Underwater Archaeology Team Finds 9,000-Year-Old Stone Tool Artifacts

Underwater Archaeology

Credit: University of Texas at Arlington

Underwater archaeology team finds ancient obsidian flakes 2,000 miles from quarry.

An underwater archaeologist from The University of Texas at Arlington is part of a research team studying 9,000-year-old stone tool artifacts discovered in Lake Huron that originated from an obsidian quarry more than 2,000 miles away in central Oregon.

The obsidian flakes from the underwater archaeological site represent the oldest and farthest east confirmed specimens of western obsidian ever found in the continental United States.

“In this case, these tiny obsidian artifacts reveal social connections across North America 9,000 years ago,” said Ashley Lemke, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at UT Arlington. “The artifacts found below the Great Lakes come from a geological source in Oregon, 4,000 kilometers away–—making it one of the longest distances recorded for obsidian artifacts anywhere in the world.”

Ashley Lemke

Ashley Lemke, UT Arlington. Credit: UT Arlington

The unique study was a multi-faceted pursuit with divers in the water and researchers in the laboratory from UTA, the University of Michigan, Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, the University of Missouri Research Reactor Center, the Northwest Research Obsidian Studies Laboratory and the University of Georgia. Their combined work, “Central Oregon obsidian from a submerged early Holocene archaeological site beneath Lake Huron,” was published last month in the journal PLOS One.

Because the site was underwater and undisturbed, researchers systematically and scientifically recovered the obsidian, a form of volcanic glass that was used and traded widely throughout much of human history as a prized material for making sharp tools.

“These are very small pieces that have very large stories to tell,” Lemke said. “Obsidian from the far western United States is rarely found in the east.”

Lemke is a leader and innovator in the field, serving as the chair of the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology, an international group dedicated to underwater archaeology and the preservation of underwater cultural resources. She is an expert on submerged ancient sites in the Americas and has researched other areas such as the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

The find in Lake Huron is part of a broader study to understand the social and economic organization of caribou hunters at the end of the last ice age. Water levels were much lower then; scientists have found, for example, ancient sites like stone walls and hunting blinds that are now 100 feet underwater.

“This particular find is really exciting because it shows how important underwater archaeology is,” Lemke said. “The preservation of ancient underwater sites is unparalleled on land, and these places have given us a great opportunity to learn more about past peoples.”

Reference: “Central Oregon obsidian from a submerged early Holocene archaeological site beneath Lake Huron” by John M. O’Shea, Ashley K. Lemke, Brendan S. Nash, Elisabeth P. Sonnenburg, Jeffery R. Ferguson, Alex J. Nyers and Danielle J. Riebe, 19 May 2021, PLOS One.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250840

9 Comments on "Underwater Archaeology Team Finds 9,000-Year-Old Stone Tool Artifacts"

  1. Maria Maqbool | June 23, 2021 at 8:25 pm | Reply

    Can you tell me more about the scope of archeologist

  2. So that was at the end of the last ice age. As humans crossed over to America from Asia/Russian. Being a true Native American find. The very first Americans.

  3. Umm…Earth is only 6,000 years old.

  4. An astonishing find.

    How big were the obsidian chips?

    A magnificent piece of archeology, detective work, and scholarship.

  5. Go ahead now. Tell us what to believe, Ms. Edumicated person. Here’s my educated guess: There was a FLOOD 6,000 years ago, as told in the legends of all past people, and lots of cities and sites and “artifacts” were immersed under the fountains from the deep. Can’t convince me otherwise. Your theories make no sense

  6. Froggy, it’s good that you have an “Educated” guess. Howefer, there have been floods every year somewhere. Oh, you mean the global flood that there is no evidence of???. The north american continent has been “flooded by epicontinental seas dozens of times in the past. WHICH flood are you talking about specificially? As a geologist I have a somewhat more complete perspective than your one event one cause understanding of the world. I’ve been digging dinosaurs with a masters in geology for the last 20 years. I suspect you feel you understand paleoenvironment better than I so I won’t argue with you.I point out you MIGHT have a few omissions in your “educated” guesses. The good news is, what you don’t know, won’t hurt you. Enjoy your view of the world. Your not alone unfortunately. Just wrong as can be and not even in the same playing field. Playing tick tack toe in a football stadium sort of thing. Best

    • There was that flood that created the eastern Washington scablands and Dry Falls, but that was going in the opposite direction of Lake Huron.
      I recently read something about trading cities along the Mississippi river related to the Mound Builders. I suspect that “tool quality stone” would be worth transporting to someplace where it’s value would be appreciated.

  7. Very exciting! This may be the first confirmed case of a man getting so p-ssed off that he threw the tool he was working with into the nearest body of water.

  8. Eric Kowalewski | June 30, 2021 at 8:02 am | Reply

    Approximately 4500 years ago there was a global worldwide flood and the universe is approximately 6000 years. We have proof of that. Where do you get 9000 years? Let’s go with facts.

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