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Ancient Hunters and the Lake Stanley Causeway: A Pilot Study

With National Science Foundation support, Dr. John M. O'Shea and a team of colleagues will conduct an initial field season to investigate ancient archaeological sites located beneath Lake Huron. The team brings together students and faculty from Anthropology, Naval Engineering and Computer Science in a collaborative effort to investigate camps, settlement and caribou ambush sites that have been submerged and protected by the waters of Lake Huron. With the retreat of the continental ice sheets, the early Great Lakes experienced a series of rapid rises and drops of water level. Roughly ten thousand years ago, the lakes reached an extremely low level, perhaps 100 meters lower than modern lake levels, which is termed the Lake Stanley Phase. At that time, the basin of modern Lake Huron held two lakes, separated by a large ridge of land running northwest to southeast across the basin. The causeway was some ten miles wide and presented a mix of sandy shorelines, rocky outcrops and open stands of spruce. Given its orientation it seems likely that it would have provided an important route for the annual migrations of the caribou herds, and natural ambush points for early hunters. With the further withdrawal of the continental ice sheets and changes in lake outlets, this unique landscape disappeared beneath the waters of Lake Huron, preserving the traces of the early hunters.<br/>The survey will employ a novel layered strategy to locate ancient sites. This search strategy includes sophisticated environmental modeling, acoustic survey with side scan sonar, acoustic and visual survey using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), site inspection and sampling using remote operated vehicles (ROVs) and the potential direct examination of sites by archaeologists trained in the use of SCUBA. <br/>The Lake Stanley survey will provide important new information at both theoretical and substantive levels. The intellectual merit of the research is the potential for recovering intact sites from a time period that is very poorly known on land in the Great Lakes region. It will be the first time that submerged occupation sites of Lake Stanley age have been found in the deep waters of the Great Lakes and will allow an entire range of current models for Late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic settlement and subsistence practices to be tested.<br/>The broader impacts of the study are that it will result in the creation of simulation models of early communities and the ancient landscape that will provide an important tool for both research and public education, and will test the utility of a search approach that may be broadly applicable to underwater archaeological searches in many parts of the world. Additionally, the research will almost certainly result in the discovery of shipwrecks, aircraft and other items of historic importance lost in the depths of Lake Huron. Finally, the research program will foster the collaborative interaction of computer scientists, naval engineers and archaeologists as they adapt existing capabilities, equipment and approaches to a novel research problem. These interdisciplinary benefits will be spread among faculty, graduate students and undergraduates in all three programs.

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