‘Just extraordinary’: 3,000-year-old canoe recovered from Wisconsin lake


Wisconsin Historical Society maritime archaeologists recovered a 3,000-year-old dugout canoe from Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, on Sept. 22, 2022. Wisconsin Historical Society staff and volunteers remove the canoe from its transport trailer and carry it into the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison. (Photo Credit: Wisconsin Historical Society)

MADISON, Wis. (WFRV) – Less than one year after a 1,200-year-old canoe was recovered from Lake Mendota in Wisconsin, another dugout canoe was retrieved from the same area, only this time the artifact was much older.

Maritime archaeologists with the Wisconsin Historical Society, alongside partners from Wisconsin’s Native Nations, recovered a 3,000-year-old dugout canoe from Lake Mendota in Madison on Thursday.

  • 3,000 year old canoe Lake Mendota
  • 3,000 year old canoe Lake Mendota
  • 3,000 year old canoe Lake Mendota
  • 3,000 year old canoe Lake Mendota
  • 3,000 year old canoe Lake Mendota

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

Discussions about recovering it from the lakebed began immediately following Thomsen’s discovery.

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. Every person that harvested and constructed this caašgegu (white oak) into a canoe put a piece of themselves into it. By preserving this canoe, we are honoring those that came before us. 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.

Ho-Chunk President Marlon WhiteEagle

The 3,000-year-old dugout canoe is carved from a single piece of white oak and measures approximately 14.5 feet in length. Radiocarbon dating performed on the latest canoe places it to 1000 B.C., making it the oldest ever discovered in the Great Lakes region by roughly 1,000 years.

Although it is likely that water transportation dates back to the arrival of Native 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 hand-excavated in preparation for today’s recovery mission and then securely transported to the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison for preservation 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 preservation vat that also contains the 1,200-year-old canoe discovered in 2021.

Together the canoes will undergo a two-year preservation process that will conclude with freeze-drying to remove any remaining water.

“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.”

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