Prehistoric History

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, the first inhabitants of the land we now call Sterling Heights hunted, fished and lived on these fertile grounds more than 11,000 years ago. And while there's no doubt that evolution and technology have seriously altered family dinner plans, pre-historic people settled on this land for the same reasons citizens move here today: it's an ideal place to live and raise a family.

Artifacts found in the early 1960s at Holcombe Beach show that Paleo Indians lived here as long ago as 9,000 B.C. Holcombe Beach, located near the Metropolitan Parkway and Dodge Park Road area, is regarded as Sterling Heights' greatest historical find.

The site, formed millions of years ago, lies on a sand ridge adjacent to a lake that existed during the late glacial period of the Great Lakes.

Amateur archaeologist Jerome DeVisscher, a former Sterling Heights Ford Motor Company employee and Clinton Township supervisor, discovered Holcombe on a hunch. As DeVisscher drove to and from work each day, a small ridge along the roadside spurred his curiosity. Knowing that Indian relics are often found buried beneath such ridges, he and fellow archaeology novice Edward J. Wahla dug in the area and uncovered spearheads made by the Paleo Indians.

This find sparked great excitement in the archaeology community and led to a five year study by the University of Michigan, whose scientists eventually found more than 7,000 arrowheads and flint chips. According to researchers at the U of M's Museum of Anthropology, Paleo Indians hunted mammoth, mastodons and caribou in this area. One camp site, where research teams found a caribou bone fragment, showed that these early Americans knew how to cook their meat. Other evidence led to the conclusion that they probably traveled in family groups or hunting bands of 20 to 48 people. Scientists debate that the Paleo Indians were so skilled as hunters that they were responsible for their own demise, driving their main food sources--giant animals like the mammoth and mastodon--into extinction.

Anthropologists now compare the Holcombe Beach discoveries to major finds in Nova Scotia, Canada, and New Mexico, which are the oldest traces of early man on the North American continent.

After learning of the rich origins of our community, one may wonder what lies ahead for future inhabitants of the land we now call Sterling Heights.