This paper is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sean B. Dunham, PhD
Heritage Program Manager
Chippewa National Forest

Paper Presented at the
Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium
Madison, Wisconsin
October 14-15, 2015

Please do not cite without author’s permission

The Eastern Region of the Forest Service (R9) covers a large portion of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States from Maine to West Virginia and Missouri to Minnesota (SLIDE 1). R9 Forests are situated along the shores of the Great Lakes, along the banks of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, as well as countless other lakes and streams. The cultural and historical relationship between this region and its lakes, rivers, and streams is deeply woven into the fabric of Americana. Native Americans and French voyageurs used the waters as highways. Lumbermen drove logs on the rivers and used those same streams to power their mills. Keel boats and barges are part of the past and present of the Ohio and Mississippi and huge freighters continue to traverse the Great Lakes today.

The lakes and rivers have also been important for other reasons as well. People have camped along these bodies of water for millennia and they continue to be used for this purpose today. Likewise, these waters have fed people for millennia and they continue to be a source of subsistence – the inland shores fishery on the Great Lakes and wild rice being prime examples. In this presentation, I will delve into later prehistory and explore the relationship between people and their physical environment using an example from the Late Woodland period from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (SLIDE 2). The Late Woodland period in the eastern UP began about AD 700 and continued until contact with Europeans (ca. AD 1600). The dominant settlement model for this region derives from a relatively small number of coastal Great Lakes archaeological sites and is linked to the development of the Inland Shores Fishery and especially to the advent of deep water fall fishing.

Cleland (1982) constructed a model in which the development of gill net fishery technology represents the cornerstone of a series of changes in resource use and site placement as well as social transformations in the Late Woodland period. The shift towards the fall fishery was the result of new technologies and social practices – specifically deep-water gill nets and storage technology (drying and freezing) which are thought to have led to the development of larger settlements of increasing duration of occupation and greater cooperation among social groups.

The combination of gill nets, increased social cooperation, and storage are critical to the success of this process. The effort of capturing and processing the fish was thought to require an increased level of social organization and this leads to a combination of practical and social storage. In other words, the intensive processing of fish for storage is carried out, in part, with the understanding that it will be available for future use by all the members of the group engaged in its processing.

The Late Woodland people in the region are characterized as mobile hunter-gathers. In basic terms, the subsistence round is built around two axes – spring and fall fishing. The underlying logic is that people came together to harvest seasonally dense resources, in this case spring and fall spawning fish, and dispersed when resources were more scarce such as in the cold season, or were more broadly distributed across the landscape (as in the warm season).

This model was generated based on a relatively small number of coastal sites. Recent research examines data from a larger set of archaeological sites including both coastal and interior settings resulting in a fuller picture of Late Woodland settlement dynamics. The results show that Late Woodland peoples exploited certain settings and habitats more extensively than others. Some site settings appear to change over time, and others exhibit characteristics of culturally modified landscapes. This presentation is concerned with the potential effects of this pattern on Late Woodland site locations.

There are 81 known Late Woodland sites in the eastern UP (SLIDE 3). These archaeological sites were used to generate an inductive archaeological sensitivity model as well as a site diversity use index (for additional information see Dunham 2014). These two exercises produced different types of information. The sensitivity model found that over half of the Late Woodland sites in the eastern UP have been found in mixed pine habitats within 120 m of a major source of water (these are classified as high sensitivity areas) (SLIDE 4). The high sensitivity areas account for only three and a half percent of the eastern UP land base. The image on the left of Slide 4 shows a slice of the eastern UP and the one on the right is a close up of Grand Island with Late Woodland sites depicted.

The diversity index identified three classes of Late Woodland sites – extended, intermediate, and limited diversity sites (SLIDE 5). The index is based on the assumption that different tools are used for different activities and that a greater diversity of tools on a given site should reflect a greater range of activities (extended diversity sites). Conversely, a lack of tool diversity on a given site could suggest a more limited range in activities (limited diversity sites). In a sense, the diversity index is a simple scale addressing a greater or lesser range of activities on a site that may help differentiate how that site was used.

Based in the diversity index, nine Late Woodland components from seven sites were identified as the most likely candidates for the larger, residential sites that were used as the seasonal aggregation locales where spring and/or fall fishing took place (SLIDE 6). Williams Landing and the Juntunen site have been highlighted because they will be featured in the following discussion (SLIDE 7). Each of the extended diversity sites is located along the shore of one of the Great Lakes, they produced spring and/or fall spawning fish remains, and each is multicomponent – including earlier and/or later occupations as well as multiple Late Woodland occupations.

These sites share many characteristics associated with persistent places – high concentration of desirable resources (in this case access to spring and/or fall spawning fish), include natural features that structure reuse (the Great Lakes shoreline), and/or are created and maintained over an extended period of time. For example, the Native American occupation sequence begins at least 4000 years ago and continues through the historic period at the Williams Landing locale on Grand Island (Dunham and Anderton 1999; Skibo et al. 2004). Likewise, the Juntunen site (20MK1) has produced evidence for Native American occupation from about 2000 years ago to the early eighteenth century (McPherron 1967).

Further, when the social significance of the extended diversity coastal fishing sites is considered they become more than simply resource procurement locales. The Juntunen site, for example, includes ossuary burials in the late prehistoric Juntunen Phase component which adds to the social importance of the locale (McPherron 1967). Ossuaries are associated with important integrative rituals, such as the Feast of the Dead, in the late prehistoric and early historic periods (Hickerson 1960).

Another critical aspect of persistent places is that the presence of long term human occupation which can alter the physical environment of the locale. Considering the Juntunen site once again, the site locale is interpreted to have been transitioned from a forested area to an open meadow during the course of its occupation which was, at least partially, a result of human activity (McPherron 1967). Thus, the environmental setting of the Juntunen site exhibits evidence for a culturally modified landscape.

This pattern may also be illustrated by Late Woodland site locations on Grand Island (SLIDE 8). Note that the Late Woodland sites are clustered in areas with high archaeological sensitivity (with mixed pine habitat). The farther one goes from the site, the lower the archaeological sensitivity. The site location and area immediately around the site ALSO include the greatest level of human activity. In case you may think this is a trick of being adjacent to water, the image on the left shows the distribution of mixed pine habitat on the island. While the Late Woodland sites are adjacent to water, in this case Lake Superior, so are most of the mixed pine habitats. This begs the question of whether there is a relationship between the increased, long term human activity at the Late Woodland sites and areas that are coded as high archaeological sensitivity locales?

Mixed pine habitats are a critical factor in high sensitivity areas. Red oak is a prominent component of the two habitat types where archaeological sites were encountered in the mixed pine group. These habitats also provide a variety of resources that were attractive to Woodland peoples in the region. The forest succession pattern is conducive to beaver, moose, and warm season deer habitat. Such habitats also include a higher incidence of certain fruits, such as blueberries as well as other resources, such as acorns, that were utilized as food by Native Americans as well as by the animals they hunted. Is the relationship between mixed pine habitats and Late Woodland archaeological sites the result of human activity on the landscape?

There are numerous examples of how human activity can modify the landscape. Small scale plant management, patterns of residential mobility, or certain landscape management practices have the potential to create heterogeneous habitat mosaics which may increase the potential for subsistence resources.

Mixed pine habitats are the most likely to be affected by natural disturbances and also share many of the attributes of anthropomorphic landscapes. Native Americans in the Upper Great Lakes region, and elsewhere, modified the composition of the landscape through the use of fire. Low intensity fires occurring at fairly frequent intervals shaped forest composition around settlements. The areas that were burned contained higher incidences of mast and fruit producing species that were commonly used as food. While many of these studies suggest forest and understory clearing for horticulture as a primary rationale for the burning, habitat improvement for wildlife and other resources, such as nuts and berries, are other likely candidates.

There is direct evidence for historic burning in northern Michigan by Native American peoples. A study conducted by Albert and Minc (1984) demonstrated that modern stands of red oak at Colonial Point were established as a result of Anishinaabek agricultural practices in the 1840s and 1850s. Charcoal recovered from plots within these stands was predominately beech and sugar maple, indicating that the original forest had been northern hardwoods, and that Native American burning to clear land for planting fostered the transition to oak.

Similarly, Loope and Anderton (1998) have demonstrated a much higher incidence of fire in coastal pine stands in northern Michigan than in interior stands in the eighteenth century through early twentieth century. The fire intervals in the interior stands seem to correspond with naturally occurring fire regimes, whereas the coastal pattern is interpreted to reflect Native American land use practices – possibly burning associated with the maintenance of berry patches near settlements (Native American tribes in the eastern UP practiced such burning until stopped by the USDA Forest Service in the 1930s as part of wildland fire suppression programs).

Andrew Blackbird’s (1897:10-11) childhood recollection of Cross Village in the 1830s appears to reflect such a fire altered, culturally modified landscape:

“My first recollection of the country of Arbor Croche, . . . there was nothing but small shrubbery here and there in small patches, such as wild cherry trees, but most of it was grassy plain: and such an abundance of wild strawberries, raspberries and blackberries that they fairly perfumed the air of the whole coast with the fragrant scent of ripe fruit.”

Recent studies of Anishinaabek traditional landscape management practices in Ontario show that fire was, and is, used for a variety of purposes. Fire is used to clear undergrowth for gardens, to facilitate vegetation growth (such as berries and other resources like birch bark) and for habitat improvement for wild game. Importantly, fire is seen by these people “… as beings which possess agency and who intentionally create order in landscapes” (Miller and Davidson-Hunt 2010:401). Miler and Davidson-Hunt (2010:410) quote Whitehead Moose on the topic of fire as saying:

“The Creator has a match and that match is the thunderbird. He brings that match to the land when the forest gets too old and can’t grow anymore. So the thunderbird comes to earth. After the forest is burnt new growth starts. Animals get tired of eating old food. Just like you and me. The Creator knows that animals need new food. After the fire there is fresh food to eat.”

The evidence outlined above shows that Native Americans in the Upper Great Lakes region were actively modifying their landscape throughout the post-European contact period (post AD 1600). Likewise, the evidence from Grand Island and the Juntunen site makes a strong case for similar practices in the Late Woodland period.

The culturally modified landscapes described in this paper were created by Late Woodland peoples as a result of their dynamic settlement and subsistence practices. The best fishing locations were situated in Great Lakes coastal settings and were thus spatially constrained. These archaeological sites were occupied over long periods of time and can be characterized as “persistent places.” The long term and diverse occupations at these sites created anthropogenic landscapes which became more desirable as resource procurement locales over time. These were also cultural and normative landscapes, such as those described by Andrew Blackbird and Whitehead Moose, and provide a useful example of cultural landscapes from Region 9.

Biological Research Station, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing, Michigan.


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