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Local News

Wisconsin Historical Society’s Second Ancient Canoe Discovery From Lake Mendota

Credit: iStock

Armand Jackson

The Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) with help from the Wisconsin’s Native Nations and skilled volunteers, recovered a fragile 3,000 year-old-dugout canoe from Lake Mendota in Madison on September 22nd. It was originally located earlier in May by maritime archaeologist Tamara Thomsen and immediately after her discovery, discussions about recovering it from the lakebed in collaboration with Wisconsin’s Native Nations began immediately. According to WHS, the 3,000-year-old dugout canoe is carved from a single piece of white oak and measures approximately 14.5 feet in length. WHS believes that the canoe will aid in telling a more complete story of Native life, culture, and history in Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region. 

This is not the first major discovery however as the group recovered another ancient dugout canoe that was 1,200-years-old in the very same lake back in November 2021. According to Wisconsin Historical Society state archaeologist, Dr. James Skibo, both canoes being discovered in the same area suggests that the location of Lake Mendota’s shoreline may have changed over time and could have once been much lower. He said: “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.”

Members from the Ho-Chunk Nation and Bad River Tribe were present at the canoe recovery. Ho-Chunk President Marlon WhiteEagle expressed his appreciation for the discovery by stating: “The recovery of this canoe built by our ancestors gives further physical proof that Native people have occupied Teejop (Four Lakes) for millennia, that our ancestral lands are here and we had a developed society of transportation, trade and commerce, we appreciate our partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society, working together to preserve part of not only our ancestors’ history but our state’s history.”

The canoe has been securely transported to the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison for preservation and storage where it will be cleaned and cared for by Tribal members and Wisconsin Historical Society staff before being hand-lowered into a large preservation vat also containing the 1,200-year-old canoe. Both canoes will undergo a two-year preservation process that will conclude with freeze-drying to remove any remaining water. The Wisconsin State Journal provides more in depth reporting about the discovery on their website.