American Indian dugout canoe is suddenly the main attraction at
a Long Lake museum.
tests show that the old canoe, unearthed from Lake Minnetonka 80
years ago, is more valuable and rare than first thought estimated
to be nearly 1,000 years old, the oldest of its kind in Minnesota.
"We've always thought it was 200, 300 years old," said Russ
Ferrin, a retiree who runs the Pioneer Museum. "And then they came
back and said it was 1,000 years old. It totally shocked us."
The canoe, made from a hollowed tree trunk by some of the earliest
American Indians to live on the lake and in the state, was initially
dated to about 1750. But recent radiocarbon testing now dates it
to between 1025 and 1165 making it one of the oldest watercraft
finds in the state.
"It's spectacular," Ferrin said.
The canoe was discovered in 1934 as a family was building a
dock on the shore of Lake Minnetonka's North Arm in Orono. Severe
drought had dropped the lake below normal water levels, and one
of the dock posts hit what family members thought was a log. They
unearthed it and discovered it was the well-preserved dugout canoe,
long embedded in the lake's silt and mud.
The canoe has bounced around to different museums and been lent
to various groups.
When no one else had space or, perhaps, interest
the Western Hennepin County Pioneer Association took it in 1961,
adding it to the dozens of family heirlooms and antiques that people
have discarded, such as tea cups, a war flag, even a moose shot
by Theodore Roosevelt that another museum didn't want.
"Everything tells a story," Ferrin said.
The association's museum shuffled the heavy canoe
into a backroom among war memorabilia before moving it into a hallway.
Last year, St. Paul nautical archaeologists Ann Merriman and
Chris Olson came across it. Intrigued, they set out to study it
and seven other dugout canoes in Minnesota. "No one knows much about
them," Merriman said. "They're priceless."
With a $9,000 state grant, the couple researched and did radiocarbon
analysis on the canoes found across the state, from the Minnesota
River in Bloomington to Dutch Lake in northern Minnesota.
The study, released Tuesday by Maritime Heritage Minnesota,
determined that the Lake Minnetonka canoe, which is 11 feet by nearly
1.5 feet, is the oldest. It's also in good condition despite some
deterioration since it was unearthed; it's lost small pieces and
a large crack splits it.
"That's sad," Merriman said, adding that the damage may be from
the 1930s. "They didn't know better; they cared about history but
didn't know how to care for it."
While the canoe may look unimpressive, the archaeologists
say it's a rare find. They now hope to track down more information,
such as what kind of tree was used to make it, as well as to research
two dugout canoes found in Beltrami and Blue Earth counties.
"We're hoping there's more out there," Merriman said. "This
history is important for everyone."
In Long Lake, the canoe that once was relegated to a corner
is now the museum's centerpiece fitting, since it's about
6 miles from where it was discovered. The museum will rope it off
and enclose it in a glass case with updated details about how rare
and old it is.
"We'll never loan it again, especially now we know what it is,"
It's not just newfound fame for an ancient artifact but also
for the small museum. Founded by pioneers 107 years ago, the nonprofit
is housed in an old school building. It's run by Ferrin and other
volunteers, and admission is free when it's open for four hours
"It is [the main attraction] now," Ferrin said of the canoe.
"We hope it will draw visitors."