- By Darren Thompson
MADISON, Wisc.— On Thursday, Sept. 22, the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) recovered a 3,000-year-old dugout canoe from the bottom of a Madison lake with the assistance of two Wisconsin Tribes.
The canoe, recovered from Lake Mendota in downtown Madison, is about 14.5 feet long and carved from a single piece of white oak. According to the WHS, radiocarbon dating analysis performed on the recovered canoe places its origin at 1,000 BC — making it the oldest canoe ever discovered in the Great Lakes region by approximately 1,000 years.
It is the second canoe recovered in the last year from the same lake —last November, the WHS announced that it recovered a canoe that dated 1,200 years old. Both canoes were likely made by ancestors of the Ho-Chunk Nation.
“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,” WHS Archaeologist Dr. James Skibo said in a statement. “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.”
Representatives from the Ho-Chunk Nation and Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa joined the WHS to recover both canoes.
“These are things that we, as Ho-Chunk people, have known,” Ho-Chunk Nation Public Relations Officer Casey Brown told Native News Online. “A canoe finding isn’t revelatory to us because we have known we have been here for thousands of years.”
The canoe was first discovered in May 2022 by WHS Archaeologist Tamara Thomsen while diving in Lake Mendota, Madison’s largest lake.
Last year, Thomsen also discovered the first canoe recovered early this year.
The area of the lake the canoe was found in is populated, with homes and recreational boat traffic nearby.
“It was pure luck that someone from the [Wisconsin] Historical Society that is also a scuba diver happened to go there,” Brown said.
An end of the canoe was protruding out of the lake. Brown said that other divers likely had seen the canoe before but didn’t know what it was.
“To anyone else, this would look like a piece of wood, or driftwood, just sticking out of the water,” Brown said.
Brown went on to say that lower water levels — an effect of climate change — likely made the canoe visible.
Brown said that both canoes confirm that the Ho-Chunk people have been in the Madison area for thousands of years.
“Western academia, especially history, is based on evidence, or proof,” Brown told Native News Online. “Well, here’s a 3,000-year-old canoe. Anyone who wants to deny Indigenous history, it’s harder to do that now.”
Tell Us What You Think
More Stories Like ThisMichigan Governor Appoints 1st Native Citizen to Court of Appeals
Michigan Governor Meets with State's Tribes
Manitoba Man Charged with Killing 3 More Indigenous Women, House of Commons Rejects State of Emergency Request
SEEN & HEARD at the White House Tribal Nations Summit
Native News Weekly (December 4, 2022): D.C. Briefs
Do you appreciate a Native perspective on the news?
For the past decade-plus, we’ve covered the important Indigenous stories that are often overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the toppling of colonizer statues during the racial equity protests, to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) and the past-due reckoning related to assimilation, cultural genocide and Indian Boarding Schools, we have been there to provide a Native perspective and elevate Native voices.
Our news is free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation this month to help support our efforts. Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked. Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $25 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10. Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news.
Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.