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17 October 2007
Searching for ancient shores in Michigan

Pulling her hand back through a pile of dirt, student Claire Kitzman forced sand through a sifting screen, revealing a tiny piece of chipped rock lodged between the bars of the grate. "Take a look at this," she said, moving the stone fragment toward her professor. John Anderton, a geoarchaeologist and geography professor at Northern Michigan University, holds the quartzite chip and confirms for Kitzman itís a piece of cultural antiquity dating back the Archaic Period in geologic history, some 2,000 to 8,500 years ago. "Itís prehistoric garbage, basically," Anderton said, referring to the waste flakes from chipping stones and bits of fire-cracked rock the archaeologists are discovering in undisclosed sites at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
     Finds over the past several months are helping researchers learn more about the prehistoric people who frequented this northern part of Alger County (Michigan, USA) thousands of years ago. "From what we see archaeologically, they have a lot of focus on quartzite cobbles," Anderton said. "They seem to be making simple flake tools. For what? Based on the site locations, probably to process fish." Anderton said people from the Archaic Period frequented Pictured Rocks quite extensively in small numbers, likely only making seasonal campsites to benefit from available food sources. "We have not found a major village yet in the park," Anderton said. A couple of large Archaic Period villages have been unearthed on Grand Island nearby.
     After the glaciers of the Pleistocene epoch retreated and melted, a lake pre-dating Lake Superior called Glacial Lake Nipissing covered the area some 4,000 to 6,000 years ago. The level of that Archaic Period lake was 40 feet higher than present-day Lake Superior.
     Under a $94,000 three-year research grant from the National Park Service, Anderton and a small group of his students have been working to uncover evidence of new prehistoric Archaic archaeological sites at Pictured Rocks. "There are extensive areas of the park that contain evidence of former beaches, old wave-cut caves and ancient barriers and lagoons,Ē Anderton said. ďThis information will be used to generate a geographic information system model of a prehistoric Native American settlement that will be used to predict the location of archaeological sites."
     Using the model, satellite photographs and maps, the researchers headed to the park this summer, discovering numerous sites previously unknown to archaeological studies of prehistory undertaken in past decades at Pictured Rocks. A total of 23 new sites were found this summer. Only a dozen prehistoric sites had previously been documented at the park. The last large archaeological study at Pictured Rocks took place almost 20 years ago. Gregg Bruff, chief of heritage education at Pictured Rocks, said the model has proven highly reliable in pinpointing Archaic activity.
     Additional signs of Archaic people using the area have also been unearthed within the Hiawatha National Forest. One theory about Archaic people at Pictured Rocks is that these Native Americans focused on lagoon areas for springtime fishing. These people, who were spear-throwers, would use the most readily available materials to create tools, Anderton said.

Source: The Mining Journal (14 October 2007)

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