Discovery of a Prehistoric Underwater Structure in Northwest Wisconsin?

(Photo taken underwater at a remote location in northern Wisconsin.)


Herbert Wagner

Ancient earthworks, artifacts, native trails, and prehistoric copper mines are well known entities in Northwest Wisconsin and in the Upper Peninsula. This webpage describes an intriguing site recently identified in northern Wisconsin. Due to the sensitive nature of this discovery and its uncertain affiliations, the exact location is not revealed in order to protect site integrity from vandalism or looting.

An Underwater Structure?
The discovery was made on July 24, 2007 during an underwater exploration on a remote tributary in the upper Mississippi River basin in northern Wisconsin. Unlikely as it sounds, the site appears to be an ancient underwater structure -- possibly a road or causeway -- constructed of flat, rectangular-shaped blocks of stone that appear to be cut or otherwise worked and then carefully fitted into place. Although likely of natural origin, to the casual eye the "structure" looks amazingly like ancient stone-paved roads or other ruins found in MesoAmerica, Europe, and elsewhere.

Like much of northern Wisconsin the waterway in which this curiosity was found lies is in a remote and seldom visited semi-wilderness setting. Modern archeological knowledge of this area is largely a blank page. For those reasons I am always on the lookout for artifacts or unusual objects while in the field. This discovery, however, came as a surprise and shock due to its peculiar and highly suggestive nature. In my previous explorations I have never seen anything even remotely like it.

The expedition to this particular location was based on the tradition that this waterway played a role as a historic and prehistoric transportation route between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River valley. This route was first noted by Europeans in the 17th century but certainly used by "native" peoples for thousands of years before the Columbus-European contact period.

A Myth Haunted Underwater Realm
After securing my vehicle at a seldom used backwoods landing, I donned my underwater gear. The day and water were warm enough so I didn't feel the need to put on my wetsuit. After testing my underwater camera for leaks, I entered the water and proceeded to swim and work my way upstream in the slightly turbid waters of the current-filled channel. Since I had never dived this waterway before, everything was new and unknown to me.

After proceeding upstream for nearly a mile while photographing aquatic wildlife and scenery, I entered a shallow, broad and almost lake-like enlargement of the waterway thick with submergent vegetation that made swimming difficult. Since there continued to be abundant aquatic life and my camera batteries were holding up, I continued through the long and fingerlike strands of gently undulating growth. At times it was difficult to force a passage through the lush aquatic vegetation and the physical sensation of contact while moving through this eerie landscape was slightly unpleasant as it suggested the gentle caressing hands of weird green inhabitants of this wildly remote watery locale.

I cannot stress enough how unnerving it can be when swimming alone in the myth-haunted underwater realm of northern Wisconsin tributary to Lake Superior and ones mind conjures up forebodings of uncanny water beings, powerful deities, and even the terrible mishigenabeg or "Great Horned Water Serpent" that the Indians hold to be the original gods and supernatural inhabitants of this darkly forested and over-watered realm. At times a creeping apprehension or dread overwhelms you and you actually expect to come face-to-face with a malevolent fang-filled visage from some primordial freak-show or fear-filled lurking nightmare to scare you witless or worse!

That day, chilled by the lengthy immersion in the water, fatigued by the long swim, and probably oxygen deprived to some degree, those eerie feelings began to follow me around as they often do when far from the drone of modern civilization with its dull and predictable realities. Knowing too that my camera batteries wouldn't last much longer, I was about to turn around and head back downstream when abruptly I emerged from the thick growth into a small clearing in this weedy underwater labyrinth. But instead of the flat sand or rubble bottom that I expected to find, in front of me lay a strikingly different vista. This appeared to be a carefully laid out linear arrangement of geometrically shaped stones that for all the world looked like part of an underwater structure!

Natural or Artificial?
The sight was so amazing that for a moment I could scarcely believe my eyes. Was this a dream? For in all my previous explorations I had never encountered anything like this before. Loose rocks, sand, or logs predictably make up the normal substrate of northern Wisconsin waterways but never anything that looked like an old fashioned paved street!

Luckily, I still had some battery life left so getting photos was the first thing on my mind. For the next few minutes I occupied myself with photographing this unusual site to obtain the best possible proof of its existence, remembering always that the bane of such unusual discoveries like this are their often obviously faked nature or lack of hard evidence. As you can see from the actual photographs here, the underwater "structure" (for lack of a better word) appears to be made from carefully shaped and precisely fitted flat stones and does not appear to be recent in age or otherwise faked. But is this curious underwater site of natural or artificial origin?

As mentioned, the site is totally out of character from the normal jumble of rounded glacial boulders found in area rivers and lakebeds. And while I do not conclude nor wish to suggest that this site was constructed by human agency and I tend to believe that there is probably a natural explanation for it, never-the-less there is a distinctly artificial appearance to the point where smaller pieces of "worked" stone have been carefully fitted into gaps between larger stones.

Furthermore, the waterworn edges of the structure seem to suggest great age and a long period of underwater erosion, although the precise age of the site is impossile to guess. In places the stones are slightly out of position, but again this is probably due to current action as the site appeared to be untouched by visitors of any type except for the cold-blooded finny variety. Nor was there any sign of modern tools or other artifacts that might rationally explain the origin of this unusual locale. That this underwater "structure" or "road" has gone undetected until my discovery of it, however, is not surprising. The waterway in which it lies is well off the beaten track and the site itself is obscured by luxuriant aquatic vegetation and slightly turbid water. These things would tend to conceal it from any casual surface visitor that may pass by.

Not sure if I would be able to locate the site again, I shot as many photographs of it as possible during my one visit; in fact until my batteries abruptly went dead. When I swam away, the site was instantly hidden by vegetation from just a few feet away, so I went back towards it and with some difficulty located it again to satisfy my curiosity and verify that I hadn't imagined the whole thing. Then I proceeded downstream and back to my vehicle. It had been a long and tiring but highly successful day!

Later at home I was pleasantly surprised to find the photos had turned out reasonably well considering the conditions under which they were taken. Due to the scarcity of light and water turbidity I had to get up close and thus none of my photos cover the entire site in a single shot. Still, what I managed to come away with gives a reasonable picture of what was found on that exciting July afternoon last summer. The only changes made to these photos is that I slightly adjusted the constrast so the features are more distinct. This has got to be one of my more interesting discoveries to date, but I believe that additional discoveries are out there to be made.

(Update: I have now been informed on good authority that an underwater "shrine" or "altar" exists in northern Wisconsin of what is supposed to be some unknown god or deity; also what has been described to me as a "Phoenician" anchor stone found in the Bois Brulé river! I must admit, however, that while some of this stuff seems to be a little weird to me, my own eyes and camera were not deceived and the evidence is here for all to see.)

Analysis and Discussion
Again I will state up front that I do not know whether the site is natural or human-made. While I suspect the former, it looks very much to be constructed by human hands. But if so, the age and purpose of such an underwater road remains an enigma and puzzle. One possibility is that the waterway has changed its course, and did not always flow across or cover the structure in the past as it does now. Another possibility is that the site is actually of more recent origin and was used as a wagon crossing in early settlement or logging times; perhaps to keep heavy loads from miring in the bottom. That would place it somewhere in the 1850s to 1900 period. In fact there are old logging dam ruins and abandoned water crossings on this and other area streams.

Among the more exotic possibilities is that the underwater structure is somehow related to the ancient copper mines of Lake Superior. In fact, some writers have speculated that the waterway in which the underwater structure is located was part of a prehistoric transportation route between the ancient copper mines of Lake Superior and out of the region to distant points elsewhere.

This mining began some 8,000 years ago around Lake Superior and on Isle Royale shortly after the retreat of the last glacier and continued sporadically down to the time of Columbus-European contact. Some believe that in later times the Toltec or Aztec civilizations played a role in this ancient copper trade. Others have speculated that there were Old World contacts that obtained Lake Superior copper in ancient times. Is it possible that this underwater structure was in some way connected with the transportation of the pure red metal out of Lake Superior and into the southward flowing Mississippi River?

Or more speculative still, is it possible that the site isn't a road or causeway at all, but instead represents the top of a much larger structure, possibly now buried or otherwise concealed by glacial sediments and only exposed in this small section by wave action? If this is the truth of the matter, then the larger question must be asked: What lies beneath it?

Yet another possibility suggested to me and the most extreme yet -- is that these blocks of "stone" are not ordinary stone at all, but roughly shaped ingots of Lake Superior native copper, the mishwabik of the red man, and concealed or otherwise lost in this remote locale at some ancient date. Unfortunately, this possibility did not occur to me at the time of my visit and I did not investigate as to the material of which these objects are made.

Such musings, however, take us far afield from what most modern "experts" believe or would otherwise accept as reasonable conclusions and into the realm of wild speculation. I myself conclude nothing here, but only record that this site exists and offer these photographs as evidence of this very real and rock-solid existence.

Herbert Wagner
January 8, 2008
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