Historic Water Vessel Pulled from Lake Mendota

By the Wisconsin Historical Society

HISTORIC MOMENT: It may be the oldest completely intact water vessel known in Wisconsin, and it was pulled from Lake Mendota.

Wisconsin Historical Society maritime archaeologists recovered a historic dugout wood canoe from the bottom of Lake Mendota today, just a few months after learning of its existence in June 2021. Carbon dating indicates that the vessel is approximately 1,200 years old and was in use around A.D. 800, centuries before European arrival.

“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, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director & CEO for the Wisconsin Historical Society. “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 canoe was raised from a depth of about 30 feet with the assistance of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office dive team.

The canoe was transported to Wisconsin’s State Archive Preservation Facility and placed into a custom-built storage vat containing water and a bio-deterrent to protect the canoe from physical deterioration. Over time, a chemical solution will be added to the vat which will eventually replace the water in the cellular structure of the wood. The preservation process is estimated to take approximately three years.

The canoe will enhance opportunities to learn about the history of Dejope (Four Lakes) and its residents 1,200 years ago.

All photos are from the Wisconsin Historical Society.  View more photos here.