Archaeology rocks: Believe it!

The 2012-13 archaeological excavation of an early-to-mid 17th winter campsite in Sands Township provided invaluable evidence about the lives of early Anisshinaabeg people here in the Lake Superior region. Project volunteers Dave Paquette and Josie Thomson from Negaunee are shown screening the excavated “dirt” from an excavation unit in search for French glass trade beads, stone arrowheads, and other treasured cultural materials. (Photo by James Paquette)

MARQUETTE — On Saturday, the Marquette Regional History Center will be holding its fifth annual Archaeology Fair.

Once again, large crowds of curious youngsters, smiling parents, and other interested participants will attend this highly informative local event.

As in past years, they will all be welcomed by professional, student, and avocational archaeologists manning information booths designed to teach those in attendance about our rich heritage and our past history as “One People” who have been living here in the central UP for the past 12,000 years. In other words, participants will get hand-to-hand face-to-face information explaining “Why Archaeology Matters!”

Growing up in central Marquette County, I have been fortunate to have personally participated in the ongoing evolution of the understanding of our long and enduring human history here in the Upper Peninsula. And I have witnessed first-hand that it was only through the social science of “archaeology” that we today now have a keener awareness of our ancient Yooper ancestors.

In was way back in May of 1984 that I first set out as an inexperienced avocational archaeologist on an archaeological survey here in Marquette County in the hopes of uncovering evidence of my own prehistoric Native American ancestors in the central Upper Peninsula. Previous to this survey, virtually nothing was known about the earliest human inhabitants who once lived in this vast region. However, I felt strongly that the interior highlands of Marquette County were certain to contain a great deal of yet uncovered and, yes, previously ignored information related to people’s early existence in the southern Lake Superior Basin.

My search for that elusive evidence met with instant results as on the very first day of the survey, I located a series of ancient campsites along the shoreline of Teal Lake in my hometown of Negaunee.

This startling discovery shattered many preconceived notions about the origins of people in this area, as the suspected ages of the Teal Lake sites were several thousand years older than any previously discovered sites in the Upper Peninsula. More important than anything, the Teal Lake discoveries threw open what had been closed doors of professional scientific inquiry.

This exciting revelation resulted in an intensified search by myself and others who soon joined that search for additional early cultural sites and artifacts. I became convinced that somewhere in the rugged upland areas of central Marquette County there lie the undiscovered archaeological proof that truly ancient bands of Paleo-Indian hunters and gatherers first set foot into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the end of the last Ice Age some 12,000 years ago!

That ongoing and relentless search brought to light numerous additional early prehistoric sites located here in Marquette County. It soon became very evident that if archaeologists wanted to find such ancient cultural sites, all they had to do was look for them!

They were, and are, everywhere. And thus, it was during this intense search in the Negaunee/Ishpeming and surrounding areas that we found exactly what I was looking for–incredibly ancient spear points and a plethora of other rare early stone tools that once belonged to Paleo-Indian period Native Americans who had lived and hunted within the shadows and the melt-waters of the last of the great continental glaciers that once covered the upper Great Lakes region.

But the search for such hidden knowledge is never done, and my chance discovery in the spring of 1996 of four mid-17th century brass “Jesuit” finger rings in Sands Township lead to another history making archaeological excavation project that has provided us with a wealth of information about another foggy period in our human existence about which we knew little to nothing.

It is the so-called “protohistoric period” that encompasses the time when proto-Ojibwe/early Anishinaabeg people once lived here in the Marquette area during the early to mid-1600s.

Archaeology, once again, came to our rescue, as we uncovered a never-before professionally excavated Great Lakes regional site. We found the remains of a Native family’s winter encampment and hunting site that produced a true treasure trove of proto-historic period artifacts and other cultural materials.

Included were dozens of early 17th century colored French glass trade beads, stone arrowheads, a total of five brass French “Jesuit” finger rings, and among the many other things found, almost 9,000 fragments of processed bone from moose and other animals that provided nourishment and furs to those people who once called this incredible Marquette County interior site “home.”

On Saturday, the Marquette Regional History Center–a place where we learn the meaning of “Why History Matters” — will host their annual Archaeology Fair where we can all also gain a better understanding of “Why Archaeology Matters” as well! History and archaeology do indeed go hand-in-hand. Come and enjoy OUR past…and perhaps learn something about yourself along the way.