Nine thousand years ago, travelers heading from Michigan to Canada didn’t have the luxury of the Ambassador Bridge or the Blue Water Bridge or the Windsor Tunnel to get them there.
But those travelers didn’t need those man-made passages either, since there was once a land bridge from what is now Alpena to what is now Ontario.
That’s right. Just after the end of the Ice Age, whose glaciers helped form Michigan’s Great Lakes, a land bridge, called the Alpena- Amberley ridge, was a 72-square mile stretch of land connecting the northestern Lower Peninsula with southwest Ontario. On older nautical charts, the area is labeled as the Six Fathom Shoal, and it once divided the Lake Huron basin into two distinct lakes. The prehistoric Lake Stanley is the forerunner to Lake Huron, while Lake Chippewa is the forerunner to Lake Michigan. Prior to the ice melt, those two lakes did not connect at the Straits of Mackinac like they do today.
The Alpena-Amberly Ridge was a rocky land-bridge subject to bitterly cold weather that served as a migration path for both mastadon and caribou.
All of the conditions would have been right for a caribou hunt along the ridge. Early hunters are known to have hunted caribou in present day Michigan during that time. The region was prime caribou habitat with its open tundra and few trees. And those hunters would have pursued the caribou not only as a food source, but also to use their thick hides as insulation against the harsh cold. Sharing the same land bridge doesn't necessarily mean the caribou became prey for early hunters, but scientists are beginning to uncover clues that could reveal evidence of hunting blinds, caches or pits, and “drive lanes” that would bring the animals close enough that the hunters could attack with them spears.
Since the summer of 2009, Dr. John O'Shea, curator of Great Lakes Archaeology in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, has led a study of the area. His biggest problems? The ridge is now at the bottom of Lake Huron, about 100 feet below the surface and secondly, any potential artifacts are covered with zebra mussels. The good news is that the area remains virtually the way it was. If such an area was on land, it most certainly would have been altered by farmers and ultimately that type of modern development we have today.
Here is my fasinating interview from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival with Dr. O’Shea regarding his research on the Alpena-Amberly land ridge.