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Carbon dating shows Big Swan Lake canoe is much older than previously thought
Monday, Dec. 31, 2012

By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

DASSEL, MN – Speculations about the origins and age of a dugout canoe found in November 1957 at the bottom of Big Swan Lake have finally come to an end after carbon testing was recently completed on the relic.

A firm in Florida completed the carbon testing of the canoe, which is now on display at the McLeod County Historical Musuem in Hutchinson. Testing showed the canoe was much older than previously thought to be, which was about 150 to 250 years old.

The carbon testing, however, dated the 14-foot, white oak dugout to be built between 1030 and 1220 A.D., making it closer to 800 years old.

This would have been a time when Native Americans were adjusting from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle, to a more sedentary lifestyle, according to Dale Maul, an archeologist with Bolton and Menk.

Individual skills would have been more specialized, and Native Americans would have also begun growing crops, such as corn, squash, and beans, Maul noted.

The dugout was found by Minnesota Game and Fish workers when seining rough fish at the southern, shallower end of Big Swan Lake.

Ken Schumann of Hutchinson was one of the crew members who was present when the dugout was pulled out of the lake.

Contemplating a birthday present for Schumann last year, his daughter, Kristine Malmberg, contacted the McLeod County Historical Museum about donating $3,000.

With her permission, the museum used the donation as matching funds to secure a $7,000 Legacy Act grant, allowing them to not only carbon test the dugout, but also have other Native American artifacts at the museum examined by experts.

The museum will be publishing a booklet in 2013 about the dugout and other artifacts, as well as showcasing them in their displays, according to McLeod County Historical Museum Executive Director Lori Pickell-Stangel.

The museum saved $1,000 from the grant in order to preserve the canoe, which has slowly been deteriorating since being pulled out of the muddy bottom of Big Swan Lake, Pickell-Stangel said.

Many of the artifacts the museum had examined were donated from the Littfin family of Winsted, who own the property on Winsted Lake on which Ponto’s Point is located.

Throughout the years, numerous artifacts have been found by different people at this archeological site, located on the east side of Lake Winsted.

Although there has been little research done at the site, it is speculated that it was a pre-historic settlement or hunting camp, as well as possibly a Native American burial mound.

The artifacts include a vast variety of large, hand-held grooved and ungrooved axes, hammer stones, and celts.

Other artifacts include copper tools and caches of copper.

Rather then smelting the copper using heat, the copper tools were hammered into shape.

Caches of copper, along with heavy stone tools would have been stored at seasonal Native American campsites throughout their territory because they were too heavy to transport from site to site, Pickell-Stangel said.

Cokato Museum dugout

The Cokato Museum also has a dugout in its collection, donated to the museum in 1976.

It is was found near a lake in Mille Lacs County and the donor brought it home, later giving it to the museum.

The dugout has never been carbon tested, but an archeologist with the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa speculated that it could be at least 500 years old based on the way it was made.

However, the archeologist would not guarantee its age.

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