that the canoes were near what is now submerged village sites,” Skibo added.

Historians say the canoe also gives a direct example of early water transportation, though they predict it started when Native peoples arrived in the region.

Archeologists and skilled volunteers hand-excavated the canoe, with members of the Ho-Chunk and Bad River Tribe present. Officials say the dugout was taken to the State Archive Preservation Facility nearby for preservation and storage where tribal members and society staff will clean and preserve it.

“I was amazed when a 1,200-year-old canoe was uncovered last year, but this discovery of a canoe dating back to 1000 B.C. is just extraordinary,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. “This incredible finding provides an opportunity for us to work in concert with Tribal Nations to not only study but celebrate the history of the Indigenous people who’ve called this land home since long before Wisconsin became a state, and I look forward to learning more about this artifact’s origins.”

Another canoe was recovered from Lake Mendota in November of 2021, estimating the canoe dates back to the year 850.