CMU Archaeological Dig 2012

Archaeological dig uncovers the past at historic McGulpin Point

In August of 2012, a crew of students and staff from Central Michigan University set out on an archaeological dig at McGulpin Point Lighthouse & Historic Site in Mackinaw City. Below is a story detailing the experience.

By Beth Anne Piehl
Emmet County Communications Director

Eight students and staff from Central Michigan University are uncovering clues to Emmet County’s past at McGulpin Point Lighthouse & Historic Site this week (Aug. 6-14, 2012). The volunteer effort is being headed by Sarah Surface-Evans, a postdoctoral fellow in archaeology with CMU.

McGulpin Point is one of the most historic pieces of property in Northwest Michigan. Centuries before, it was a key area for the Odawa Indians of this region. Later came the French and the British, who occupied the land 2 miles west of downtown Mackinaw City.

As they dig through the earth here, the archaeology team from CMU has uncovered a number of items dating back to the 1800s including kitchen ware, toys and barn remnants, including cut nails that indicate the appropriate era. A porcelain doll head, decorative glassware and the top of a pot-belly stove have also been discovered at the site of a former barn, which the county hopes to replicate after the archaeological dig is completed.

“We are really finding remnants of every-day life here,” said Surface-Evans. “Emmet County has a treasure trove of history and pre-history and the folks here in the county are well aware of the importance in preserving it.”

Many of the remnants being found are likely from the family of James Davenport, the long-time lightkeeper at McGulpin Point who had 8 surviving children with his wife, who died at a young age. The family had the barn and a large garden at the area; a well that serviced the property is also being restored, by a team of Eagle Scout students.

The team will be at the site through Friday, Aug. 10. They will then move to nearby Mackinaw Historic Village for another couple days of reconnaissance; they leave Aug. 14. It is hoped the team will return in coming years to investigate the Headlands, an International Dark Sky Park and historically significant grounds, as well.

In the coming months back at CMU, the students and staff will sort through the items, clean them and reassemble when possible. They’ll complete a thorough report of their visit and findings as well. After, the items will then be given back to Emmet County for display at the lighthouse.”We will catalog everything, wash the pieces and put them back togther,” Surface-Evans said. “Eventually everything will be brought back here and become part of the permanent record.”

The team’s visit was coordinated in part by Dick Moehl, president of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association in Mackinaw City. Moehl has been instrumental in working with the county to preserve the history of the McGulpin Point site and the Mackinaw area. The county expresses its thanks to Dick for his help in bringing the archaeology team north.

“Why are we doing this? It is part of the intellectual process to find the story of this site,” said Moehl. “There is a wonderful synergism that develops when visitors come to the McGulpin Point Light Station to see the working activity of the CMU students’ very professional digging and documenting of the many artifacts, and their respective locations on the site where the barn was supposed to be located … The object is to, as best as we can, prove the history.”