Mysteries of Lake Huron’s Ancient Hunters Revealed

When John M. O’Shea, the Emerson F. Greenman Professor of Anthropological Archaeology at the University of Michigan, and associates from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology first began to suspect that the unnatural rock formations lying beneath Lake Huron were those of an earlier hunting culture, they stated that they were reserving celebration until evidence of arrowheads or spear-tips were found, as well. In other words, the proverbial “smoking gun.”

Univ. of Michigan photo

Univ. of Michigan photo

In a new article appearing in the April 28, 2014 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, John M. O’Shea and associates from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology release more details about their research which now includes such evidence.

Although the story about the people who used these now-submerged hunting grounds dates back some 9,000 years, the research associated with these findings began only in 2009 with the study of the Alpena-Amberley ridge. This land bridge once connected northeast Michigan’s Alpena area with Point Clark in southwest Ontario. As a result of the continued post-Ice Age climatic conditions, the land bridge now lies some 100 feet beneath the surface of Lake Huron. Research conduced by O’Shea’s team provides significant evidence to suggest that this ridge served as a seasonal migratory link (spring and fall) for mastodon and caribou. Because of its narrow width and limited escape opportunities, this crossing created an exceptional hunting opportunity which ultimately ended as the lakes rose to an elevation which submerged this bridge.

Courtesy of Detroit Free Press

Courtesy of Detroit Free Press

This discovery actually has its roots in earlier research conducted by O’Shea involving Siberian reindeer herders who attempted to affect their migratory movement as an aid to hunting. When new maps of the Lake Huron area were released by the United States government which clearly showed this land bridge, the decision was made by O’Shea and his team to look for similar features in this now-submerged area of Lake Huron.

Eventually, a complex network of rock hunting blinds, drive lanes and food cache sites were identified at a location which would have intersected the seasonal migration of caribou. In an area identified as The Drop 45 Drive Lane (some 35 miles southeast of Alpena), this incredibly organized band of hunters who clearly understood the migratory instincts of caribou placed boulders in two parallel directions. Since caribou are genetically wired to follow such paths, they likely walked along this “drive lane” until they encountered its human-erected stone wall dead end.

Since this research remains in its early stages, it is anticipated that more will be learned as it moves from the archeological phase to one which is more anthropological in nature. What is known is that although the climate was somewhat more mild than during the Ice Age, it would have remained harsh by today’s standards (recent winter excepted). It has been theorized that meat harvested during the fall migration may have been stored in meat caches until winter and then retrieved by sled. The directions of these drive lanes have also offered clues as to which were used in the spring migration and which during the fall rut.

Univ. of Michigan photo

Univ. of Michigan photo

Little doubt exists that this story can only be told because of its underwater preservation. Evidence of similar hunting grounds which date back through the millennia have been largely lost or long since disappeared at the hands of both time and man.

Today, when many within our hunting community seem to spend more time debating issues such as antler point restrictions, method of take and technological advancements, it is easy to forget that such pursuits were once a communal activity. The survival of that community was entirely dependent upon the ability and willingness of its members to achieve a common goal. At a time when some fail to understand the relevance of such pursuits in a modern society, the concept of a collective goal is one which is very much worth revisiting.

For those who would like to learn more about this study, the complete article can be purchased from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences site for $10 by clicking a here.

P.A.R.

 

 

About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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