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Feb 13, 2009

A new find in the depths of Lake Michigan may prove humans inhabited the region over 10,000 years ago.

By Amy Van Vechten

When Internet bloggers heard about a new discovery found buried in the
silt at the bottom of Lake Michigan, they deemed it an American
Stonehenge.
That description is laughable to the two who made the find: archaeologist Mark Holley and sonar imagist Brian Abbott.
While Holley says “there’s nothing ‘henge’ about it,” what they
stumbled upon at the bottom of the third-largest Great Lake could very
well be relics from people living in the area more than 10,000 years
ago.
While diving to map the lake bottom in a search for shipwrecks for the
Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve Council, Holley and Abbott came
across the site, which consists of a series of stones lying in circles
40 feet underwater.
But the stones did not instantly capture their interest. They are
small—all less than 4 feet tall—and nothing like the epic rocks in
England with which they were soon being compared.
But after studying the photographs, Holley realized they were far too
evenly spaced to be an accident. In one circle, the boulders lay
exactly 26-and-a-half feet apart, which Holley and Abbott believe is a
clear indication that they were placed there by humans.
They estimate that the stones were laid between 11,000 and 6,000 years
ago, the last time the Grand Traverse Bay—then the Grand Traverse
Valley—wasn’t underwater.
When the two scientists made a second dive to take another look, Holley
and Abbott found what they believe is a carving, called a petroglyph by
archaeologists, on the face of one of the stones.
“Different folks have looked and said they think they see a buffalo or
an elk or various other large animals,” Holley says. “But I
specifically think it’s a mastodon. You can see the trunk, the
triangular-shaped ear, part of a tusk. The shape of the animal matches
up with what we think mastodons used to look like.”
When viewed up close, the carving appears to consist of a series of
dents, known as percussion marks. Holley believes these were made by
humans using sharp objects or rocks, instead of being random scratches
created by natural forces.
However, the lack of direct evidence indicating the shape is indeed a
purposeful carving means more research still needs to be done. “Holley
is one of the few archaeologists I know that dives,” says Abbott, who
conducted the sonar imaging that led to the discovery of the submerged
site. “It’s unusual to have a discovery like this happen underwater.”
The team first found the stone circles in the summer of 2007, but at
the time, they elicited little interest. It wasn’t until the story was
picked up by various blogs that started tagging the discovery
“Stonehenge” that people started paying attention.
As the story—rife with speculation and erroneous conclusions—began
making its way around the Internet, it took on a life of its own.
“We don’t really know anything for sure about this yet,” Holley says.
“But we’re currently putting together some new sonar images to create a
master mosaic. If it’s confirmed, what we have discovered is some of
the very oldest rock art in the Great Lakes region.”


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