Abandoned food caches offer evidence of Native American survival strategies

Lansing — You have to look hard to spot the Spoonville Peninsula on a map of southwest Michigan, but it was an important location for native peoples for centuries before European contact.

The historic archaeological site on the shore of the Grand River in Ottawa County’s Crockery Township may contain the largest collection of Upper Great Lakes cache pits ever excavated. 

Underground caches were used to store food as a strategy to increase a community’s chances of “survival, success and regeneration in the difficult environment of the region,” according to a recent study in the “Journal of Field Archeology.”

Archeologists excavated 29 of about 350 surface depressions on the peninsula as part of a federally funded highway project along the M-231 corridor, said study co-author Michael Hambacher of Archaeological Research and Consulting Services in Williamston. 

Federal laws and regulations require such highway projects to consider archaeological resources and other environmental conditions, including wetlands and endangered species, he said in an interview.

Cache pits were a way to exploit seasonally abundant resources and extend their availability after storage through the winter, the study by Hambacher and Michigan State University geographer Randall Schaetzl said. 

Abandoned food caches offer evidence of Native American survival strategies

Caches helped mobile hunter-gatherers, who relied on seasonally abundant food sources, to deal with fluctuations in the availability and abundance of critical resources, their study said.

Proper construction and placement of the pits were essential to preserve and conceal food, the study said. That involved specialized knowledge to select suitable locations, decide what to store there and how to construct the caches, including pit linings, wall supports and insulation. 

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