As the hunter built a modest fire, the air was likely quite cold. The caribou would arrive in the morning, pushed across the wetlands where he tented. There was no other option. Large stones had been put out in slanting lines to funnel the animals into this bottleneck, which was surrounded on both sides by water. In preparation, the hunter hammered his weapon to sharpen its edge. Two crystal flakes shattered away from the point of impact and dropped at his feet at that same time. They’d be buried for approximately 10,000 years there.
Those two shards of obsidian, a natural volcanic glass, were retrieved in 2013 from a sample of soil the size of a quart of milk taken from the bottom of Lake Huron, beneath 100 feet of water. And the flakes’ tale would be one of an even more extended voyage.
These two chunks of obsidian traveled over 2,500 miles from central Oregon to the bottom of one of the Great Lakes, according to John M. O’Shea of the University of Michigan and his team of underwater archaeologists.
The samples were from the Alpena-Amberley Ridge, a geologic feature that links Michigan and Ontario underneath Lake Huron. For more than a decade, O’Shea and his colleagues have been diving at the site, collecting artifacts and environmental samples to indicate that the location was dry ground inhabited by Native Americans 9,000 years ago when ice age glaciers receded and the Great Lakes formed and that they erected hunting facilities on it to capture and kill caribou.
Ancient stone toolmakers highly valued obsidian. According to Brendan Nash, a member of O’Shea’s team at the University of Michigan, Strike marks and sharp, feathery edges are unmistakable evidence of human manipulation. Together with the obsidian’s source’s remoteness, this data paints a picture of a vast commerce or exchange network that covered the continent over 3,000 years after the last ice age ended.
Stone tools unearthed on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge are substantially smaller than items from the same historical period discovered nearby. This shows that about 9,000 years ago, a group of ancient humans lived on the ridge with a distinctive way of life and hunting strategy.
“These specimens bring better resolve, as well as more complex, to an important and little understood time period in the North American past,” O’Shea, Nash, and their colleagues said in their paper.
One may see a world lost to time, and the sea is only two tiny flakes.