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John O'Shea

Great Lakes: Underwater

Near shore shipwrecks in western Lake Huron

This research is concerned with the discovery and identification of historic shipwrecks along the western shore of Lake Huron, and with developing an approach to nautical archaeology that incorporates the land, coast, and shore areas, along with underwater settings. The approach is particularly suitable for the Great Lakes since the boundary between the land and water has fluctuated, leaving prehistoric archaeological sites underwater and some historic shipwrecks buried on land.

The research combines the use of historic maps (to monitor the changing location of the lake shore) with pedestrian survey of the shore and near shore area to map the distribution of wreckage and wreck debris (such as coal), and with normal underwater discovery techniques like sidescan sonar and scuba. Coastal and shallow water survey has been completed from Tawas Bay to the mouth of the Au Sable River at Oscoda. Ongoing efforts focus on the shore north of Oscoda, with the ultimate aim of linking our coverage with the boundaries of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Ancient hunters on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge

This research is concerned with the potential human occupation of the Alpena-Amberley Ridge in central Lake Huron. This feature—on older nautical charts labeled as Six Fathom Shoal—is an outcrop of limestone and dolomite which, during the period 9800 to 7000 years ago, formed a dry land corridor that divided the modern Lake Huron basin into two distinct lakes and linked northeast lower Michigan with southwest Ontario. It is hypothesized that during this period of low lake levels the ridge would have provided a natural migration route of caribou, which would have been exploited by ancient hunters.

Initial research on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge using sidescan sonar and a small remote operated vehicle (ROV) has demonstrated the existence of stone arrangements that are consistent in size and placement with drive lanes used in the Arctic for caribou hunting. Current efforts are divided between the discovery and documentation of additional structures and the direct examination of identified features by scuba trained archaeologists in order to recover cultural and environmental materials dating to this important time period in Great Lakes history.

Research on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge has brought together a diverse interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, environmental scientists, engineers, and computer scientists who are involved in modeling the ancient environment.

Great Lakes: Terrestrial Archaeology

My land-based archaeology in the Great Lakes Region is concerned with the period immediately prior to European contact and is designed to document the character of pre-contact Native culture and to better understand the changes wrought by the arrival of colonial Europeans. A particular focus of the research is investigating how communities responded to environmental risk and uncertainty. Survey and excavation has focused on northeast lower Michigan with a particular emphasis on peoples living near the Great Lakes shore areas, where a climatic regime known as lake effect enabled the reliable cultivation of maize.  


This research is concerned generally with cultural developments in Eastern Europe during the Copper and Bronze Age. The specific focus of my research is on the Maros (aka Szöreg) Group, a Bronze Age culture that existed between about 2700 and 1550 BC in the vicinity of the Rivers Tisza and Maros in Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. The Maros Group is one among a series of contemporary cultures that crystallized in the eastern Carpathian Basin at this time, which makes the Basin a particularly useful laboratory for the study of pre-state cultural interaction and change.

My research initially focused on the Hungarian portion of the Maros distribution, where a series of large and highly structured cemeteries provide a unique opportunity to explore Maros social organization. Research on the cemeteries is complemented by excavations at the settlements of Klárafalva and Kiszombor, which together span the length of the Maros culture.

Currently, our focus has shifted east, up the Maros to Romania and the great tell settlement at Pecica. Collaborative excavations at Pecica since 2005 have revealed the site to be not only a major locus of Bronze Age metal production but also a major terminal for the trade of the domestic horse into Western Europe. While research is ongoing at Pecica, we are also broadening the focus to include the larger site locality and expanding investigations further upriver into the primary source areas for the copper and tin used in Pecica bronze production.

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