Prehistoric discovery in US lake leaves experts in shock and awe

Wisconsin historians recently announced the discovery of at least 11 ancient canoes in a Badger State lake – including one boat that dates back to 2500 BC.

The findings were announced in a press release by the Wisconsin Historical Society on May 23. The canoes were found in Lake Mendota, which is located outside of Madison.

The Wisconsin Historical Society explained that two ancient canoes were found in a cache in the lake in 2021 and 2022. Since then, historians have found at least 11 other ancient canoes, along what they believe was an ancient shoreline that became submerged over time.

Not all the canoes will be removed from the lake due to their fragility. In an interview with Fox News Digital on Wednesday, State Archaeologist for the Wisconsin Historical Society Dr. Amy Rosebrough explained the significance of the discovery.


“The Indigenous peoples of Wisconsin and the wider United States fished, traveled, and traded extensively on inland lakes and streams, and until now we have not had a clear look at the canoes used in the Great Lakes region,” she explained.

“To put it in modern terms, it’s like trying to understand life in the Midwest without ever seeing a real pickup truck in person. Canoes allowed people to fish in deeper lakes, to transport goods over hundreds of miles, and to travel to far-away places. “

Rosebrough added that they believe an ancient village site is located under the waters, although it has not been found yet. Divers have found stone tools in the water, and experts believe that the lake is filled with other hidden sites.

“Lake Mendota is a hard lake to work in, however,” Rosebrough admitted. “There is a limited window of visibility for diving missions, and we are exploring non-destructive remote sensing techniques that might help this summer.”


“Even without finding the village, the discovery of these canoes and the tools found within the first canoe that was found, human-worked stone tools called net sinkers, reminds us that people have lived and worked alongside the lake for thousands of years.”

Radiocarbon dating found that the oldest canoe dates back to 2500 B.C., which would mean it was built around the time Stonehenge was constructed. The canoe was constructed more than 1,700 years before Ancient Rome was first settled and 2,500 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.

All the canoes varied in age, with the youngest one dating back to 1250 AD. The archaeologist explained that the canoes “may have been intentionally cached in the water during the winter months, a standard practice to keep canoes safe from freezing and warping.”


“Either this practice of storing canoes for winter was carried out in roughly the same spot over generations – perhaps because of a living area nearby – or we are only seeing a window into a much larger site that might span much of the lakeshore,” she described.

Rosebrough added that, though the Great Lakes dwarf Lake Mendota, the south central Wisconsin lake is small but mighty when it comes to archaeological potential.

“The Great Lakes oftentimes receive more funding for maritime archaeology but smaller bodies of water like Lake Mendota have their own distinct histories and stories to tell us about the people who lived here hundreds and thousands of years ago,” she said. “We are proud to work in partnership with Native Nations in Wisconsin to discover all we can about Tee Waksikhominak and to share these stories now and in the future at the new Wisconsin History Center set to open in early 2027.”

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