Grand Island: Fifteen Years of Archaeology

By Dunham, Sean B. | Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, MCJA, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview
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Grand Island: Fifteen Years of Archaeology


Dunham, Sean B., Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, MCJA


Grand Island is a large island situated along the south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (Figures 1 and 2). The Hiawatha National Forest acquired Grand Island in 1990 and designated it a National Recreation Area. A significant amount of archaeological research has been conducted on the island since its Federal acquisition, revealing evidence for human use and occupation from the Late Archaic (ca. 4400 B.P.) to the present day. Most of these projects have been cultural or heritage resource projects primarily oriented toward identifying and evaluating archaeological sites under section 106 and section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act. These projects have included numerous archaeological surveys and several small archaeological excavations. Grand Island is located about 600 m offshore from the town of Munising, in Alger County, Michigan (Figure 1).

Grand Island is the largest island on the south shore of Lake Superior at about 12.9 km long and 8 km wide, encompassing around 13,000 acres or 5,261 hectares, and about 40 km of shoreline. To date, there are 169 archaeological sites known on the island. To the best of our knowledge, 77 are prehistoric, 82 are historic, and 10 include materials from both historic and prehistoric periods. Further survey, testing, and large scale excavation on these sites and on the island will undoubtedly change these numbers.

Aside from the work conducted on Grand Island and the adjoining mainland by the Hiawatha National Forest, formal archaeological investigations have been conducted since at least the 1960s when the University of Michigan undertook an archaeological survey in the area (Bigony 1968). Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located on the mainland immediately east of the island and has also seen archaeological survey and testing (e.g., see Clark 1993; Jones 1993). However, most of this work is in unpublished technical reports and manuscripts-the so-called gray literature. Curiously, there is not a large body of published data dealing with the archaeology along the south shore of Lake Superior. Notable exceptions include prehistoric sites such as the late Paleoindian or Piano sites near Marquette (Buckmaster and Paquette 1989; 1996), an Archaic era copper workshop on the Keweenaw Peninsula (Martin 1993), the Woodland era Naomikong Point (Janzen 1968) and Sand Point (Cremin 1980) sites, as well as nineteenth-century historic sites such as Carp River Forge near Marquette (Landon et al. 2001) and Carp River Sawmill on Pendills Creek (Branstner 1999) (see Figure 2). Additional published data is also included in a number of regional overviews (see Fitting 1975; Halsey 1999; Martin 1999; Mason 1981). Therefore, while much of the data presented in this volume is provisional, it nonetheless fills a critical gap in regional knowledge and interpretation.

The papers presented in this volume derive from an invited symposium entitled Grand Island: 15 Years of Archaeology, presented at the 49th Midwest Archaeological Conference (MAC) held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 19, 2003. The session brought together a range of professionals who have contributed and continue to contribute to the archaeology of Grand Island and to an understanding of its cultural and environmental setting within the Great Lakes region. A list of the twelve papers presented at the conference is presented in Table 1. The full abstracts for the entire symposium are presented online on the conference website at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/ArchLab/MAC/D 1 .htm).

The five papers that comprise this topical MCJA issue span the human occupation history of Grand Island. The volume begins with The Geoarchaeological Context of Grand Island by John Anderton. This paper brings together a variety of data to interpret the geoarchaeological context of Grand Island. This is critical to archaeology because there is a direct correlation between geomorphic surfaces, specifically shoreline features, and the location and age of archaeological sites in the region.

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