Evidence of early hunters deep below Lake Huron

U. MICHIGAN (US)—The first archeological evidence of human activity preserved beneath the Great Lakes has been found on a 9,000-year-old land bridge more than 100 feet deep in Lake Huron.

The discovery of caribou-hunting structures and camps used by the early hunters “is the first time we’ve identified structures like these on the lake bottom,” says John O’Shea, curator of Great Lakes Archaeology in the Museum of Anthropology and an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

“Scientifically, it’s important because the entire ancient landscape has been preserved and has not been modified by farming or modern development,” says O’Shea. “That has implications for ecology, archaeology, and environmental modeling.”

A paper about the findings is published in the June 8 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Coauthors O’Shea and Guy Meadows, professor of naval architecture and marine engineering at Michigan and director of the Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories, found features that they believe to be hunting pits, camps, caribou drive lanes, and stone piles used to attract the caribou to the drive lanes. Drive lanes are long rows of rocks used to channel caribou into ambushes. The 1,148-foot structure they believe is a drive lane closely resembles one on Victoria Island in the Canadian subarctic.

The hunting formations are on the relatively unspoiled 10-mile-wide Alpena-Amberley ridge, which was a bridge between 7,500 and 10,000 years ago when water levels were much lower.

Scientists have hypothesized for some time that the ridge might hold signs of ancient occupations, but they didn’t know what signs to look for. O’Shea and Meadows zeroed in on caribou-hunting structures after considering the region’s climate at the time, which would have been similar to the subarctic. Subarctic hunters are known to use caribou drive lanes.

O’Shea and Meadows used University of Michigan’s survey vessel, Blue Traveler, sonar equipment, and underwater remote-operated vehicles with video cameras to survey these areas.

“The combination of these state-of-the art tools have made these underwater archeological investigations possible,” Meadows says. “Without any one of these advanced tools, this discovery would not have happened.” Archaeologist will begin examining the areas this summer.

The Paleo-Indian and early Archaic periods are poorly documented in the Great Lakes region because most of their sites are thought to have been lost beneath the lakes. The Paleo-Indians were nomadic and pursued big game, O’Shea says. Communities during the Archaic period were more settled, with larger populations, a broad spectrum economy, and new long distance trade and ceremonial connections.

“Without the archeological sites from this intermediate time period, you can’t tell how they got from point A to point B, or Paleo-Indian to Archaic,” O’Shea explains. “This is why the discovery of sites preserved beneath the lakes is so significant.”

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