3,000-Year-Old Canoe Found in Wisconsin Is Oldest One Ever Discovered in Great Lakes

Ancient Canoe Dating to 1000 B.C.E. Found in Wisconsin Lake

A woman from the Ho-Chunk Nation touches the canoe. (Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society)

Scuba diver and maritime archeologist Tamara Thomsen is on an amazing streak. In November 2021, while swimming on her off day in Wisconsin's Lake Mendota, she spotted an interesting logout buried in the sand. Upon further investigation, the log turned out to be a 1,200-year-old dugout canoe stretching a whopping 15 feet in length. Now, less than a year after her impressive find, Thomsen has discovered another ancient canoe. This one is a shocking 3,000 years old—evidence of the impressive maritime tradition of the region's Indigenous peoples.

Thomsen was giving a scuba lesson when she spotted more unique wood submerged in the lake. “This is not a joke. I found another dugout canoe,” she texted her boss. The canoe has since been raised and tested with radiocarbon dating. The 14.5-foot-long canoe was carved around 1000 BCE. This makes it the oldest canoe discovered in the Great Lakes region by 1,000 years. It is crafted from a single piece of white oak which has withstood the waters for centuries. As both boats recently discovered were within 100 feet of each other, experts think the shoreline of the lake may have moved over the millennium to cover previously inhabited areas.

Members of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Bad River Tribe have been involved in the recovery of the canoes, which will be preserved and studied at the Wisconsin Historical Society. “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,” Marlon WhiteEagle, the president of Ho-Chunk tribe, said. Then Historical Society plans to collaborate with the Ho-Chunk Nation to systemically search Lake Mendota for more canoes this coming year.

An ancient dugout canoe dating to about 1000 B.C.E. was discovered at the bottom of Lake Mendota in Wisconsin.

Ancient Canoe Dating to 1000 B.C.E. Found in Wisconsin Lake

Wisconsin Historical Society staff and volunteers move the canoe into the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison. (Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society)

h/t: [NPR]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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