A technician hired by Calgary-based pipeliner Enbridge to explore the Straits of Mackinac for any artifacts of cultural or archaeological significance missed stone patterns that appear to have been laid by humans about 10,000 years ago, toward the end of the last Ice Age—because he was instructed to only look for shipwrecks.
So it was left to a team of non-scientists, most of them Native American tribal citizens, to confirm what the Detroit Free Press is calling “the most important finding in Great Lakes archaeology in at least a decade.”
“We didn’t expect to find this—it was really just amazing,” said Andrea Pierce, a resident of Ypsilanti and member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, one of four women behind the project to inspect the Straits bottom. “My question is, who knew they were there?”
The group used a remotely-operated underwater vehicle to inspect Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline along the bottom of the strait. “Among the things they found were stones they say appear arranged in circular and linear patterns on the lake floor,” the Free Press writes. “If that was done by the hands of humans, it occurred when the Straits area, which divides Michigan’s peninsulas, was last above water—near the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago.”
The stone formation “seems to correlate” with another one discovered in 2009 by University of Michigan archaeologist John O’Shea, beneath Lake Huron. In February, O’Shea said the Enbridge consultant told him he’d seen similar formations in the Straits.
“This entire story is very disturbing,” O’Shea wrote in a February 12 letter to deputy state historic preservation officer Martha MacFarlane-Faes.
“When the technician noticed linear stone alignments of the type documented in Lake Huron, he was told to ignore them,” he added. “When he asked permission to consult with me about their potential cultural origin, his request was again denied. He was subsequently removed from the project and was not allowed to see the final report.”
A report from Enbridge to the state last year said it found 32 “acoustical contacts” on the floor of the Straits near the pipeline tunnel the company is planning to build, but “none…were determined likely to represent a submerged cultural resource.” The Florida-based cultural resource management company responsible for the survey, SEARCH, didn’t reply to the Free Press’ requests for comment, but Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the fossil didn’t put any constraints on the research.
“We did not limit the work of SEARCH in its assessment,” he told the Free Press. “Enbridge is committed to a process of identifying culturally and archeologically significant features in the Straits.”