Crystal Falls native, Wisconsin State Archaeologist dies after lake dive

Wisconsin’s State Archaeologist, Dr. James Skibo
Wisconsin’s State Archaeologist, Dr. James Skibo(Wisconsin Historical Society)
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 4:11 PM EDT
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MADISON, Wisc. (WLUC) - A beloved Wisconsin archaeologist, historian, family-man and friend died after a routine dive in Lake Mendota Friday, April 14.

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office stated that 63-year-old James ‘Jim’ Matthew Skibo was found unresponsive by a fellow diver in about 24 feet of water. Deputies were able to pull Skibo out of the water and bring him to shore, where they performed CPR. Responders transported him to UW Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The Wisconsin Historical Society explained in a Facebook post that Skibo was on a work-up dive to prepare for maritime archaeology season. He was a certified diver and qualified for the depth of the dive and equipment being used, according to the organization.

Born in Crystal Falls, Michigan, Skibo attended Northern Michigan University before moving to Tucson to pursue his masters and doctorate at the University of Arizona. Upon completion, Skibo and his family headed back to the Midwest where he accepted a position at Illinois State University– a role he would stay in for over 20 years, eventually becoming the chair of his department.

In 2021, Skibo and his wife moved back to Madison, Wisconsin where he came out of retirement to join the Wisconsin Historical Society as the State Archaeologist where he oversaw the state’s 36,000 archaeological sites and statewide research.

Skibo is survived by his wife and two children, the Historical Society noted.

“For those looking for a way to honor Jim, his family suggests giving back to the earth that he loved and learned from,” the Historical Society added.

Skibo’s family encourages those honoring him to celebrate his legacy of kindness and positivity by offering a gift of love in action.

His obituary reads, “When you wish you could grab coffee with him, buy a cup of coffee for someone in need. When you cite his work, send words of encouragement to a colleague. When you witness ignorance and intolerance, show up with curiosity and compassion.”

The medical examiner’s office completed a forensic examination Saturday, April 15 and noted additional testing is underway. The cause and manner of death is still under investigation by the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office.