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Lasers help uncover Native American history in northern Michigan

Jan 6, 2017

We could be on the cusp of learning a lot more about the native cultures that inhabited Michigan before European settlement.

A generic LIDAR image (not of Howey's research). LIDAR technology involves sending pulses of lasers that penetrate the surface of the earth to create detailed models of the earth's surface.
Credit Environment Agency Survey Open / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Meghan Howey is a researcher at the University of New Hampshire joined Stateside to talk about how she and her team has been using technology to find Native American cache pits. 

Cache pits were underground storage pits that native peoples dug to use the earth for refrigeration. They would dig these holes about three-to-four feet deep, line them with birch bark, which would help keep mold and dampness away, and fill them with food and other daily use products. They would leave the items in the pits while they went on hunting and gathering missions and return later to gather them.

The technology that's being used is called LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). This process involves attaching a device to an airplane that sends pulses of lasers that penetrate the surface of the earth to create detailed models of the earth's surface. 

The work they have done has focused mostly in the upper part of the lower peninsula of Michigan, near Douglas Lake and Burt Lake and the new technology has led to the discovery of hundreds of cache pits.

Listen to the full interview above to hear more about these cache pits, what they have found, what they can tell us about the past and what they plan to do in the future.

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