State Archaeologists on Nov. 2 dredged up the oldest water vessel in Wisconsin history from the bottom of Lake Mendota.
A dugout canoe carved from a single tree was found remarkably well preserved under 30 feet of water. The boat was first located in June 2021, and this month, archaeologists from the Wisconsin Historical Society were assisted by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office dive team to retrieve the artifact.
Based on carbon dating, the canoe was determined to be 1,200 years old, and was used in A.D. 800 for a fishing vessel. Several net sinkers were found near the boat. The era corresponds with effigy mound building in southern Wisconsin.
“The dugout canoe found in Lake Mendota is a significant artifact of the continuum of canoe culture in the Western Great Lakes region,” said Christian Overland, CEO for the Wisconsin Historical Society, in a statement.
“By taking action today to preserve this canoe we are protecting a piece of history for future generations. The canoe is a remarkable artifact, made from a single tree, that connects us to the people living in this region 1,200 years ago. As the Society prepares to open a new history museum in 2026, we are excited about the new possibilities it offers to share Native American stories and culture through the present day.”
The dugout was transported to the Wisconsin’s State Archive Preservation Facility where it was placed in a custom-built storage vat containing water and bio-deterrent, the society said in a statement.
Over time, a chemical solution for preserving the canoe will be added to the vat, gradually replacing the water content in the wood’s cellular structure—a process that is estimated to take three years.