3,000-year-old canoe recovered from Wisconsin Lake

MADISON, Erase. (WFRV) – Less than a year after a 1,200-year-old canoe was recovered in Wisconsin’s Lake Mendota, another canoe from the same area was recovered, but this time the artifact was much older.

Maritime archaeologists from the Wisconsin Historical Society, along with partners from Wisconsin’s indigenous peoples, recovered a 3,000-year-old canoe from Lake Mendota in Madison on Thursday.

  • 3000 year old canoe Lake Mendota
  • 3000 year old canoe Lake Mendota
  • 3000 year old canoe Lake Mendota
  • 3000 year old canoe Lake Mendota
  • 3000 year old canoe Lake Mendota

The canoe was initially discovered by maritime archaeologist Tamara Thomsen of the Wisconsin Historical Society during a recreational dive in May this year, and was found within 100 yards of where the first canoe was located.

Immediately after Thomsen’s discovery, discussions began about retrieving it from the bottom of the lake.

The recovery of this ancestor-built canoe provides further physical evidence that indigenous people occupied Teejop (Four Lakes) for millennia, that our ancestral land is here, and that we had a developed society of transportation, trade, and commerce. Everyone who has harvested this caašgegu (white oak) and built it into a canoe has put a piece of themselves into it. By preserving this canoe, we honor those who have gone before us. We value our partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society, who work together to preserve a part of not only our ancestors’ history, but that of our state as well.

Ho-Chunk Chairman Marlon WhiteEagle

The 3,000-year-old dugout canoe is carved from a single piece of white oak and is approximately 14.5 feet long. Radiocarbon dating performed on the newest canoe puts it to 1000 BC, making it the oldest ever discovered in the Great Lakes region at about 1000 years.

While it is likely that water transport dates back to the arrival of indigenous peoples in this region, this discovery provides the earliest direct evidence.

The excavation and recovery efforts were conducted by Wisconsin Historical Society archaeologists and skilled volunteers. The canoe was dug out by hand in preparation for today’s salvage mission and then safely transported to the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison for safekeeping and storage.

The 3,000-year-old canoe will be cleaned and cared for by Tribal members and Society staff before being hand lowered into a large conservation vessel that also contains the 1,200-year-old canoe discovered in 2021.

Together, the canoes undergo a two-year preservation process that concludes with freeze-drying to remove the remaining water.

“I was amazed when a 1,200-year-old canoe was discovered last year, but this discovery of a canoe dating back to 1000 B.C. is simply extraordinary,” said Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. “This incredible finding provides us with an opportunity to partner with Tribal Nations to not only study the history of the indigenous people, but celebrate who called this land their home since long before Wisconsin became a state, and I look forward to learn more about the origin of this artifact.”

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