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"Truly incredible": 3,000-year-old canoe recovered from Wisconsin's Lake Mendota

Historic canoe found in Wisconsin lake
Historic canoe found in Wisconsin lake 00:37

MADISON, Wis. -- A second ancient canoe has been recovered from Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin.

According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, a 3,000-year-old dugout canoe was recovered by maritime archeologists with the historical society and partners from the state's tribal nations.

It's believed to be the oldest canoe discovered in the Great Lakes region by about 1,000 years. Radiocarbon dating places it at 1,000 B.C.

Wisconsin Historical Society

Less than one year ago, a 1,200-year-old canoe was discovered in the same lake - and drew international attention, the historical society 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," Dr. James Skibo, Wisconsin Historical Society state archaeologist, said. "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."

Ho-Chunk Nation and Bad River Tribe citizens were present at the canoe recovery.

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"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," said Ho-Chunk President Marlon WhiteEagle. "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."

The second canoe was initially located in May by a historical society maritime archaeologist, Tamara Thomsen, during a recreational dive.

Wisconsin Historical Society

"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," Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said. "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."

The second canoe will be cleaned and cared for by tribal members and historical society staff before it is lowered by hand into a preservation vat, which also contains the other canoe. Following a two-year preservation process, the canoes will be freeze dried to remove any remaining water.

More information can be found on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.  

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