Thursday, September 4, 2014

Archaeology Internship

The Department of Anthropology at WMU and the Fort St. Joseph Museum in Niles invite applications for a paid internship ($2000) during the 2014-15 academic year. The Fort St. Joseph intern will have the opportunity to:

*contribute to an ongoing public archaeology program focused on the historical archaeology of Fort St. Joseph, an 18th century mission-garrison-trading post in Niles, MI

*work with Carol Bainbridge, the Museum Director, and the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee to develop initiatives that heighten the profile of Fort St. Joseph in the community

*assist Michael Nassaney, Principal Investigator of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, with processing materials from the 2013 field season and making preparations for 2015

* engage in community outreach and education as needed

*assist in preparing promotional materials, a strategic plan based on the Niles conference (MHAC10), and the annual newsletter, the Fort St. Joseph Post

Students will be expected to devote about 6-8 hours/week on the internship from September 2014 through May 2015. Compensation will be paid in four installments of $500 in November, January, March, and May.

Qualified candidates should be currently enrolled students at Western Michigan University. Preference will be given to applicants who can work with the public, articulate the needs and goals of the project, and demonstrate a willingness to engage with the Niles community. Applicants with current or proposed interest in the historical archaeology of the fort will be given preference.

Interested students should submit a letter of application and a current cv with the names of at least two references to Dr. Michael Nassaney ( by September 10, 2014 for an appointment to begin September 15.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Evidence Found

During this snowy winter, exciting things related to Fort St. Joseph (FSJ) have been occurring. Dr. Michael Nassaney has been collaborating with the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and Joseph Hines, a designer with Project Arts and Ideas. The last few months these plans have started to take shape and now we are ready to share the exciting news with all of you. In January 2015, an exhibit called “Evidence Found” will open at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. The exhibit is designed to communicate in an interactive format what archaeology is, what archaeologists do, and the presence as well as the importance of archaeological sites in southwest Michigan. The primary archaeological site presented in the exhibit is Fort St. Joseph. Artifacts uncovered at FSJ and photos of the site will be on display. One section of the exhibit will include the presentation of information and artifacts from five other sites in Southwest Michigan. Those five sites are the  Native American mound in Bronson Park, the Warren B. Shepard homestead site, Ramptown an Underground Railroad site, Dieffenderfer a Late-Woodland site, and Schilling a pre-contact sweat lodge. In accompaniment to the photos and artifacts, archaeological procedures and tools will be on display and interpreted for the visitors.
I participated in the 2012 Archaeological Field School at Fort St. Joseph and I worked in the lab the following Fall semester. I am collaborating with Dr. Nassaney and Mr. Hines on the preparation for this exhibit. One of my responsibilities is to conduct background research on all the sites. For each of these sites, I am also suggesting a way that the sites can be interpreted in order to connect the purpose of the activities at each site to present people and activities. Another task assigned to me is to assist in obtaining and selecting photos and artifacts from the sites. I am selecting a sample of photos taken during field seasons at Fort St. Joseph.
Participation in this project is part of my thesis for the Lee Honors College. For my thesis, I am conducting the research on the sites and I am selecting artifacts and photos associated with them. This project fits with my future career plans, as I hope to someday work in a museum. This project is beneficial to my future career as I am learning more about the research and planning that goes into the design of an exhibit in a museum. When I work in a museum in the future, I will have a better idea of how to plan and design exhibits because I worked on this project. Keep checking back for more information on the Project and details on the museum display!-Tabitha Hubbard 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Smoking a deer hide over a smudge pit. Photo: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 86, Plate 75.

Hello everybody. It’s Joe Hearns here. Some of you might remember me from past field seasons during which I worked as part of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project crew. In addition to spending time at the Fort site and in the lovely city of Niles, I have been working towards completing a Masters thesis at Western Michigan University. My topic is an exciting one: BONES!
            More specifically, I’ve been spending most of my days this past semester in the lab identifying the numerous animal bone remains recovered from the decade’s worth of excavation. Before I bore even myself describing the ins and outs of data collection, I’m going to take this opportunity to explain what we might possibly learn from this project, and how that might add to our knowledge of life during the fur trade.
            So why study animal bones in the first place? Granted, those of us who grew up in Michigan certainly have a relatively clear idea of what animals are around, whether it’s the pesky raccoons digging through our trash bins, the deer never looking both ways before crossing the road, the beaver that builds a secluded dam on a forgotten creek deep in the forest, or even the Canada geese honking over our heads and the wild turkeys spotted near the tree lines of our fields. However, odds are against running into a black bear, the ever diminishing and protected lake sturgeon, and the extinct passenger pigeon, all of which were visitors to Fort St. Joseph and its inhabitants. Identification of these species’ remains, and others like them, help uncover a history of animals found across our present landscape, giving us insight into an environmental past different from ours.
You can see by comparing to the size of the penicil, bones come in all 
shapes and sizes.  Even tiny bird bones (the three on the right)
 are preserved at Fort St. Joseph. Photo: Joe Hearns
            Everyone has to eat, and animal bones have long been seen as an excellent source of information regarding the diets of people in the past. The decisions made when preparing dinner is further evidence of daily life. As a modern example, consider our vegetarian friends and family; their daily choices in food reflect a specific attitude towards the consumption of meat. So, if we were to examine the animal remains to look at dietary patterns of the folks at Fort St. Joseph, we might find a reliance on certain animals over others. In 2004, Rory Becker did just that for his Masters work and found some interesting patterns in the collected bone data. Overall, the inhabitants of the site were found to be using mostly locally available, wild animals as a source for meat, especially white-tailed deer. The fact that their diet was more similar to the Potawatomis’ with whom they traded, lived, and married speaks volumes about the close relationships formed on the frontier.
            However, the use of animals does not end with a boiling pot of stew; this was the fur trade after all. Certain animals, especially the beaver, white-tailed deer, and raccoon, were targeted for their hides and pelts. This is where I began my work: How might we tell if animals recovered from the site were used for food or for their fur? Who was processing these animals and how did they do it? Where did this activity occur? These questions about hide production and others might be answered by looking at what are referred to as “site formation processes.”
            Site formation processes is a fancy term for asking, “How did all of this stuff get here?” We do different activities in different places. For example, my dad is a teacher and former high school administrator, but he is also an active gardener and does many household projects involving woodworking. Think of how the contents of a trash can in his home office looks compared to a much larger trash can by his work bench. Now, compare these two trash cans to the bin for yard waste, or even the compost heap by his garden. All of this waste disposal looks different and is different because of the activities my dad engaged in that produced this garbage. So, by looking at the Fort Site’s animal bones, we might be able to see different activities in the form of specific areas of activity, as cooking and hide production are very different activities that will produce distinct patterns of “production waste,” or, as I like to think of it, garbage.
Raccoon mandible, maxilla, and possible 
deer long bone. Photo: Joe Hearns
            The Gete Odena site on Lake Superior’s Grand Island might serve as a comparison for the Fort’s animal bone assemblage in regards to examining processing animal hides (see Skibo et al 2004). This site, dated to the period following European contact, yielded over 1400 animal remains throughout the two seasons of excavation. The overall species composition was dominated by large mammals, such as moose, white-tailed deer, and black bear. In addition, smaller fur-bearing mammals, especially beaver, marten, and muskrat, were also recovered. Although this would have been a prime spot for exploiting waterfowl and spawning fish in the warmer months, these species were not recovered to any large degree. The absence of seasonal animal visitors to the site in the archaeological record highlights a focus on the processing of mammals.
            The researchers at Gete Odena also noted the presence of five “smudge pits” at the site. Smudge pits were used in processing to smoke animal hides (Skibo et al 2006). Essentially, these small narrow pits were dug and filled with pinecones, small maize cobs, or other recently acquired, green plant material placed at the bottom. The narrow walls, which reduce the amount of oxygen available to the fire, and green material created a smokey, nearly flameless fire. Hides were then wrapped around cone-shaped wooden framework constructed above the smoldering pit. This process preserved the hide in a usable form, whether for personal use and later manufacturing of clothing or as tradable goods, and also added the golden color of processed hide.
            Between the species composition and the recovering of these smudge pit features, the authors argued the inhabitants of this site primarily focused on medium and large-sized mammals for the purpose of hide extraction and processing, although it is certainly reasonable to suggest these animals were used as a food source as well as a hide source.
White-tailed deer rib with multiple 
knife cut marks. Photo: Joe Hearns.
            On a recent trip to work with Dr. Terry Martin at the Illinois State museum, I was able to collect data from three excavation units at the Fort St. Joseph Site. Similar to Gete Odena, the animal remains were, by and large, medium and large-sized mammals, especially white-tailed deer. Although some remains enhanced the known diversity at the site in regards to the presence of fish and waterfowl, the emphasis was mostly on these mammal species. Similarly, past field seasons uncovered several possible smudge pits on the Lyne Site terrace to the south of the Fort Site. More data needs to be collected and more work needs to be done to draw connections between these pits and the animal remains recovered at Fort St. Joseph, but these preliminary results suggest that hide processing may very well have been taking place around the Fort St. Joseph community.
            These preliminary data only begin to scratch the surface of my faunal analysis and have only posed more questions. Once I start to discern patterns resulting from daily activities, broader questions can be asked. Did production change over time as prices shifted in the global fur market? Did it shift due to over-hunting of species? Through these and similar questions, importantly, we could begin to understand how the people living at the Fort used animal resources to organize their lives in relation to one another within the larger structure of the fur trade. -Joe Hearns

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fort St. Joseph Archaeologists Gather in Quebec

Photo by Joseph Gagné

Fort St. Joseph archaeologists gathered for the 47th annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, sponsored by the Society for Historical Archaeology, from January 8-12 in Quebec City, Canada. Fourteen faculty, students, and alumni who have worked on the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project were in attendance, including Andrew Beaupré, Erin Claussen, Erica D'Elia, Catherine Davis, James Dunnigan, Anna Gerechka, Jayne Godfrey, Joseph Hearns, Terry Martin, Michael Nassaney, Emily Powell, LisaMarie Malischke, Andrew Robinson, Andrew Zink. The theme of this year’s conference was the questions that count in historical archaeology in the 21st century. Despite the numerous flight cancellations and sickness due to extreme winter weather, conference attendees were given a warm welcome in Quebec.
Conference attendees were offered a wide variety of presentations on the fur trade and the archaeology of New France. Andrew Beaupré organized a session highlighting the forts and families of New France that included paper presentations by Andrew Beaupré, LisaMarie Malischke, and a co-authored paper by Alex Brand, Erin Claussen, Ian Kerr, and Michael Nassaney. Dr. Nassaney presented a second paper in a session on critical reflections on the fur trade organized by Amelie Allard of the University of Minnesota. His paper examined significant questions concerning fur trade archaeology, extracted from his forthcoming book on the same topic. Terry Martin also presented a paper featuring Fort St. Joseph archaeology in a symposium dedicated to the historical archaeology of French Colonial America.
A handful of seed beads placed 2nd in black 
and white artifact photographs.
With the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project’s strong emphasis on public outreach, engagement, and collaborative learning, the conference was an excellent venue to share our work while engaging in lively discussions regarding contemporary archaeology and the role of archaeology in the modern world. Emily Powell noted: “Continued involvement in a professional organization such as the SHA is integral to students’ success in the field of archaeology. We learn the benefits of networking, the importance of sharing our work with others, and the need to maintain dialogue among peers. Communication is everything in our line of work.”
As in previous years, the Project entered the annual photo competition at the conference. Once again we came away with several awards, including two second-place and two first-place prizes in various categories. We are particularly proud of our first place award in the diversity category, which was new this year. Furthermore, one of the students captured in the photo, Stephen Staten, was the recipient of the first Diversity Scholarship Award given by the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project for a student to participate in the 2013 WMU archaeological field school.  Donations to the project support scholarships and other student expenses as investigations and interpretations of Fort St. Joseph continue.-Cara Mosier

Alexis Jacobs wet screening placed 1st in
color portrait photographs.
A Munsell book and soil core placed 2nd in
color field work photographs. 

Seth Allard leads students in offering Semaa (tobacco) to acknowledge the sacrifice of the plant and animal life that was disturbed through excavation. This image placed 1st in the diversity photo competition. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Public Presence and Future Plans

One of the FSJ displays at Archaeology Day.
If you thought that the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Project was taking a break because the 2013 field season is over, you thought wrong!  We've been hard at work in the lab back at Western Michigan University working on further analysis of the artifacts recovered this season.  Beyond that, we've been spreading the word about Fort St. Joseph!
Saturday, October 12th was Michigan Archaeology Day at the Michigan Historical Building in Lansing.  Last year attendance was estimated around 500-600 people throughout the day.  This year almost half that amount of people came through the door in the first hour.  We brought several posters and artifact cases and had many visitors interested in the project.  The staff at Archaeology Day seemed to be a bit short handed so our FSJAP students had the opportunity to help run kids’ activities.
Last week, the project was approached by Mary Burleson, a 7th grade social studies teacher at Linden Grove Middle School and asked us to talk to her classes about the Fort St. Joseph project and archaeology in general.  Alex Brand and I talked to five different classes throughout the day about what archaeology is, what we do at Fort St. Joseph and at WMU, and what kind of careers can be made with a degree in anthropology.  I got to talk to them for a bit about my passion, underwater archaeology, which most of the kids did not even realize existed as a field of study.  Many of the students seemed very interested in what we had to say and some even showed interest in our summer camp program.  At the end of the day, it was a very exciting feeling to think that we talked to over 100 kids about archaeology.
On October 19th, Dr. Michael Nassaney and Alex Brand presented a paper on the history of Fort St. Joseph and the French in the St. Joseph River Valley at the Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference. Alex also presented a poster on the field work from the past three years. We also had the opportunity to invite other members of the academic community to the conference we are currently planning for next summer that will take place in Niles, MI. There we will discuss the field work that has taken place at FSJ, as well as the future of the project. For now, we’re working on our next booklet, planning for the SHA conference, and continuing to process the artifacts and information recovered from the 2013 field season. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue our work in Kalamazoo, and thanks for your support!

            -Aaron Howard

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Starting My Sabbatical Leave

Kaministiquia River from the observation deck at Fort William  
Historical Park
After a very successful field season at Fort St. Joseph (2013), I eagerly began my sabbatical leave research for the 2013-14 academic year. I have been invited by the University Press of Florida to write a comprehensive overview of the archaeology of the North American fur trade that will appear in my edited book series, The American Experience in Archaeological Perspective. Thus far, there have been 12 books published in the series (with two more in press). As you might guess, Fort St. Joseph will feature prominently in my book, which will explore the contributions of historical archaeology to the study of the fur trade and demonstrate how the fur trade contributes to a better understanding of the American experience.
Modern day "fur trader" in 
Hovland, Minnesota
I was approved for funding through a Support for Faculty Scholar Award from Western Michigan University for research travel to examine archaeological collections related to the fur trade in Minnesota. I am particularly interested in what we can learn about the fur trade from archaeology, including the types of goods that Natives acquired in the fur trade and how they were modified to reflect a Native worldview.

With those goals in mind, I spent a week visiting several sites and collections in Minnesota where there is ample evidence of the fur trade. Not only did French and English traders operate in this region of the western Great Lakes—fur trading continued well into the 19th century with the establishment of the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company after their merger.
My trip began with a visit with two well-known fur trade archaeologists: Rob Mann, who is now teaching at St. Cloud State University and Doug Birk, a founder of the Minnesota Institute for Archaeology. Doug showed us around a site he had investigated in Little Falls in the Elk River Preserve that represented a wintering post occupied in the third quarter of the 18th century. I had read about Doug’s work, so it was great to get a guided tour of the actual site with the excavator. After being given full access to Doug’s library the following day, I made my way to Grand Portage along the northwest shore of Lake Superior.

The North West Company post along 
the Snake River, Pine City, Minnesota
Grand Portage is a 8.5 mile trail used by voyageurs to get around the 120 foot waterfalls on the Pigeon river, currently the boundary between the US and Canada. At the mouth of the river is the Grand Portage National Monument operated by the National Park Service. I met with the park historian and local archaeologist who gave me a tour of the reconstructed depot consisting of the Great Hall and attached kitchen. This was the place where the shareholders of the North West Company from Montreal would meet with their men in the field to insure smooth economic relations, quality furs, and a good profit. The interpretive center houses a wonderful collection of artifacts from the depot, as well as objects that have been recovered along the portage at posés, or resting places for voyageurs carrying heavy loads of furs and trade goods. At the end of the portage, trade goods would be loaded onto canoes in the Pigeon River to be taken further inland to Native villages and encampments. Of course, not all goods made it into the canoes, and some have been found lying at the bottom of the river. Doug Birk and his team recovered scores of 18th and 19th century objects through underwater archaeology in the 1970s. Image my astonishment when the park interpreter allowed me to inspect a perfectly preserved canoe paddle and fragments of a birch bark canoe that had been used by French voyageurs over 200 years ago!

The next day I went even further north into Canada to visit Fort William, billed as the world’s largest fur trading post. When the area of the Grand Portage became American territory in 1803, the North West Company decided to move its headquarters to the Kaministiquia River. Although the original site lies beneath a railroad yard, the Ontario Provincial government has reconstructed the fort and over 30 buildings some 9 miles upriver based on detailed maps and sketches. While somewhat controversial due to its placement, the Fort William Historical Park exposes thousands of tourists annually to the importance of the fur trade in Canadian history.
Reconstructed Great Hall at the Grand Portage Depot 
with the kitchen in the background.

The following day I made a foray into Wisconsin to the Yellow river, site of the 1802-05 Ojibway Indian/North West Company-XY Company fur-trading outpost known as the Forts Folle Avoine (French for “crazy oats” referring to the wild rice that was an important food resource in the region). The site is run by the Burnett County Historical Society and features a reconstruction, first-person interpretation, and a small museum with displays of materials from the 1970s excavations. John Sayer, a NWC partner who resided at the site, also established another post about 30 miles to the west along the Snake River now in Pine city, Minnesota. Archaeology had also been conducted there to expose a fortified settlement with a row house consisting of six rooms that housed voyageurs, a clerk, Sayer, and a storehouse. Interestingly, the rooms and associated materials show that Sayer, who was a share-holding representative of the NWC, was afforded different amenities than his subordinates. Information on the location, size, layout, and architecture of the fort were all derived from the archaeological remains and led to a reconstruction. Fur trade life and its role in the context of Native American and Euro-American interaction are currently being interpreted at the fort and in very modern, interactive, and comprehensive museum exhibits by the Minnesota Historical Society.
Reconstructed wigwam ay Forts Folle Avoine

All this travel and sight seeing invigorated me in preparation for continued research on the archaeology of the fur trade. If that was not enough, on September 27 I was given the Service-Learning Award from the WMU Office of Service-Learning in recognition of my work on Fort St. Joseph. Later that evening I accompanied Dorilee Schieble of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee to a banquet held by the Historical Society of Michigan (HSM) where we received an award for Fort St. Joseph’s archaeology education program. I’m thankful to Dorilee for preparing the nomination. The following day my colleagues José António Brandão, Tim Bober, and I discussed the history, public education, and archaeology of Fort St. Joseph to over 50 HSM members at their annual conference in Kalamazoo.

As you can see, the start of my sabbatical leave has been stupendous!

Michael S. Nassaney, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology
Principal Investigator
Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project

The 120' falls along the Pigeon River.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Light and Dark Side of Archaeology

Michigan is one of those places; people don’t think of it as a place to vacation, they don’t even really think about it. This is because Michigan is not an easy place, she does not give up her gems to the unworthy. She will test you, bend you and break you before she reveals her mysteries. This summer we have been tested, bent and broken in numerous ways. We’ve been forced to hack through roots, wait out storms and survive the elements.  We’ve proven worthy and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what she holds. This summer we have gathered a vast amount of data from Fort St. Joseph, we have compiled a million theories and the only thing to do is to pack up, go back to campus and barricade ourselves in the lab. Looking back this summer has been crazy.

I tore through a root, it was dirty sweat breaking hard work but I stuck with it. I hardly ever turn down a challenge and I hacked and troweled and still came up with nothing I would get excited and have the hope torn away by a cold analytical eye that looked logically at the unit and saw that nothing was there. The time dragged by and I found nothing, I came up with nothing. When I found a wooden beam, today when we backfilled in on that beam without taking a sample (other than the previously taken) I felt a part of me cry out in horror knowing that once the matrix around the beam was disturbed it would never survive. Organic matter is very particular thing to preserve which makes it very hard, very expensive and very time consuming. If it was extracted and not preserved it would turn to dust in a box but left in the ground disturbed as it was it will do the same thing and in a year may not even be there. Though I will hope for the best and that Michigan will preserve the jewel she let us unearth this summer and made this experience well worth it.  

Archeology is wonderful and horrible study; we actively destroy everything we touch as we excavate. Yes we come out with amazing artifact that look gorgeous in a display case but those artifacts themselves cannot tell us what we want to know. Those artifacts cannot tell us what would it have looked like to the European settlers coming to this wild and untamed beautiful land? What did they see that we will never understand? In the past few weeks we have made astounding steps to revealing the life of these settlers through the association of artifacts. We’ve found their shoe buckles, their homes, their hearths but what did they see that they didn’t bother to write down?  Fort St. Joseph is not well document; we don’t know what it looks like, where things were or really who lived there. What would this place have looked like? We don’t know, we have complied a picture in our minds of a series of structures possibly homes lined up along the river. We’ve found the hearths we found two walls and a wooden beam but we still have a lot to do.

The voyager of Fort St. Joseph
See you 2015, ready and rearing to discover more of Michigan’s Jewel.