Tamara Thomson and Mallory Dragt thought they would take a spin on some underwater scooters, motorized gadgets that scuba divers use to propel themselves through the water at the bottom of Lake Mendota.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning in June, and the two working at Diversion Scuba debated whether they had seen a log sticking out of the bottom of the 9,781-acre lake or something extremely rare.
This discovery on a slope in 27 feet of water near Shorewood Hills has turned out to be as historical as it is.
After a little investigation, it turns out that Thomson, who is also a marine archaeologist for the Wisconsin Historical Society, was right in deciding that it was more than just a log: it was a dugout canoe. A few weeks later, carbon-14 dating revealed that the 15-foot-long ship was an estimated 1,200 years old, making it the oldest intact boat ever found in Wisconsin waters.
On a brisk Tuesday, amid the waves and 50-degree water, the canoe was brought ashore by teams of divers who shared applause and hugs from residents of the Spring Harbor neighborhood who had gathered on the beach. Canoe’s return to the shore.
“This is the first time this thing has happened out of water in 1,200 years. And they may have left this beach to go fishing,” said James Skibo, a Wisconsin state archaeologist. “Not only has it been underwater; It has been under the ground. The reason it is preserved so well is that it has not been exposed to light. So that’s one reason why we have to start preserving it. There are living creatures on it that are chewing on it as we speak.”