MiGreatPlaces: Underwater in Lake Huron

Hunting is such a big part of who we are in Northern Michigan, it’s our past and our present.

While it’s a boom for our economy these days, it was once a necessity for survival.

We take a fascinating journey underwater to see how some of the earliest hunters did it in today’s Mi Great Places.

The Great Lakes hold so many secrets and so much history. Most of us have no idea what hides beneath these waves.

“It’s not just shipwrecks but there are things that were going on here a long time ago that are still preserved in the lake.”

And archaeologists just found something big in Lake Huron off the shore of Alpena.

Hunting blinds and drive lanes dating back 9,000 years, at a time when water levels were much, much lower.

They are about 30 miles from today’s shore.

“The places where people spent most of their lives is close to the water so they’re all out underwater now. So this time period is very poorly understood on land. So finding these sites, providing where we can find these sites is important for archaeology and history just for nailing that down,” says archaeologist John O’Shea.

The area is called the Alpena-Amberly Ridge and this group used a special sonar to find what they expected was there.

Doctoral candidate Ashley Lemke actually spotted them first.

“The sonar goes around in a circle and we had mapped some other things in the day and we weren’t really seeing anything and then this one just comes up and I’m like oh OK. There’s a site. The hunting structure it’s pretty amazing.”

John says, “It’s elation and disbelief at the same time. You always try to maintain a healthy scientific skepticism about stuff but you get really excited at first and then you go back and ay OK we better test it we better prove it.”

And as John O’Shea and the rest of the crew kept looking, they found the proof they needed.

“In this case the proof was finding flakes that actually was the detrius from making stone tools were in several of these hunting blinds so that really capped it that this was really a human construction that they were sitting there, they built it, they were hunting caribou.”

And with that comes a better understanding of the people who lived here. They actually built lanes to lead the animals to them.

“It’s something with these hoofed animals that they’re relay interested in straight lines in linear features so it’s just kind of the suggested line in the landscape and caribou just follow it. What you get is all these guys positioned in these areas in these hunting blinds kind of crouched down and then you lead them into these kill zone areas right in one area where you can begin to hunt,” explains Ashley.

Information that may change what some believe prehistoric people were like.

“People think of them living these really simple existence ya know of almost starving to death all the time and these people they’re just like you and i they knew animal behavior really well they knew the natural environmentally well and able to build these structures that we can still find under the lake.”

Searching for these artifacts in the deep cold waters of Lake Huron may be tough, but it’s the environment that saved them.

“If they’d been on land wouldn’t survive. They’d have been moved by timbering farming building Wal-Marts or whatever and as a result this is the only place you could hope to find these structures preserved,” John says.

An amazing discovery that will hopefully lead to more while changing a few minds about where to find history and what these people do every day.

Ashley explains, “I’ve worked in North America in archaeology for a long time and when people thing archaeology they think Egypt or some exotic places and it’s really everywhere.”