2009-02-14 / Top News

Underwater Cave Discovered Near Island

By Karen Gould

Underwater researchers looking for signs of early civilization at the Straits of Mackinac have found something significant: a submerged limestone cave that they think would have once been a likely gathering spot for people.

Just two days before taking the boat out of the St. Ignace City Marina last fall, Captain Luke Clyburn and Lieutenant Kathy Trax found a submerged cave in the limestone walls above the ancient waterfall he had discovered off Mackinac Island in 2007.

"It's an interesting addition to our project," he told Town Crier Monday, February 9.

Researchers were diving in the Straits this past summer in hopes of finding evidence of inhabitants here 10,000 years ago along a now-submerged riverbed. In 2007, they discovered a submerged formation that would have once been a dramatic waterfall.

Captain Clyburn calls the cave discovery "accidental." The cave was revealed during their last dive in the Straits. Capt. Clyburn and Lt. Trax needed additional footage for their film on the Straits project and discovered the cave limestone wall, not too deep in the water. The waterfall is estimated to be about 110 feet beneath the surface of Lake Huron. Unfortunately, rough weather arrived and no further trips to the cave site were possible last year.

The location of the cave and the rock formation makes it very likely people would have once used it, he said, as it is positioned near the river stream and the waterfall.

The river, called the Mackinac Channel, now lies beneath Lake Huron and is part of the Straits of Mackinac.

Normally, said Capt. Clyburn, there are a lot of caves in limestone formations and, in this case, the waterfall would have likely served to attract people. The cave would have provided shelter.

"It means the probability is high that culture would have existed in those areas," he said.

The bottom of the cave is covered with sediment, said Capt. Clyburn, and he is meeting with state archeologists next week to discuss future exploration requirements of the underwater site.

Each year Capt. Clyburn and his crew of U.S. Naval Sea Cadets begin their work to learn more about the underwater world of the Great Lakes and its rivers. In the last two years, they have focused on the Straits, exploring the area from their 80-foot training and research vessel The Pride of Michigan. They also end up leaving the region each year with more questions than answers, he added.

"There's a lifetime of work ahead in the Straits," he said. "There is just a tremendous amount of bottom land that has not been looked at."

Plans are underway for exploration to continue in the St. Ignace and Mackinac Island area this summer.

Research is estimated to cost more than $100,000.

The Noble Odyssey Foundation, a nonprofit organization that operates largely on donations, organizes the research projects. Capt. Clyburn is president of the foundation, which has a mission to advance the knowledge of the Great Lakes through seagoing education and research projects.

A DVD on last summer's underwater exploration will be available in the next few weeks, he said. A premiere showing of it, "Great Lakes, Ancient Shores — River Channels," will be Thursday, February 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Macomb Intermediate School District Educational Service Center in Clinton Township. It is open to the public.

The film follows the Noble Odyssey team of scientists and sea cadets on an underwater reconnaissance of the St. Clair River, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and the ancient river canyon in the Straits. Also included are coastal features and shipwrecks.

Those interested in purchasing a DVD may call (248) 666- 9359. The sale of the DVDs will help fund future exploration.

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