2022 Honorary Historic Preservation Award | Wisconsin Historical Society

Feature Story

2022 Honorary Historic Preservation Award Winner Announced

2022 Honorary Historic Preservation Award | Wisconsin Historical Society

The Dane County Sheriff's Office Dive Team is the recipient of a 2022 Honorary Historic Preservation Award in special recognition of their partnership in safely bringing the newly discovered 1,200-year-old Mendota canoe to shore.

About the Project
Enlargecanoe being lifted from the lake

Wisconsin Historical Society archaeologists, assisted by divers from the Dane County Sheriff's Office, recovered the historic canoe from Lake Mendota on November 2, 2021

On November 2, 2021, the 1,200-year-old Mendota canoe was pulled from 30 feet of water in Lake Mendota. This is the oldest intact canoe in the state of Wisconsin and the only one found with artifacts. The artifacts were net sinkers that would have been attached to a net when the boat sank. Most dugout canoes are found near the shore where they are purposefully sunk in the fall and then recovered in the spring. This canoe has a different story. It is a fishing boat that sunk a couple of hundred yards off the southwest shore of Lake Mendota.

The decision to extract the canoe was made just six weeks before it was removed. The Wisconsin Historical Society had to come up with a plan that involved extra divers. Tamara Thomsen, WHS maritime diver, contacted Eric Stacey, who oversees the Dane County Sheriff's dive team, and asked him if he and his team would be interested in helping the Society with the canoe project. He enthusiastically agreed to assist in the recovery at no charge. They have a training day once per month, so the training for the lift was scheduled on their October training day and the actual lift for the November training. Along with Stacey, eight divers from the Sheriff's Department joined the Society along with their dive boat. They fit in seamlessly with the Society's plan and this project could not have been done without them.

The lift of the canoe and float to shore was about a four-hour process. Caitlin Zant, WHS maritime diver, was on the Sheriff Department's boat during the process, and Tamara was joined by the Sheriff divers at the bottom of the lake. The Sheriff's team was very professional and worked with the Society in a seamless manner. Once the canoe was brought up, it was towed to shore by their boat and one of their divers "road along" with the canoe during the trip. Once land was reached, all the divers assisted in putting the canoe on a platform and into a trailer for its ride to the State Archival Preservation Facility. There, they assisted the Society in carrying the canoe and placing it in the vat, where it now lies and is undergoing preservation.

The Office of State Archaeology and the State Historic Preservation Office are extremely grateful for their assistance during this important day. The canoe was chosen as one of the top archaeology discoveries in the world for 2021 (BBC Time Team) and has received worldwide media attention. The canoe will not only be a source for learning about transportation, subsistence, and overall life for AD 800 Lake Mendota, but it will become a centerpiece for teaching and learning as part of the Society's new museum in 2026.

This important discovery could not have been brought safely to shore without the help of the Dane County Dive Team. They not only had the skills to perform this difficult dive in low visibility, but they followed Society instructions and treated the canoe with the care necessary for its safe recovery.

Members of the Dive Team
Sgt Eric Stacey
Deputy Jacob Orth
Deputy Sean Fitzpatrick
Deputy Derek Eoff
Deputy Michael Hennell
Deputy Joshua Coyne
Deputy Cole Blakely
Deputy Jay Ceithamer

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