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Archaeologists pull 1,200-year-old dugout canoe built by Native Americans from Wisconsin lake


A 1,200-year-old dugout canoe has been pulled from the depths of Lake Mendota in Wisconsin.

The 15-foot-long vessel was discovered 30 feet below the surface earlier this year, but archaeologists pulled it ashore for the first time on Tuesday.

Amy Rosebrough, Staff Archaeologist for the Wisconsin Historical Society, told DailyMail.com: ‘We have identified the Ho-Chunk as the most likely descendants of the canoe-makers.

‘The Oneida and Potawatomi did not arrive in Wisconsin until much later, and the homelands of the Menominee and Ojibwe were further north. 

‘The canoe was made by effigy-builders, and the Ho-Chunk claim direct descent from that population.’ 

Christian Overland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker director & CEO for the Wisconsin Historical Society, said in a statement obtained by Dailymail.com: ‘The dugout canoe found in Lake Mendota is a significant artifact of the continuum of canoe culture in the Western Great Lakes region.’

‘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.

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A 1,200-year-old dugout canoe has been pulled from the depths of Lake Mendota in Wisconsin

A dugout canoe is constructed by hollowing out a tree and the one found in Wisconsin was constructed from a bass wood or walnut tree, which were commonly used at the time.

After cutting the tree and sculpting the canoe, natives would burn the seating area and scrape out the charcoal with stone tools to create a softer feel on the inside.

Bill Quackenbush, the Ho-Chunk’s tribal historic preservation officer, told the State Journal: ‘When it comes to items of this nature, if it’s going to protect and preserve the history and culture of us in this area, we’re all in support of that.

‘Looking at the crowd here, there’s a lot of interest in this one little project.’

The 15-foot-long vessel was discovered 30 feet below the surface earlier this year, but archaeologists pulled it ashore for the first time on Tuesday

The 15-foot-long vessel was discovered 30 feet below the surface earlier this year, but archaeologists pulled it ashore for the first time on Tuesday

Pictured is the location of Lake Mendota in Wisconsin. The canoe first appeared like a log sticking out from the surface, but archaeologists decided to conduct a further analysis with underwater scooters and scuba divers, revealing the historic find

Pictured is the location of Lake Mendota in Wisconsin. The canoe first appeared like a log sticking out from the surface, but archaeologists decided to conduct a further analysis with underwater scooters and scuba divers, revealing the historic find

‘The canoe was used for fishing on the lakes, since we found a group of ‘netsinkers’ inside the canoe,’ Rosebrough told DailyMail.com.

‘These items would have weighted down the lower end of a floating fishing net or anchored fishing lines. 

The canoe first appeared like a log sticking out from the surface, but archaeologists decided to conduct a further analysis with underwater scooters and scuba divers, revealing the historic find.

Excavations of the area around the canoe began in late October 2021, and maritime archaeologists recovered artifacts from the site early on in their process. 

‘It took a few weeks from discovery to recovery since we had to get all of the materials ready to recover the canoe—we wanted to make sure we were doing it right,’ Rosebrough told DailyMail.com.

‘The recovery team were very careful when handling the canoe since an artifact of this age is very susceptible to damage. 

‘The team used floatation bags to the lift the canoe from the lake floor and floated it underneath the water to the beach where it was removed from the water.

‘It was important to limit the amount of time the canoe was exposed to the open air in order to prevent physical deterioration.’

Net sinkers, rocks that were flattened by hand tooling, were recovered from within the canoe, indicating the vessel may have been used for fishing. 

The canoe was raised from a depth of about 30 feet with the assistance of the Dane County Sherriff’s dive team. 

It took the team one-hour to complete the one-mile trip from the lake to the shore.

Once near shore, it was placed onto a piece of scaffolding and carried to an enclosed trailer normally used for carrying ATVs and snowmobiles for Department of Natural Resources wardens.

It was then 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. 

A dugout canoe is constructed by hallowing out a tree and the one found in Wisconsin was constructed from a bass wood or walnut, which were commonly used during this time

A dugout canoe is constructed by hallowing out a tree and the one found in Wisconsin was constructed from a bass wood or walnut, which were commonly used during this time

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 vessel is connected to the Ho-Chunk Nation, which are one of the first Native American tribes in Wisconsin.

They are Siouan-speaking and have lived in other US states including Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

The ancient ancestors are known for building Effigy Mounds in Wisconsin, which are raised piles of earth built in a specific shape.

The canoe pulled from Lake Mendota is the oldest and most intact found in the state and will be held at the State Archive Preservation Facility for public viewing.



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