|15 December 2011
Prehistoric wood retrieved from Lake Huron
Under the cold clear waters of Lake Huron, between USA and Canada, anthropologists John O'Shea and Guy Meadows from University of Michigan, with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have found a 5.5 foot-long, pole-shaped piece of wood that is 8,900 years old. The wood, which is tapered and beveled on one side in a way that looks deliberate, may provide important clues to a mysterious period in North American prehistory.
"This was the stage when humans gradually shifted from hunting large mammals like mastodon and caribou to fishing, gathering and agriculture," said O'Shea. "But because most of the places in this area that prehistoric people lived are now under water, we don't have good evidence of this important shift itself - just clues from before and after the change. One of the enduring questions is the way the land went under water. Many people think it must have been a violent event, but finding this large wood object just sitting on the bottom wedged between a few boulders suggests that the inundation happened quickly but rather gently. And this in turn suggests that we'll find more intact evidence of human activity in the area."
In 2009 scientists reported finding a series of stone features that they believe were 'drive lanes' used by ancient PaleoIndian hunters to funnel caribou to slaughter. These drive lanes were located on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge, a land connection across the middle of modern Lake Huron that linked northern Michigan with central Ontario during the low-water periods of the Pleistocene and early Holocene ages.
Since that discovery O'Shea and Meadow have worked on identifying human campsites, which are typically located away from hunting areas. In addition to the wood 'pole' specimen, they have collected many other samples from the bottom of the lake that they hope will provide clues about the environment before it was submerged by the rising lake water.
According to O'Shea, quantities of pine pollen and charcoal have been found. "Slowly, the environmental picture is filling in," he said. "There was a marsh close by this site. It seems we're narrowing in on people, but of course forest fires could have created the charcoal as well as cooking fires. So we need to wait for the analyses to be sure about what we've got here."
Edited from ScienceDaily (12 December 2011)
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