Friday, February 15, 2019

Collection Contents and Current Challenges

FSJ Friends,

As promised, I want to keep you updated with what is going on with our curation project! So far I have been doing a lot of research which for some may not be so exciting… But, it is an important part of the process and I love it!

When I first began this project, I asked myself a variety of questions, “What does the collection consist of? What state of curation is the collection currently in? Where are the various pieces of the collection located? What collection management system does the Museum and Project use? Are there better ways to organize the collection for easier tracking and access? How many people are currently aware of the collection?”

I thought it was best to investigate some of the questions first so that I could identify areas where improvement could occur in the future. With that said, let me share some of my own knowledge and a few recent findings!

First, how many of you are aware of the variety of items in the Fort St. Joseph collection? As I mentioned in my first blogpost, it consists of the many items related to Fort St. Joseph such as the—familiar and obvious—archaeologically recovered materials. However, there is so much more!! Specifically, the collection consists of artifacts and animal bones, geophysical data, historical documents and translations, maps, field notes, photographs, soil samples, carbon-14 samples, and numerous publications.

You may now be thinking, “Wow, I had no idea! Where are the contents located? Can I request research access? Are some items from the collection on display?” For those who missed my previous blog, the collection is held at the Niles History Center, where some items are on display and many are available for research purposes.
Figure 1. Christina Arseneau, far right, and Mollie Watson, to her left,
tell WMU field school students about the Fort St. Joseph Museum
 and the FSJ collection. Photo by Crystal DeRoo.

While exploring these first initial questions, however, I have found some of the downfalls of the collection’s current curation state. Like many small museums, money (required for routine updates and full-time staffing) can seem impossible to find. As a result, aspects of collection management often takes a back seat to other more pressing needs. The FSJ collection has been no exception which is one of the many reasons for this curation project and fellowship.

While the Niles History Center now has a full-time director, Christina Arseneau, a part-time assistant director, Molly Watson, and assistance from WMU student Project intern, this was not always the case. Due to the previous lack of resources, much more time and materials are now required to improve the collection’s state. When reading various blogs, articles, and books about reorganizing or rehousing collections, one of the first items discussed is the need for funds to acquire the necessary materials and assist with staffing costs. The second item is time; time to assess the situation, identify solutions, and implement best practices.

Figure 2. Meghan Williams, the current
WMU student Project intern, has been
assisting in digitizing field notes. 
With that in mind, I may ask for assistance and advice from time to time. The best part about the Project’s friends and the scholar community in general is that we love to share our ideas, resources, and findings!

So I will now put out a call for advice and recommendations…
One problem that I have identified thus far is the collection’s organization and management system. Recently, the Project suffered from some computer issues and much of our data on Past Perfect was lost. Undecided on whether to take time to identify and fill in the missing pieces, Project members, myself included, are researching other cataloging systems. I am also investigating other online options for storing and sharing data. In the past, the project has used tDAR but found it difficult to remain up to date without funding and specified staffing.

Any thoughts? Recommendations? Resources I need to add to my list? I would love to hear your opinions on this matter or anything else curation or Project related! Please feel free to contact me at I have also began coordinating some visits to other repositories to discuss their curation practices!

Stay tuned for more updates and findings,
Erika Hartley

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Unveiling a New Chapter

Hello FSJ Followers!

Are you ready for some exciting updates? What’s a better way to dig in to 2019 than with some new ideas and developments, am I right?

Let’s start from the beginning… Over the past few months the Fort St. Joseph Project (or the Project) has been reflecting on the curation practices used for the Fort St. Joseph collections that are currently held at the Niles History Center. Curation is the process of organizing, preserving, and making accessible all the materials that we’ve collected and the records we’ve created through our archaeological investigations. Many of the artifacts in the collection have been recovered during excavation at the Fort St. Joseph floodplain site and other nearby contemporary sites investigated over the past 20 years. Other artifacts stored in the collection are those recovered by local collectors long before the Project began. Our records include historic documents, field notes, reports, photographs, and publications.
The Fort St. Joseph Museum. If you haven’t seen the displays on Fort St. Joseph, be sure to drop by Wednesday-Friday 10 am to 4 pm and Saturday 10 am to 3 pm. Photo by Crystal DeRoo.
 In order to improve our curation system, we decided that we should investigate best practices observed at similar repositories with the intended goal of enhancing our curation efforts. We would also like to identify any proactive steps that may improve the organization, cataloging, and digitization of artifacts. One important goal is to develop a greater awareness of and access to the collection by interested scholars and the public. We live in a fast-paced, digital world which calls for the collection’s accessibility to reflect that.

Assistance from donors is beginning to make these aims a reality. One donor, who initially came to the Project with these types of developments in mind, worked with the Project to create the Fort St. Joseph Curation Fellowship! This is a 12-month appointment designed to study, develop, and implement policies and practices that will serve as a model for other small repositories that store important archaeological collections. This exciting venture is one that I am proud to say that I am a part of, as I have been selected for this opportunity!

For those who do not know me, I have been involved with the Project for just over four years. During my graduate studies at Western Michigan University, I was introduced to the Project and all of the wonderful people involved by my mentor and friend, Michael Nassaney. Fort St. Joseph was used as a case study for my master’s thesis, “Archaeological Evidence of Architectural Remains at Fort St. Joseph (20BE23), Niles, MI,” which explored architecture and how it is employed to express identity. My interest in this topic stemmed from research I performed while co-authoring (with Michael Nassaney) the Project’s third installment in its booklet series entitled “Sheltering New France.” I have also assisted with WMU’s field school at Fort St. Joseph as a teaching assistant and recently as the field director. I am indebted to the Project for the many professional and academic opportunities it has provided and continues to provide to me.
From left to right, Ashley Barry, Brian Schutte, and I were conducting research on a few items found in the FSJ collection as part of a field school exercise. Photo by Crystal DeRoo.
     Currently, I am in the researching stage seeking out new thoughts on collection management and information on similar repositories that I may visit to help define some best practices that the Project can implement on the collection. I will be dividing my time between this task and working as an instructor at Jackson College. As always comments, ideas, and questions are welcome! Feel free to email me as well at

Stay tuned for my regular updates!

Erika (Loveland) Hartley

P.S. Some of you know me as Erika Loveland. In August 2018, right after field school, I got married and now go by Erika Hartley. Sorry for any confusion that this may cause!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Michigan Archaeology Day

Hey Buddy! Raegan here, and just as excited about archaeology as ever! On October 13th, the Fort St. Joseph team and I were able to go to Michigan Archaeology Day and discuss some of the research that we have been working on. When we first got to the Michigan History Center and set up our table it was really neat to see how everything was thoughtfully organized. For example, the Fort St Joseph booth was placed near the French fur trade exhibits and the flint knapping demonstration was placed near the geological exhibits.

Earning bronze throwing an atlatl!
During the day it was really cool to sit at the table and have the public, as well as other archeologists, stop by and get to know a little bit about the Project. Everyone that came by was really interest in the artifacts and the history behind the fort. They asked a lot of questions about what made Fort St. Joseph special and how the fort was discovered. There was also a scavenger hunt for the kids and our table was one of the stops along the way. The kids had to stop by and ask a thoughtful question before they got an archaeology themed key chain (they were actually super cute and I definitely didn’t grab an extra for my own keys).

I also had a chance to go around to the different booths and check out what other archaeologists from around the state were working on. The flint knapping booth was one of the cooler demonstrations and showed how many different stone tools were made. Knapping is a chipping method used to make stone tools with a hammer stone and can be used on many different types of stone, not just flint. There was also a station outside where visitors were able to throw atlatls! I took a couple of shots at it and no big deal, but if it was an Olympic sport, I would at least take the bronze. There were lots of other booths set up that showcased different excavations all over the state and it was really cool to see just how much archaeological work is happening so close!

One of the major highlights of the event was a presentation on the Edmund Fitzgerald by Chris Winters from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society. It was a really interesting to see his perspective of the Edmund Fitzgerald and how that played a part in his book The Legend Lives On. Overall, Michigan Archaeology Day was a really terrific experience and I am so glad that I was able to attend. It was a great chance to show off all of the cool work that we’ve been doing and get to see what else is happening in the world of archaeology! A big thanks to everyone that came out to Lansing and stopped by!

See ya later, buddies!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The 14th Annual Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference

Dr. Nassaney delivering his lecture at the MHAC.
 Photo by Stacey Camp.
The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project was well represented at the 14th Annual Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference in Chicago, IL, October 19-20, 2018. The conference theme, "Contested Sites in Archaeological and Contemporary Contexts", was an opportunity to hear presentations on various sites and projects in which alternate interpretations co-exist. Among the FSJAP veterans in attendance were Amelia Harp, Aaron Howard, Gary Thompson, and myself.

Amelia Harp’s presentation, “Cross-Cultural Concerns in Collaborative Contexts,” was based on her M.A. practicum completed at Georgia State University earlier this year. She discussed how collaboration occurs at Fort St. Joseph and the ways in which involvement in the archaeology at the Fort differs between interest groups. She suggested that academics should examine the factors that limit stakeholder involvement, if they aim to be as inclusive as they claim.

I also provided some reflections on collaboration in my presentation “Public Archaeology: A Two-Edged Sword?” While archaeology has benefited from increasing public interest and involvement, public participation in and opinions about archaeology can heighten the likelihood of divergent interpretations of the past and lead to contestation. I briefly discussed two case studies in which local constituents rejected my archaeological efforts and their results. I concluded that it is difficult for archaeologists to be accountable to all the publics they potentially serve when various groups hold different and competing values.

The Pullman Clock Tower (1880) at the Pullman National Monument.
Photo by Rebecca Graff. 
After our presentations on Saturday morning, we spent the afternoon touring contested sites in Chicago. Jackson Park was home to the 1893 Columbian Exposition and has been chosen as the site of the new Obama Presidential Center. Those is favor of the Center at this location appear to be less concerned with the nineteenth-century heritage that will be destroyed by construction. The Pullman National Monument is another place where divergent histories can be constructed due to the diversity of people who occupied this industrial town and the interests of a wide range of preservationists. Work at this site will soon commemorate Pullman and his workers of all nationalities and racialized groups.

Those of us on the tour braved stiff winds, rain, and even a little snow to see these sites and discuss the contested histories they endanger. The conference underscored the idea that many people are interested in heritage, though often for different reasons. Conflicts are most likely to be resolved when relations of trust can be built and lines of communication are left open.

Michael S. Nassaney, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator
Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project
Western Michigan University

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.