A Couple of Sites in the North Woods


The following narrative presents the results of archaeological excavations at the Nina site and Interior Lake site in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  These sites have been featured at Michigan Archaeology Day events and are generally interesting sites.  Each was occupied by Native American people prior to contact with Europeans (the prehistoric period). One of the sites, the Nina site, is located near the Lake Michigan shore and was probably a fishing camp or small village. The other site, the Interior Lake site, is situated on an inland lake, the Interior Lake site, and was probably a winter hunting camp.


The Nina Site


The Nina site is a prehistoric site located on an old beach ridge and river bank (Figure 1). The site was found in 1994 during an archaeological survey undertaken by the Hiawatha National Forest. Additional testing was carried out at the site in 2000.

Archaeological testing uncovered a large assemblage of pottery and chipped stone tools (Figures 2 and 3). The remains of at least 11 fragmentary pots were found as well as stone tools used for cutting and scraping. These stone tools were likely for processing (cleaning) fish and preparing animal hides. A radiocarbon sample from one of the pots as well as the style of the pots themselves indicated that the site was occupied about 1500 years ago (the Middle Woodland Period).

The age of the site indicates that it was situated at a river mouth on the shore of Lake Michigan. Geologists have found that the level of the Great Lakes has fluctuated over time and that the lake levels on Lake Michigan were about 3 to 4 feet higher 1500 years ago than they are today. Archaeologists believe that Middle Woodland Native American people often occupied river mouth sites in the spring where they fished for large spring spawning fish such as lake sturgeon and sucker. The Nina site may be such a fishing camp.


Figure 1: The old shoreline features near the Nina Site.





Figure 2:  Remains of a Pot from the Nina Site.





Figure 3:  Excavations at the Nina Site.

The Interior Lake Site


The Interior Lake site is situated on an inland lake in the central Upper Peninsula (Figure 4). The site was discovered in 1996 as part of an archaeological survey sponsored by the Hiawatha National Forest. Test excavations were conducted at the site in 2000 (Figure 5).

The archaeological testing indicated that the Interior Lake site was used as a hunting and fishing camp by Native Americans between 400 and 900 years ago (Late Woodland Period).  The remains of at least 9 fragmentary pots were found that are similar in style to pottery from eastern Wisconsin (Figure 6).  A variety of stone tools were found including arrowheads and tools used for cutting, scraping, and grinding. A variety of animal bones were also found. The artifacts and animal bone indicate that moose and beaver were hunted at the site and at least one pike was caught at the site. Late Woodland sites on inland lakes are often thought to represent cold weather (late fall or winter) camps. Thus, the pike may have been caught by an ice fisherman.



Figure 4:  View from the Interior Lake Site.




Figure 5:  Excavation at the Interior Lake Site.




Figure 6:  Excavation at the Interior Lake Site.


Thanks to the Hiawatha National Forest and Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group for their assistance in preparing this information and for their permission to present the results of these excavations.


Sean B. Dunham