Pictured Rocks Research Completed

Researchers from the NMU geography department recently completed a three-year project at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore that uncovered 23 new archaeological sites and reconstructed the Nipissing shoreline as it looked about 4,500 years ago. John Anderton (Geography, pictured at right with a student) said the National Park Service supported the effort to locate cultural resources so they remain protected in future plans for road improvements and other developments.

In the first year of the project, satellite imagery was used to identify distinct land forms—notches, ridges and barriers—created by wave action to map the older shorelines. They found that the water was 30-40 feet higher than it is today.

“Today, Pictured Rocks is seen as a barrier with the cliffs and long stretches of beach," Anderton said. "It’s not very habitable. But if you go back a while, there were nice places for people to live. There were embayments, or shallow water lagoons that had a variety of fish and plants; everything a hunter-gatherer would need.”

In the second year of the project, Robert Legg (Geography) completed Geographic Information Systems (GIS) modeling of archaeological sites. He documented the GPS locations of established sites Anderton previously knew about and did comparisons across a broader study area to find new locations with similar settings.

The resulting model was put to the test in the final phase of the project: a cultural resource survey. This involved shovel testing for artifacts, mainly rock material such as quartzite flakes or shatter left behind from making tools. Detailed digital elevation models created by Robert Regis (Geography) allowed Anderton and students to key in on the best places to drop a shovel. They focused on key spots around Miner’s, Mosquito and Chapel areas as well as Beaver Lake.

“In the past, you might do a hundred tests and find nothing. But one out of four of ours unearthed artifacts,” Anderton said. “That’s called smart archaeology. The big surprise is there were six brand new sites in Miner’s and another six at Mosquito. Radiocarbon dating put them at over 2,000 years old. They were most likely small, short-term campsites where individual families stayed; it wasn’t the full-blown villages that have been found on Grand Island. The implication is that springtime fishing drew people in.

“The park benefits because they know where artifacts are and they can avoid, for example, putting a group campsite on an archaeological location. They can’t do that legally, but they didn’t know what to preserve because it had been hard to find evidence of ancient people’s activities at Pictured Rocks; it’s so heavily wooded. Interpreters will also be able to describe Native American use of the park. Before, they thought it ended about 2,000 years ago. Now we know it was used during the Archaic period. It would take more extensive reconstruction factoring in glaciers to explore whether human activities at the park date back to the Paleo-Indian era.”

A grant from the National Park Service, administered through the Great Lakes Northern Forest Cooperative Ecosystem Study Unit, funded the research. Anderton has had a longstanding relationship with Hiawatha National Forest. He next plans to apply his expertise and develop a predictive GIS model for the Yellow Dog Plains with support from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.


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Updated: November 19, 2009

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