Ancient Hunting, Herding Structures Found In Lake Huron's Depths
April 29, 2014

Ancient Hunting, Herding Structures Found In Lake Huron’s Depths

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Ancient peoples of North America relied on caribou hunts for food and a new study from a team of Michigan researchers has revealed the discovery of 9,000-year-old hunting infrastructure at the bottom of Lake Huron.

The study authors said the newly-discovered hunting blinds and herding structures provide unprecedented insight into the social and seasonal habits of ancient North Americans living around the Great Lakes.

"This site and its associated artifacts, along with environmental and simulation studies, suggest that Late Paleoindian/Early Archaic caribou hunters employed distinctly different seasonal approaches," said study author John O'Shea, a professor of anthropological archaeology at the University of Michigan. "In autumn, small groups carried out the caribou hunts, and in spring, larger groups of hunters cooperated."

In their report, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study authors reported that the hunting structures were found under more than 120 feet of water about 35 miles southeast of Alpena, Mich. Situated atop an underwater feature called the Alpena-Amberley Ridge, the hunting structures would have been on a stretch of dry land that used to connect northeast Michigan to southern Ontario.

The discovery of the structures was caused in part by new maps published by the federal government six years ago that revealed the existence on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge. The Michigan team used sonar, an underwater drone and scuba divers to scour the ridge – eventually coming upon the ancient structures.

The principal structure, known as Drop 45 Drive Lane, is the most intricate hunting structure discovered to date underneath the Great Lakes. Built on limestone bedrock, the rock lane is made up of two parallel lines of rocks directing toward a cul-de-sac created by the naturally-occurring stone path. Three rounded hunting blinds are engineered into the stone lines, with even more stone constructs that may have been blinds and obstructions used to corral caribou.

Even though autumn was the best season for hunting caribou, the positioning of Drop 45 indicates that it should only have been effective if the animals were traveling northwest, which they would have on the spring migration from present day Ontario.

"It is noteworthy that V-shaped hunting blinds located upslope from Drop 45 are oriented to intercept animals moving to the southeast in the autumn," O'Shea said. "This concentration of differing types of hunting structures associated with alternative seasons of migration is consistent with caribou herd movement simulation data indicating that the area was a convergence point along different migration routes, where the landform tended to compress the animals in both the spring and autumn."

He added that the features and chipped stone debris at the site supply strong evidence for intentional human construction and use of the area. The evidence also offers essential clues about the cultural and economic organization of the ancient hunters making use of this spot.

"The larger size and multiple parts of the complex drive lanes would have necessitated a larger cooperating group of individuals involved in the hunt," he said. "The smaller V-shaped hunting blinds could be operated by very small family groups relying on the natural shape of the landform to channel caribou towards them."