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Maritime archaeologists in Wisconsin have recovered a canoe that they say is around 3,000 years old, making it the oldest boat ever found in the Great Lakes region.

The Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) said the canoe was found in Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin Thursday. The canoe is carved from a single piece of white oak and measures about 14.5 feet long.

The canoe was initially discovered in May by WHS maritime archaeologist Tamara Thomsen. In collaboration with Wisconsin's Native Nations, a plan was made to recover the piece of history from the lake.

According to the WHS, a 1,200-year-old canoe was recovered from the same lake in November 2021. Smithsonian Magazine reports it was believed to be the oldest intact boat ever found in the state at the time.

Radiocarbon dating performed on the recently found canoe places it back to 1000 B.C.

Dr. James Skibo, WHS state archaeologist, said the canoe was found about 100 yards away from where the 2021 boat was found.

“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,” said Skibo. 

"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."

Skibo also stated that the lake's shoreline may have changed over time and could have once been much lower.

The WHS says the discovery of the latest canoe provides the earliest direct evidence that it was likely that water transportation dates back to the arrival of Native peoples in the region. 

"The 3,000-year-old canoe helps to tell a more complete story of the continuum of Native life in Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region," the WHS said.

Members from the Ho-Chunk Nation and Bad River Tribe were present at the canoe recovery on Thursday.

“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.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers called the discovery "extraordinary."

According to WHS, the canoe was taken to the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison, Wisconsin. It will be cleaned and cared for by Tribal members and staff before its lowered into a large preservation vat that also contains the 1,200-year-old canoe found last year.

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