Friday, February 13, 2015

Caribou Hunting Along Lake Huron’s Alpena-Amberley Ridge

Moonlight Deer Hunting Along the Alpena -Amberley Ridge

   "The hunters crouched silhouetted against the moon clutching their spears, frozen in a taut listening posture.  Just fifteen in number, their families in double numbers waited for the food and clothing that the caribou hunt would provide.  The hunters could not explain the fact that caribou were missing a Circadian clock” to regulate their sleep wake cycle and metabolism, but they knew that the caribou roamed by the light of the moon as well as in bright sunlight. Patiently they waited, their spears ready to fly to their targets.

      The Paleo-Indian caribou hunters took as many hunting opportunities as they could on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge. The Alpena-Amberley Ridge, labeled Six Fathom Shoal on older nautical charts, is a limestone and dolomite ridge about 100 miles long and 10 miles wide, which from 9,800 to 7,000 years ago, formed a dry land corridor dividing the modern Lake Huron Basin into two separate lakes and linking northeast lower Michigan with southwest Ontario. Some scientists and anthropologists believe that during this era of low water levels-some 250 feet lower – the Alpena-Amberley Ridge served as a natural caribou migration route featuring a subarctic environment of tamarack, spruce, and wetland from what would eventually become modern northern Michigan to the Canadian Arctic. In turn, generations of Paleo-Indian hunters used this corridor to hunt the massive herds of caribou for more than 1,000 years. When the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age, the rising waters covered the Alpena-Amberley Ridge and the evidence of Paleo-Indian hunts.
      It took Dr. John O’Shea, the Emerson F. Greenman Professor of Anthropological Archaeology at the University of Michigan, and his team of scientists to uncover that evidence. They speculated, hypothesized, and finally explored the underwater ridge and Dr. O’Shea suggests that the caribou herds at least equaled the thousands of animals making up modern caribou herds in the Canadian Arctic. He also suggests that the Paleo-Indians who gradually moved onto the land that the retreating glaciers slowly exposed made good use of the caribou. He and his team of explorers have discovered more than 60 stone edifices now 121 feet under Lake Huron that he believes the Paleo-Indians used as hunting blinds.
      In 2009, Dr. O’Shea and his team discovered rock features on the bottom of Lake Huronthat they believe Paleo-Indians fashioned to herd migrating caribou into narrow corridors optimal for spear hunting. An Alpena News Story by Patty Ramus dated June 3, 2010, reported the three way collaboration between The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the University of Michigan, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in conducting multi-beam sonar mapping of the Alpena-Amberley Ridge about sixty miles off the shore of Lake Huron near the Canadian border. The scientists planned to use the data collected to develop a detailed map of the lake bottom and use it to explore the lake bottom to look for evidence of ancient caribou hunters who guided animals into kill areas that they had constructed of stone.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the initial findings of the scientists in April 2009, and the University of Michigan began negotiating with the marine sanctuary about conducting a multi-beam sonar survey to create the detailed map. According to Dr. O’Shea, several organizations, including the state and federal fisheries researchers were interested in the data to use to build new models for predicting fish populations.

Dr. O’Shea and his team spent the next four years refining their research and conducting further sonar and diving expeditions. An April 28, 2014, article, appearing in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that Dr. O’Shea who is also Curator of the University of Michigan’s Great Lakes Division of the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, and his team of scientists discovered other evidence of Paleo-Indian caribou hunters, including drive lanes and wooden artifacts that suggest these hunters approached their prey differently in different seasons. Caribou heading north in the spring marched into a manmade ambush. Because they knew that caribou naturally follow lines, the hunters built two parallel lines of boulders about 26 feet wide and 100 feet long, ending at a natural stone wall. In the meantime, the hunters hid in another group of stone hunting blinds they built along the lanes. According to researchers, the ground was littered with debris from manufacturing or repairing stone tools, possibly spear points. In the fall, caribou heading south along the land bridge would have run straight into a cluster of stone hunting blinds.

The underwater evidence also attests to the seasonal pattern of the hunter’s lives. According to Dr. O’Shea, people probably didn’t live on the land bridge, but in the spring families would gather at the drive line, which would take15 or 16 hunters to operate efficiently. He said that 15 or 16 doesn’t sound like a large number of people , but if the Paleo-Indians lived in small family groups most of the year, it is a significant number and people would have socialized as well as hunting. He believes that these hunters lived long before modern aboriginals in the shadow of retreating glaciers and that they were a hunting and gathering people who felled caribou in small groups in the fall, dug in snug and lived off food caches and animals like beaver in the winter before they gathered for the big hunt in the spring.

Dr. O’Shea believes that there are many more under water sites in the Great Lakes like the ones he and his colleagues discovered untouched for thousands of years. ”None of it would have survived if it had been on land. This is the only place you could find this evidence. It’s hard to find, but there’s no other place you could find it,” he said."

References and Further Reading


An Early Paleo-Indian Site Near Parkhill, Ontario. Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2000.

Armbruster, Ann. Lake Huron:  True Books:  Geography:  Great Lakes. Children’s Press, 1996.

Fisher, Daniel C. “Mastodant Procurement by Paleoindians of the Great Lakes Region: Hunting of Scavenging? “from The Evolution of Human Hunting. New York:  Plenum Press, 1987.

Hill, Mark Andrew. The Benefit of the Gift:  Social Organization and Expanding Networks of Interaction in the Western Great Lakes Archaic. International Monographs in Prehistory, 2012.

Johansen, Bruce. The Native Peoples of North America;  A History. Rutgers University Press, 2006.

Spring, Barbara. The Dynamic Great Lakes. Independence Books, 2002.

Articles and Papers about the Alpena-Amberley Ridge Site

Prehistoric Stone Walls Found Under Lake Huron.

Ancient Hunting Camp Found Beneath Lake Huron  drain the lakes

Alpena News

Science Daily

The Lake Huron Center for Coastal Conservation

John O’Shea Paper

Caribou caribou herd dynamics  john oshea paper

Caribou Hunters Beneath Lake Huron. Ashley Lempke.

National Geographic

The Paleo Indian Occupation of the Holcombe Beach

James Edward FittingJerry De VisscherEdward J. Wahla

University of Michigan, 1966 – Holcombe Site (Mic

Ontario Paleo-Indians and Caribou Predation   Video. Dr. John O’Shea

 Geology of the Great Lakes

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

    Thanks so much !

    Caribou Hunting & Muskox hunting