Under the cold clear waters of Lake Huron, University of Michigan researchers have found a five-and-a-half 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 anthropologist John 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."
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), O'Shea and U-M colleague Guy Meadows began exploring the area in the middle of modern Lake Huron several years ago. In 2009 they reported finding a series of stone features that they believe were "drive lanes" used by ancient PaleoIndian hunters to funnel caribou to slaughter, a technique still used today by the Inuit.
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.