Late Paleoindian and Early Archaic


By: Caven Clark


lthough the prehistory of Isle Royale is known to have begun over 4,000 years ago, sites dating as early as 8000 B.P. dot the surrounding Lake Superior basin. Following the retreat of the last glaciation, prehistoric hunters found ample prey among the caribou, bison, elk, and moose in an environment then in transition from a periglacial tundra to the present southern boreal forest.

Their archeological remains are largely confined to stone tools and waste material left over from stone tool production. Large bifacial projectile points with distinctive flaking patterns are typical of these early cultures. The classic fluted points, often found associated with the remains of mastodon, mammoth, or bison are uncommon in this area. The first recognizable archeological culture is the Plano tradition. The absence of Plano tradition artifacts from Isle Royale is attributed to the high lake levels that prevailed ca. 8,000-5,000 B.P. On the north shore of Lake Superior, Plano artifacts have been found at a number of sites, preserved in part by the effects of isostatic rebound of the shoreline which have elevated the already high beaches well above the current levels of Lake Superior. Notable are the Brohm and Cummins sites near Thunder Bay, Ontario (Dawson 1983). Both are quarry sites and have extensive areas of flintknapping debris of jasper-taconite, a material that became important in the later periods of Isle Royale's prehistory.

The south shore of Lake Superior is less well known than the north, but finds in recent years have shown that the antiquity of this area extends at least as far back as 8,000 B.P. The Flambeau (ca. 7000 BC.) and Minocqua (ca. 6000-5000 BC.) phases were initially defined for sites and artifacts from northern Wisconsin (Salzer 1974). Like the Plano tradition artifacts to the north, these artifacts are characterized by distinctive flaking patterns and a persistent use of Hixton silicified sandstone as the preferred raw material. Hixton has its source in south-central Wisconsin and is found at least as far east as Marquette County, Michigan, where it occurs in some abundance as finished tools (Buckmaster and Paquette 1988; Clark 1989b). The best documented association of copper with this early period comes from the Itasca site in northern Minnesota which has been dated between 7600 and 5500 BC. (Shay 1971).

The evidence for a human presence in the Superior basin during this early period is gradually becoming better known, but the interest of the Plano hunters in copper has yet to be demonstrated. Our knowledge of the Plano tradition in this area is rudimentary in contrast to subsequent periods where we have not only artifacts but actual food remains and habitation sites that provide a fuller knowledge of the past lifeways of these people.


  1. Buckmaster, Marla, and James Paquette. 1988. The Gorto Site: Preliminary Report on a Late Paleo-Indian Site in Marquette County, Michigan. The Wisconsin Archeologist 65(2):159-168.
  2. Clark, Caven P. Archeological Survey and Testing at Isle Royale National Park, 1987-1990 Seasons. Lincoln, Neb: U.S. National Park Service, Midwest Archeological Center, 1995. Print.
  3. Clark, Caven P. 1987b. A Ground Slate Point from Superior's North Shore. Wanikan 87(3):7-8.
  4. Dawson, K.C.A. 1983. Cummins Site: A Late Palaeo-Indian (Plano) Site at Thunder Bay, Ontario. Ontario Archaeology 39:3-31.
  5. Salzer, Robert J. 1974. The Wisconsin North Lakes Project: A Preliminary Report. In Aspects of Upper Great Lakes Anthropology, Papers in Honor of Lloyd A. Wilford, edited by Elden Johnson, pp. 40-54. Minnesota Prehistoric Archaeology Series No. 11. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
  6. Shay, C. Thomas. 1971. The Itasca Bison Kill Site: An Ecological Analysis. Minnesota Prehistoric Archaeology Series No. 6. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.