Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Education and the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project

Hey Guys! Amber and Stefan here! 

Niles High School, the site of our first encounter with the
Niles school system and its educators 
This semester we are working with the educational community in Niles to see what potential overlap in interests they may have with the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project. We are defining this community as those who are local educators in the Niles public school system, the tech school, and the surrounding areas. We are hoping to reach out to those who have also worked with the project in the past, especially educators and students who have participated in tours and digs, or visited the museum.  As potential partners, the educational community and the Project have the potential for considerable overlap in shared interests. The field of anthropology has been interested in education for themselves as well as the education of others. So far, the project has hosted field schools for the community to participate in, hosting an open house, and holding public lectures open to the community. As scholars and anthropologists, we are concerned with obtaining, researching, and sharing information. This is an area where the educational community in Niles might also be interested. We would like to involve those who are interested as much as possible, in order for everyone to fully benefit from an engaged and helpful learning partnership.
An archaeological field school student exchanging information
with a young re-enactor
                  We have reached out to several educators within the Niles community already! We are excited to meet with educators as soon as possible. We traveled to Niles on March 14th to meet with Brad, a Niles High School teacher who is very excited and enthusiastic about the project. We discussed ways in which we can incorporate his students into the project for the benefit of both groups. We can see how the project can be a unique opportunity for students to earn volunteer hours required for graduation, or using their technical skills for the project. Niles High School hosts the Career Technical Education classes for most of the county. Here they have the resources and opportunities to learn about building trades, agriculture, and graphic design.

                  We may be able to partner with the schools to provide new ways for students to learn about their historic community, or to collaborate on future class projects with the students in Niles. As we move forward with this project we are looking forward to working with members in the educational community for our mutual benefit.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Floating in the Floodplain

Hello blog readers, this is Tommy from the 2016 field season. I’m back with a post on flotation samples!

            Botanical (plant) remains can be charred or uncharred and include remains such as seeds, charcoal, wood, corn cobs, kernels, and other plant parts. These remains are usually recovered from sediment samples by water flotation or directly from their cultural contexts during excavation. Botanical remains can provide evidence for the utilization, processing, or domestication of plant resources by the occupants of an archaeological site, which can help answer questions regarding diet, subsistence, season of occupation, trade, and site function.
The botanical remains at Fort St. Joseph are most often are recovered from cultural features such as hearths, fire pits, and middens (trash deposits). We are mostly looking for charred seeds that can tell us if the occupants of Fort St. Joseph were eating domesticated plants like wheat. During the 2016 field season we took several flotation samples. The process of gathering a flotation sample starts with identifying an area to gather float sample. We were looking for areas of Oxidized (burned) soil and middens. Once we found an area that we decided was suitable for a flotation sample we would trace a box around it and collect 10 liters of soil. Once the soil was collected we transferred it into a bag so we could bring it back to the lab for processing.
A sample that has been run through the screens
Back at our lab at Western Michigan University (WMU) we have begun processing our float samples. The first step when processing float samples is to run them through a Flote-Tech float machine. The float machine has two chambers, one to catch the heavy fraction (artifacts that don’t float) and one for the light fraction (botanical remains that float). Once the sample has been run through the float machine, we take the heavy and light fractions and let them dry. After the samples have dried we run them through a series of screens that are stacked on top of each other in order to separate the materials by size. We use 2 different screens when processing our float samples, one is 2 mm and the other is .85 mm. After the samples are run through the screen we sort the samples to pick out the botanical remains we are looking for from the other materials (root hairs).
So far, I have sorted 2 light fractions and one heavy fraction. I haven’t recovered any charred seeds, but I have recovered some unburned grape seeds. The heavy fraction had a lead bale seal inside of it. Bale seals were used to provide proof that cloth or other goods had met the standard set by the guild which controlled the materials in the bale. I hope to find a lot of other helpful materials during the rest of the semester!
A close-up view of the "heavy fraction"
Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Connecting with Recreationalists and Natural History Aficionados on the St. Joseph River

An image of the St. Joseph River. While today it is mostly used
for recreational purposes such as fishing and kayaking, it was an
important French trading route. The river cuts through numerous
ecological zones that contain an abundance of rich plant and animal life
For our Anthropology in the Community class at Western Michigan University, my partner, Kyle Sicotte and I, Chris Carpenter, are collaborating in order to learn more about the natural history of the St. Joseph River and how it is used today. We are very excited to begin exploring the Niles community, and plan to meet individuals and groups with interest and knowledge about the natural world. Our goal is to learn more about the interactions between the Niles community and the natural world that surrounds them, and how that relationship has changed over time. We plan to connect with members of the community at the Fernwood and Sarett Nature Centers, as well as representatives of the nature enthusiast community in the area, which will include members that frequent the river for kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and possibly even bird watching (a great blue heron that lives near the Fort St. Joseph site can often be seen during the summer field season). We have already been in contact with a few members of the community who share this interest and hope that these relations will lead to further dialogue with others on the subject. We plan to visit Niles soon to get the lay of the land, at the very least, and forge contacts with locals. While doing so we will visit the river itself, Sarett and Fernwood, and the Fort St. Joseph Museum.

Great blue heron near Fort St. Joseph
Photo by Catherine Davis
In the course of our first visit we hope to learn about the history of the river from the perspective of local historians. What do the Niles citizens know about the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project? How can we, as anthropologists from WMU, benefit the local population? What can we learn about recreational use and natural history of the St. Joseph River in Niles from the local population? On top of visiting the museum we hope to speak with employees from Sarett and Fernwood as well as recreational users of the St. Joseph River. Through this project, we hope to not only gain more information about this natural resource but also form new contacts and strengthen WMU’s current relationships with the City of Niles.