Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fast Times at WMU Archaeology Lab

 Hi everyone, my name is Cameron and I am an anthropology undergrad here at Western Michigan University. This is my senior year and I will finally be graduating this spring. My plans after graduation is to work as a field technician, traveling around the country doing cultural resource management. This past summer I took the opportunity to attend the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Field School. This was very rewarding, as I learned excavation techniques, and gained some experience while working in the field. This was essentially on the job training that will allow me to be employed as a field technician, and I am very optimistic about my future career in archaeology. And this semester I took the opportunity to gain more experience, by working in the lab as an independent study student.

As an independent study student, I am working in a team with both of my pit partners from the field school, under the direction of both our lab manager and Dr. Nassaney. As a team we are all very comfortable working together, because we have all lived, worked, and sweated together in the summer heat for two months during the field school. Our goals are to organize the information and artifacts that we have acquired from this past field season at Fort St. Joseph. This includes doing artifact inventory, writing the annual report, and making brochures for next summer’s field school. I have been tasked with doing the artifact inventory for two projects, the artifacts from the Fort St. Joseph 2018 field season and artifacts from an excavation of the Ellen G. White residence in Battle Creek.

Artifact inventory consists of systematically cataloging and recording the artifacts we have recovered, so they can be researched further in the future. For the past three weeks I have been coming to the lab for two days each week, doing artifact inventory with Dr. Nassaney for the Fort St. Joseph artifacts, and with my pit partner Raegan for the Ellen White site artifacts. A typical day consists of opening a large bag, full off smaller bags, that are full of artifacts sorted by their type. The large bags hold all the artifacts from a specific provenience, in other words, the various types of artifacts are held in a bag from the exact depth that they were excavated from. The smaller bags contain artifacts of a specific type within that provenience. All of these small artifact bags are recorded together in the provenience bags in order to understand them in their context. Meaning, all these artifacts are associated with their depth below ground, and the spatial relationship they share with each other. This is all a part of systematic research. When I go through each provenience bag, I empty a small bag of artifacts and count them. After they are counted they are entered into a spreadsheet, where they are recorded by their accession number, unit number, level, depth, material, function, description, count, and weight. For example, 18-2-1, north 22 west 10, level 1, 0 to 10 centimeters, bone, food remains, fragments, 26, and 120 grams. This may sound tedious, but believe me it’s a blast and time really flies.

I am a month into the fall semester and I have been really busy, but making time for independent study has been both rewarding and a lot of fun. It has been teaching me the hands on skills I will need for my future in archaeology. But, all of this aside, handling artifacts is awesome! Holding onto each individual artifact feels special. I can’t really put this feeling into words, but holding onto something that someone had lost over three hundred years ago is as trip. When I hold an artifact it acts as a medium that transcends time, because in that moment of contact there is a connection between the person who it belonged to and myself. When I contemplate this thought, it can feel very surreal. And speaking of surreal, my time as an undergraduate is almost coming to an end. I look forward to working more in the lab this semester, and for what my future holds when I graduate.

Peace and Love,

Friday, September 28, 2018

Finishing Up Field School

August 16, 2018

Hello again friends! Shelby here with the latest from the 2018 Field School. We are back at Western Michigan University and getting a head start on our lab work that will take the rest of the year. Our lab work is tedious, but it is so important that it’s done right. This year, we have an extra component to our lab work, we have four flotation samples; one from last year and three from this field season. See Andrea’s blog for more about that process.

The family wearing our matching shirts graciously given to us by Neil. 
As for being back in Kalamazoo, it is definitely weird being at the school, but doing the same things we had been doing in the field. We have all spent so much time with each other for the last five weeks, that it is hard not going to bed with roommates, eating as a community, or just overall spending every waking moment together. To think that we only have a day and a half left together is actually a weird thought and one I didn’t anticipate having at all, let alone so soon. I never thought that I would be saying this, but I am going to miss everyone here so very much. We drive each other completely nuts, but in the end we are a family and a part of a legacy.

Lab work in the field was time consuming, yet easy. We washed all of the artifacts as they came in from the field; minus iron because, you know, rust. Sorting came next as the artifacts were dry. We were pretty fortunate that almost all of the sorting got done from the comfort of the stables and that we really didn’t have too much to do back at the WMU lab; that isn’t to say that these last few days are being spent twiddling our thumbs. We are slowly and surely checking off the items of a very extensive to do list that is forever getting longer.

What are we doing in lab, you ask? Simply put, a lot. We finished sorting the artifacts by type and accession number. This makes it so much easier during inventory, because we have to count and weigh every artifact with others of its type; for example: 16 white seed beads weighing in at 6 grams. We are also digitizing the notes we painstakingly wrote throughout the excavations. This means retyping everything, word for word, in a template. We started our inventory process with the artifacts uncovered at our STP (Shovel Test Pit) site from the beginning of the season. So far, we have logged over 160 entries and counting! We are also finishing the last of our blogs for the field season and reorganizing everything for next season.

Independent Study is an opportunity for each field school student to earn 1 to 4 credits; furthering their involvement in the project. Students learn lab skills in an academic environment that will propel them in their careers as archaeologists. Along with learning key identifiers for various artifacts, we also learn the history behind them. We attempt to identify specific objects based on the fragments we uncover. To do this, we consult a wide array of texts and research articles from other like sites. We often reference Fort Michilimackinac’s uncovered artifacts, since Fort St. Joseph often reveals similar artifacts.

Looking back on this experience as a whole, I can honestly say that I am so glad that I did this field school. The staff is beyond knowledgeable and they make it a great learning environment. We learned the steps required to complete an excavation and we got a taste of what happens when things go right and when things go wrong. We were given firsthand experience of some of the stresses of archaeology and why it is paramount that things are done properly and notes are detailed. Having done this field school, I would be confident enough to go out into the field tomorrow and begin again.  

Thursday, September 13, 2018

What in Flotation do we have here!?!

August 15, 2018

WOW-WOW-WE-WOW everybody!

Unit N11 W4 southeast corner full of oxidized soil, ash, and charcoal.
Andrea here, and today I am going to get down and dirty on float sampling. But first, let me give you a little background on how our sample came to be. It was the 3rd of August 2018, and the day before the annual Fort St. Joseph Open House (and for the record our unit floor was extremely level at this point). Our south east corner was looking rather oxidized, ashy and full of charcoal. It was decided that our unit would be sampled. To begin, we measured and marked out a 45cm x 75cm square. We needed to fill a 10 liter bucket. We literally chunked up large pieces of sediment to prevent compromising any of the organic material that may be in the soil sample. Our purpose for taking the float sample was to hopefully gather remains of any organic material consumed or utilized by the inhabitants of Fort St. Joseph. So, we filled our bucket, but we may have forgotten to keep in mind we weren't going to go past 45cm below our datum point. As we cleaned up our South East corner it was clear we had gone too deep approximately 47cm below datum. And that's how we came to have our undulating (uneven/really bumpy) floor...
Undulating floor.

Austin teaches students how to use the flote-tech flotation machine.
Flash forward 2 weeks later, our hideous floor has been buried and we are out of the swamp and back in the lab at WMU. Today, a past field school student came in to show us how to use the flote-tech flotation system machine (there was no manual and the video was on VHS). This machine looks like a hotdog vender cart turned into a fancy wet screen operation.  It consists of a water reservoir, flotation tank and a water pump. The machine is split in half and the pump is used to move the 100-gallon water supply in a closed loop from the water reservoir into the floatation tank. One half of the machine houses the coarse-fraction screen and the other the fine-fraction screen. The machine gyrates and separates the organic material (fine-fraction) from the soil, it then floats to the surface while the heavier particles (coarse-fraction) sinks to the bottom. The floating material floats over the lip of the flotation tank and into the fine-fraction screen. As we began to process our sample the water movement was non-existent. We drained the tanks and began to disassemble the loop of PVC pipes for the pump system. The system was clogged! We blasted the slimy clay like silt from the pipes and every nook and cranny with the hose.  After reassembling the system, we started to process the sample again and boy did it make a difference!  We were cooking with gas and organics were floating to the surface with a purpose. After all of the fine-fraction organics have floated over and all of the soil has completely filtered out of the coarse-fraction screen we removed both screens. The fine-fraction screen is tied up to dry to await analysis (most likely under a microscope) and the coarse-fraction screen is set aside for further screening. When you pull out the course-fraction screen many artifacts are immediately visible for example lead shot, seed beads, and bone; these artifacts will be bagged and sorted like usual. After we finished processing all the samples we tore the machine down and flushed it out for the next guy! All in all, it was a great day and another archaeology skill in the playbook.

Austin and Gary cleaning the flotation machine. 
Fine-fraction and coarse-fraction samples after screening.

Diagram of the Flote-tech flotation system machine. 

Fine-fraction organics floating into the fine-fraction screen. 
Andrea and Gary fluffing the coarse-fraction ( I like to imagine he is a proud papa!).

Austin and Gary clean out the pipes.

Friday, August 10, 2018

I Really Dug Field School

Hey gang, it’s Gretchen again. As the 2018 Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Field School comes to a bittersweet end, I thought I would share with you what a privilege it has been to work with my peers, as well as, be a part of an actual archaeological excavation.

If I had to sum up what I learned in the field school, it would be patience. From troweling meticulously to living and working very closely with seventeen roommates, we all had to work on our patience. Even though we may have had our small differences throughout the last six weeks, we learned valuable skills about working with others and complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It was definitely easy to become very comfortable with one another very quickly while living so closely. We had to learn to deal with stress, while having such a routinely packed schedule. The best way to perfect the skills required for archaeology both in the field and with your colleagues is to be fully immersed in the field. We are all self-selected for this program and gave up a good six weeks of our lives for this intense learning experience. Dr. Nassaney has stressed deep listening this whole field season, teaching us to sit back and absorb what others are saying instead of thinking about what we’re going to say next all of the time, a valuable skill in the workplace. Archaeology is an extremely collaborative science on small and large scales. In the field, it is far more difficult to not dig holes in your unit than you would think. We have to carefully trowel across our unit floors keeping everything even within a centimeter at a time. When you think you’re being patient enough and taking your time, you’re not. A point I have brought up several times this season is that archaeology is extremely scientific but can feel very blue collar, which is quite humbling.

We have all had a great opportunity to be immersed in such a passionate, generous, dedicated community in Niles. We have free food up to our necks throughout the season as well as volunteers/donors of time and money in and out of the field. To see the effect our work has had on the community of Niles is truly amazing. Back to archaeology being a collaborative effort, we could not do this project without the support of you, Niles, and WMU, so for that I thank you all. Special shout out to our volunteer of the year, Gary, he’s the best ever. Public archaeology is so fulfilling; we know that by seeing everyone’s interest and contagious enthusiasm. The Open House was such an amazing experience even as exhausting as it was. Several participants were astonished by the amount of shared enthusiasm at the site. I almost wish the Open House would have lasted longer. Being surrounded by mutually passionate people makes for a happy, healthy, encouraging environment. People with all different skills sets were available at the Open House for people to learn about all different aspects of archaeology as well as history. It seems like everyone is intrigued when they hear the word archaeology, but for different reasons. There really is something for everyone in the field of archaeology, whether you just love dirt or you love lead seals ;). We all had many opportunities to create networks with the people of Niles, and professionals in different aspects of archaeology such as our zooarchaeologist Terry Martin, and field-school-veteran/ lead seal expert, Cathrine Davis. Having so many good resources, a growing network, and interested residents keeps us very motivated (so do all of the free cookies). 

I’ve never been to summer camp, but this is probably what it’s like. This week we are finishing up some mapping and soil records to wrap up and move out of Niles. My heart is full and I feel like I’ve found my people. We have all learned a lot about each other and the world of archaeology, forming lifelong friendships. We learned several field techniques, personal skills, and even each other’s home recipes. I have thoroughly enjoyed the field school and am extremely grateful for all of it. I want to thank every contributor to the project big or small, and I will see you all next field season in some way shape or form.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

"Speaking of Dirt..."

Sami Brown, the field school student speaker, at Media Day.

Hello everyone, it sure has been a while since I last wrote, my name again is Sami.  Due to the popular demand by the people, I have decided to write out my Media Day speech for your enjoyment.  I hope everyone has had a fun filled summer, because we sure did.  With out further ado. . .

“First of all, I would like to thank everyone for coming out today to support us.  Without the prolonged and continued support of individuals from the community we would not have the opportunity be standing here today.

My name is Samantha Brown, or Sami for short.  I was born and raised in a small farming town in Pennsylvania, called Munster.  Upon completing high school, I decided to enlist in the United States Air Force.  Through my 6-year military career I have lived in Texas, California and North Dakota.  I spent most of my military career as an Aerospace Service Medical Technician working on ambulances.  When it came time for me to separate and relocate my husband and I quickly agreed to move to his home state of Michigan, where I enrolled as a full-time student seeking a biology major.  A few semesters in, I care across an amazing opportunity to work for the Walt Disney Corporation at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida as a character attendant.  So, my husband, two bonus kids, and myself left Michigan behind to become residents of the sunshine state for 3 ½ years.  Eventually the magic of Disney wore off, believe it or not, and we decided to return home to Michigan once again.  Having missed my time as a medic in the Air Force I decided to go for a degree change and pursue a major in biomedical sciences and a minor in chemistry at WMU.  So how exactly did the archaeology bug bite me well. . . 

My childhood home was originally an early 1900 saloon, where they would literally throw any garbage out the kitchen window or take it to a large hill on the western side of the property, about 10 yards from the establishment.  My father would spend many days with me and my brother digging threw this ruble.  We each got to shovel and dig in our own separate holes, all hoping to find something.  We mostly found glass bottles intact, Johnson and Johnson metal containers, and a few skeleton keys, all 20th century items or newer.  But the thrill of the find wasn’t the only exciting moment, you see my Dad would play this game with us.  With every object we found we would have to create a story to go along with it.  We had to give the object and owner, the owner a name, and take a stab at what the object was used for.  Being silly and young we usually picked names of loved ones and had very crazy and imaginative uses for the items.  For example, one time my brother found a blue glass bottle, he said it belonged to Bruce Wayne who used it to catch fireflies, so he had a light source all night long.  He was a major Batman fan.  I didn’t realize it then, but my Dad was preparing me in his own way as a junior archaeologist.

Flash forward to a college student sitting in a lecture hall taking on of her general education classes, Lost Worlds of Archeology.  It was the first class I ever took that I was actually excited about going to.  The professor was so excited and into the material it was very difficult not to catch the enthusiasm it was at this moment I decided to double minor in chemistry and anthropology.  With each passing anthropology course, I took I felt myself wanting to take more and learn as much as I could.  That’s when I found out about Intro to Archeology and ultimately the Fort St. Joseph Project.  Memories of me and my Dad spending many days digging in the dirt all began to resurface.  With each Intro to Archeology lecture Dr. Nassaney liked to challenge us to think outside of the box, utilize every source we could think of, and when we were out of ideas he challenged us to think of even more.  It was part of the reason I wanted to attend the Archaeology Field School this summer here in Niles.  The other reason stems from my heavy biology background, the want or need to tangibly touch or work with my subject.  What better way is there for an anthropologist to do this than conduct field work?  By getting the chance to leave the typical classroom setting and gain the experiences of a hands-on setting.  I honestly had no idea of what exactly I was getting myself into.  I knew for sure that we would not be doing Indiana Jones or Laura Croft type of work.  Instead, I was in for an experience of a lifetime.  Over the last five weeks I got the opportunity to unearth and touch history, like actually pick-up., examine, and think about an object, or artifact as we archeologists call them.  These artifacts actually belonged to someone at some period of time, and to be the first person to see or even feel them in 200+ years is an exhilarating feeling.  I can honestly say I will never forget the feeling I got when I picked-up and examined my first lead seal.  But, I quickly learned that archeology isn’t about filling museums with artifacts or even about finding artifacts in general, it goes so much deeper than that and let me tell you the amount of paperwork was surprising.  It’s about discovering history, giving voices to the voiceless, learning as much as you can about a topic only to find out there is always more to learn and ultimately, it’s about being able to work with others and forming bonds with those you work with.  Much like the family bonds we have grown to form with one another and will continue to form with others as we pursue our own archeological careers.”

Again, I want to take a few moments and thank everyone from the city of Niles, the WMU community, and all the surrounding areas for everything you do.  From the donations to the amount of time everyone donates to us, without you we would not be able to accomplish all that we do.  It really does take a village, and all of you are ours.  So here is to another 20 years, may we continue to strengthen and grow together, FSJ forever.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

OPENing the Doors to my HOUSE Away from Home

Hello Fort St. Joseph community! This is Melanie writing to you all about the archaeological event from last weekend. Open House weekend is the culmination of the Fort St. Joseph archaeologists’ summer work, and this year we were all so excited to share our findings with the public. After a few weeks of working and living together, learning about archaeology and the history of the fur trade in Michigan, we acquired new knowledge and an enthusiasm about the project. Being able to interact with the public and inform them about our endeavors delving into the past was a unique and incredible experience. For this year’s Open House, students and staff organized a variety of activities in order to present our discoveries to the community in a fun and educational way. From pit tours to children’s activities to artifact cases, the Fort St. Joseph archaeologists, along with a few dozen historical interpreters, brought the eighteenth century fort to life once again.
FSJAP student Melanie rocking her 2018 Field Season Shirt and prepping for pit tours.

Every day in the field, students practiced explaining their units to the rest of the group and any guests visiting the site. Along with communicating new and important information, this allowed us to practice how to explain archaeology to those who do not know anything about it. Over the course of the last few weeks, we have had many visitors who came to the site and listened to our interpretations of what we have been finding. The local Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi brought their youth to the site, and our summer campers also participated in pit tours during their time working with us. Getting accustomed to talking in front of a group of curious people and explaining our newly acquired knowledge of the history of Fort St. Joseph increased our confidence and our eagerness of sharing historical information. During Open House weekend, we had continuous pit tours throughout the day where students presented information about their assigned unit to any interested guests. We utilized our summer’s worth of new information, as well as interpretive maps, to piece together a picture of the fort for the public and future archaeologists.

Historical reenactor and all around awesome ally to the FSJAP, Lynn!
One of the most exciting parts about the Open House was how interested the community was this year about the Project. There were many in-depth questions that guests asked us during the Open House at every station. One of the children’s activities, bead bartering, encouraged the kids visiting the site to ask questions to students, staff, and reenactors. We allowed young children to participate first hand in learning archaeological activities to introduce them to interpreting the past. I was able to cement my newly acquired knowledge by answering questions, and I even learned new facts about the fort from inquiring guests.

The historical reenactors also played a major role during the Open House by teaching us all about eighteenth century life. I was able to speak with quite a few of them, and they were happy to explain the activities that they were doing. One of the ladies was spinning thread and explaining the development of the various technologies that were used in the past. Another reenactor was a black smith, and he told me about the technologies that he uses to work an iron object. Free canoe rides were also available for the public during the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Open House. The rides were led by a reenactor who used chants that the French fur traders of the eighteenth century would have used while paddling the St. Joseph River. From dancers to priests, the historical interpreters really made the past tangible to us living now in the twenty-first century.
The 18th-century partners with the 21st century for dancing lessons.
With the help of our various supporters, the staff and the field school students were able to successfully teach nearly nine hundred people about the archaeology of Fort St. Joseph. All of us put in a lot of time and effort over the past few weeks in order to host an educational and interactive Open House for the people of Niles. We enjoyed seeing the community as excited about the past as we are, even though the heat was almost unbearable. Each year, the Open House is where all of our work comes together—from previous field seasons and the most recent—and we are able to pass on our enthusiasm to the public. Together our understanding of the fur trade and life at Fort St. Joseph gets deeper with every passing year. Over the past twenty years, there have been many questions that we have been able to answer, and many more questions that arise from these new answers. There is still a lot of work to do, and a lot more information to learn, and we look forward to continuing our research of the site and sharing that knowledge with all of you.

A Wonderful Weekend

The 2018 field crew enjoying a ride
 in a birchbark canoe.

Hello Fort followers, it’s Meghan! After a wonderful weekend on the floodplain I am back with an update of the Open House!

Overall, I would say the Open House was a huge success even with the intense heat. We had just about 800 attendees in the 90+ degree weather. Throughout the weekend attendees could enjoy eight wet screening demonstrations; six colonial dances; eight historical walking tours; four French sing-alongs; multiple living history demonstrations; multiple discussions from Dr. Michael Nassaney and Cathrine Davis, MA; and FREE canoe rides! Also, the staff and students all had a wonderful time discussing the excavated units, our findings from this field season and our “ghost structure”.

As attendees walked down reenactor alley it was as though they were transported to the eighteenth century. The reenactors were demonstrating colonial baking and cooking; eighteenth century fishing; colonial dancing and music; blacksmithing; coopering; quill writing; and Jesuit priest and voyageur life! Cathrine Davis, our guest speaker, even took some time to demonstrate laundering. As guests continued to walk down towards the site they were greeted by Dr. Terry Martin and Fernwood Nature Preserve. Dr. Terry Martin, the zooarchaeologist for the Project, was discussing animal identification and had an array of animal remains displayed. Farther down the site, our “Technology Then and Now” banners were exhibited along with our artifact cases. This Open House we had a special artifact case completely dedicated to lead seals, due to the larger quantity of lead seals we have recovered this field season!

Open House guests observing
a reenactor use a spinning wheel. 

The Open House is the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project’s opportunity to share our findings with the public and we are more than happy to invite the public into our world. As a long-term, multidisciplinary, community-based project, it is one of our major goals to have the public not only visit but become engaged and involved in our research. For example, the construction of our “ghost structure” would not have been possible without the help and support of the community.

Thank you so much for a successful weekend! We look forward to seeing you all at the 2019 Open House!