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1,200 Year Old Dugout Canoe Found in Lake Mendota

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the Wisconsin Historical Society raised a 1,200-year-old dugout canoe from Lake Mendota.

The canoe was first discovered back in June by Tamara Thomsen and Mallory Dragt, workers at Diversions Scuba. The two cruised under the 9,781-acre lake on a couple of underwater scooters when Thomsen spotted the canoe, first thinking it was just an ordinary log. Her curiosity proved beneficial as it was a 15-foot-long dugout canoe.

Thomsen, a diver for 30 years and a diver for the Historical Society for 18 years, said “I’m underwater a lot, but this is the first dugout canoe I’ve ever seen underwater.”

According to the Wisconsin State Journal a carbon-14 dating showed that the canoe is an estimated 1,200 years old, the oldest intact boat to ever be found in Wisconsin waters.

James Skibo, Wisconsin’s state archaeologist said “This is the first time this thing has been out of the water in 1,200 years. And maybe they left from this very beach to go fishing. Not only has it been underwater; it’s been under the ground. The reason it’s so well preserved is that it has not been exposed to the light. So that’s one of the reasons we have to start preserving it. There’s living organisms on it that are chewing away on it as we speak.”

The Wisconsin State Journal mentions that the vessel was found with net sinkers, used to weigh down fishing nets that may have been made from two common woods used for dugout canoes, basswood or a walnut tree, during that time.

The canoe’s origins have been linked to the ancestors of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The Ho-Chunk’s tribal historic preservation officer was present Tuesday to watch the canoe emerge from the lake. 

Quackenbush said “When it comes to items of this nature, if it’s going to protect and preserve the history and culture of us in this area, we’re all in support of that. Looking at the crowd here, there’s a lot of interest in this one little project.”

Thomsen and volunteer diver Randy Wallander drove the boat with the equipment to bring the canoe safely back to shore. Wallander has had previous experience with bringing up large objects from Lake Michigan. The 1-mile trip took the team two hours to complete. 

When the canoe hit shore it was placed on a piece of scaffolding, it’s next location being an enclosed trailer that is typically used to hold motorized vehicles such as ATV and snowmobiles for the Department of Natural Resources. The transportation of the canoe was escorted by the Madison Police. 

The canoe is planned to be showcased in the Historical Society’s proposed renovated museum on Capital Square. Until plans for that are finalized the canoe will undergo several different treatments, one of them being a treatment to preserve its liquid environment. The 16-foot-long, 3-foot-wide tank at the State Archive Preservation Facility will hold water and a biocide to kill any algae or microorganisms. Amy Rosebrough, expert on the Effigy Mound builders of Wisconsin, said that the process is done to help make the structure more solid and to prevent any further degradation.

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