Every city or settlement that gets flooded permanently eventually gets nicknamed “Atlantis,” but the real one hasn’t been found and few of these submerged burbs live up to the nickname. That may change with a controversial find at the bottom of Lakes Huron and Michigan which Native Americans believe are artifacts of an ancient post-Ice Age hunting culture lost when the ice melted and the Great Lakes formed. Why is it controversial? The same area is being prepared for the Great Lakes Tunnel which will contain oil and gas pipelines deep under the lakebed. The Native Americans want it preserved. Who will win? Place your bets now.
“This entire story is very disturbing.”
That’s not a good sign if you’re betting on the Native Americans. In February 2020, University of Michigan archeology professor John O’Shea heard that a subcontracted archeologist working for Enbridge, the pipeline company in charge of digging the Line 5 Tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac, was told by the company to ignore possible prehistoric cultural artifacts, and later removed from the job when he tried to notify O’Shea. The Straits of Mackinac connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan and separate Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, making them a key area for the tunnel project. They’re also a key part of Native American history, being a crucial trade route. O’Shea has documented evidence of the submerged hunting grounds, but one man can’t fight a pipeline company and the fossil fuel industry.
“We didn't expect to find this — it was really just amazing. My question is, who knew they were there?"
Enter members of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. The Detroit Free Press reports that a group of tribe members too it upon themselves to inspect Enbridge's current Line 5 oil and natural gas pipelines on the floor of Straits of Mackinac using a remote-operated underwater vehicle. What they didn’t expect to find were stones arranged in circular and linear patterns on the floor of the Lake Huron side. Now, the mostly female group wants Enbridge to stop the pipeline until the area can be properly studied. It would not be wise to mess with them, Kelly Willis, a Chippewa, told the Free Press.
"In our culture, women traditionally are water protectors, as all life comes from the water."
The Free Press reports Enbridge did not respond to requests for comments. However, the company had previous said the area was inspected and no signs of artifacts were found. Needless to say, this is a battle of modern money versus the ancient and little-known history of prehistoric Native Americans in the area – history that occurred when near the end of the last Ice Age when it was above water.
"For a 2,000 to 3,000-year period, that was the state of play."
O’Shea says the period occurred between 11,000 and 9,000 years ago when "post-Ice Age hunters" moved north as the ice retreated and the climate warmed, creating a new forests filled with plants and animals. They may have walked between what is now northern Michigan and central Ontario on the now-submerged Alpena-Amberley limestone ridge, a path that would also be used by migrating caribou. Along the way, the hunters erected stone structures – what the Native Americans now believe is their Atlantis.
"These stone structures, they're rocks. They don't survive on land because of development, farmers clearing fields, other things. But under water, they are so perfectly preserved, Pompeii-like, on the lake bottom. But they are also easy to destroy. My concern is that they simply don't destroy something that might be there."
Those familiar with the tunnel project will surely point out that is being drilled in the bedrock underneath the lake floor where the artifacts are located. O’Shea fears that “some of the spoils from the tunnel digging are going to go back onto the lake bottom." Terri Wilkerson says she and the female tribe members are taking a tough stance.
“Enbridge should be shut out completely on this. The tribes first, and the state, should take the lead on investigating this. And Enbridge should be blocked now from disturbing anything in that area. This is a big deal, it seems to me."
They are the water protectors. This is their Atlantis, put there by their ancestors. Would you mess with them?
There’s still time to place your bets.