Amateur archaeologist’s discoveries put Paleo-Indians in U.P. during Ice Age

(Center) A scene showing archaeology efforts in 1987 in what was the temporarily dried-up bed of Deer Lake, located north of Ishpeming. Known as the Gorto Site, it is where amateur archaeologist partners Jim Paquette and John Gorto discovered artifacts from people who lived in the area around 10,000 B.C.E. Paquette is shown with a screening box while volunteer John Franzen is in the background conducting the site mapping survey. (Left) A spearpoint that was made 11,000 years ago was among artifacts discovered at Silver Lake near Ishpeming in 1988. (Top Right) A closeup of a ring Jesuit priests gave to Native Americans they encountered during their missionary efforts through the late 1600s and early 1700s (Photo by Katherine Larson). (Right) Jim Paquette holds a variety of arrowheads and Jesuit rings he discovered at a site in the Sand Plains area in Marquette County in 1996. (Photos courtesy of Jim Paquette unless otherwise indicated.)

By Katherine Larson
The word “amateur” has its root in the Latin word “amare,” meaning to love. It is particularly appropriate to describe Jim Paquette of Negaunee as an amateur archaeologist, for he is steeped in profound love for the subject. But the word is inappropriate if it carries any negative connotation, for Paquette’s approach to archaeology is that of a consummate professional.
It is an approach that put him squarely at the center of two of the most significant archaeological finds in the U.P.
Back in the 1980s, Paquette—who worked at Cleveland Cliffs, focusing on mine safety and advocating for employee rights—had already done a great deal of reading and studying about Paleo-Indians, the Native peoples who inhabited the American continents for millennia before Europeans arrived. He had studied ancient stone artifacts, and he knew from conversations with NMU archaeologist Marla Buckmaster that if and when artifacts were found it was important to leave them in place so that the site could be properly mapped, recorded, and analyzed.
Paquette was convinced that there were ancient archaeological sites to be found in Marquette County but, he said, “Nothing had been found because people didn’t look. I decided to look. And on the very first day, within the first hour, at Teal Lake, just blocks from my home, there were sites.” Eventually, he found “hundreds of sites. These were amazing ‘holy wah!’ moments.”
One of the most notable emerged when the Deer Lake reservoir was partially drained to deal with mercury contamination. Paquette and his buddy, John Gorto, embarked on a survey around the uncovered parts of the basin. “And we found artifacts ringing that lake. Not just one but a lot—over 30 of them.”
Obeying the imperative to “do things right,” they left the artifacts—mostly ancient stone spear points—in place and phoned Buckmaster. The next day she joined them in the icy mud along with Paquette’s father, a photographer. The story of this find is detailed in Paquette’s book The Find of a Thousand Lifetimes, which is available locally…

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