“Massive New Fossil Discovery.” It conjures images of sun-baked researchers with tiny brushes on hands and knees in the middle of an unforgiving desert. But for a group of underwater divers from the University of Michigan it was the waters of Lake Huron that held a miraculous find.
With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), UM Divers began exploring the depths of Lake Huron in search of relics they hoped could shed light on prehistoric North American societies. One of the most important objects discovered during the dive was an 8,900-year-old, 5 ½ ft. long piece of wood.
WHY ALL THE FUSS OVER AN ANCIENT LOG?
According to anthropologist John O’Shea, “This [8,900 years ago] was the stage when humans gradually shifted from hunting large mammals like mastodon and caribou to fishing, gathering and agriculture…But because most of the places in this area where 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.” O’Shea hopes the analysis and data gathered from the wood will fill in yet another piece of the puzzle. And in all likelihood it will.
The UM dives have been extremely successful. A notable 2009 dive uncovered stone features used by ancient hunters to herd caribou to slaughter. Improved carbon dating has helped reveal information about plant species that once lived in the region. The divers also found remnants of charcoal located near what appeared to be ancient camping sites. According to O’Shea, “Slowly, the environmental picture is filling in…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.”
The team is excited by their recent discoveries and plan to launch more dives in the near future.
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