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31 December 2011
Traverse Corridor: a prehistoric crossroads in Michigan

Michigan State University professor and paleoanthropologist Charles Cleland and his students began digging for information about prehistoric northwestern lower Michigan (USA) inhabitants in 1966 and have continued for 40 years. Cleland postulated that a prehistoric 'Traverse Corridor,' stretching from the base of Grand Traverse Bay to the Mackinac Straits, was used by early Native Americans during their migrations thousands of years ago.
     His theory earned a National Science Foundation grant that funded the initial discovery of 30 to 40 prehistoric summer villages and many smaller camp locations in this region. Today this continuous avenue of Great Lakes coastal plains and inland lakes is known as a summer fishing, hunting and gathering ground used by two different groups of prehistoric people about 1,800 years ago at the latest.
     One of those groups came from Canada to catch and dry fall-spawning whitefish and lake trout along the Great Lakes shoreline to take back to winter camps in interior forests. Archaeological evidence indicates they used gill nets by 900 CE. The second group came from the southern parts of the Upper Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and as far away as Georgia. They relied more on agriculture but also hunted, fished, grew corn and gathered a variety of foods in the open marshes, mixed lowland and upland forests around the inland lakes.
     It's possible the two groups met and influenced each other during their summer migrations to an area where fish were plentiful and corn could grow. Lakes made the climate along the corridor milder than other Michigan places at the same latitude. Both groups used chert, or flint, obtained from a stone quarry on the northeast side of Grand Traverse Bay to make tools.
     The average village found covered about an acre while the largest were about three acres. It's hard to determine how many people lived in them during prehistoric times but archaeologists know from early written documents that an average 150 people, or about 30 families, lived in summer villages.  Evidence of fishing nets includes bark cordage remnants, piles of whitefish bones at certain fishing grounds and grooved or notched stone net sinkers lying in continuous lines on the exposed and underwater lake bottoms. Archaeologists believe the stones anchored the nets while cedar boughs were used to keep the tops afloat.

Edited from Traverse City Record-Eagle (11 December 2011)

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