Monday, March 23, 2015

Native Architecture Near Fort St. Joseph

        Across the river from Ft St. Joseph in the 18th Century, there lived many members of the Potawatomi tribe in a large village. Unlike the French who occupied Fort St. Joseph, the Potawatomi did not construct their homes with intentions of permanence. To best exploit the abundant natural resources around them, the Potawatomi and their homes moved with the changing of seasons.
        My name is Kaitlin Burton and I am an undergraduate at Western Michigan University and I am studying Anthropology. I chose to research the architecture of the Potawatomi’s homes, as I am very interested how the raw materials of the region were ingeniously used by indigenous peoples to thrive in the Great Lakes region.
        When I initiated my research on the architecture of Potawatomi wigwams, I was overjoyed to discover a wealth of resources. I was excited, as in the archeological record, evidence of Great Lakes Native American structures is quite scarce. This scarcity exists as the structures were constructed to last temporarily for a season, in accordance with a seasonal lifestyle. Further, the moist climate of the Great Lakes region, with its frequent freezing and thawing, quickly rotted building materials. In addition to examining the archeological data, I have been studying historical accounts, literature, and consulting a member of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Tribe.
        I have learned that the Potawatomi constructed three general living structures: summer homes, winter homes, and harvesting camp homes. In my research, I am exploring the architecture of the summer and winter homes, and my classmate Lakenia is researching architecture of the harvesting camp homes.
        The homes constructed by the Potawatomi were easily portable and quite durable against the weather. To construct the framework of the homes, bent saplings were fastened together in accordance with the architecture of a summer or winter home. Variant on the season, different materials shielded the home from the weather. In the centers of the homes were large fireplaces, and the outskirts of the home consisted of areas designated for storage, sleeping, and many other uses.  When resources were abundant in the summer, multiple families would occupy a single house. In the winter, the homes were smaller as families separated into their immediate organizations, conserving resources. Assembling these structures took very little time, yet they provided exceptional protection from the wide gamut of weather patterns of West Michigan.
A wigwam in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Michael Nassaney

        With my classmate Erika, I will continue exploring the materials used in homes at Ft St. Joseph and the surrounding Potawatomi villages, construction techniques, designated areas of the homes, as well as many more fascinating aspects of life in the home during the 18th century in Niles, MI.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Places of Rituals and Every Day Practices

            Before this semester, I didn’t even know that Fort St. Joseph existed, let alone that it had such a rich history filled with many cultures. This history has come to include the Niles community, WMU’s archaeological field school and now, Dr. Nassaney’s  Anthropology in the Community class, even if our impact is a small (but mighty) one.
            This semester, my partner, Lakenia Payne, and I have been focusing our research efforts towards uncovering the unknown world of the special purpose architecture of Fort St. Joseph. While this includes buildings like barns and churches, to name a few, we’ve also expanded it to include temporary structures like tents and smoking huts, even the sweat lodges of the local Native Americans.
            While Lakenia is tackling temporary structures, my particular area of study is focused on the special purpose building that were permanent. One of my main interests within this is to uncover more about the church that may or may not have been at Fort St. Joseph, which was founded originally as a Jesuit mission. Because there has been little evidence of a church, besides a few religious artifacts and vague references in texts, examples of architecture from neighboring forts, such as Fort Pontchartrain and Fort Michilimackinac, have been very helpful.
            Our goal is to obtain a better understanding about the rituals and every day practices of those who inhabited Fort St. Joseph. What places did these people inhabit when not in their homes?  What distinguished these special buildings from the other architecture in the fort? Did anything distinguish them?
              If you would like to know answers to these questions and those posed by classmates, well, I guess that you’re just going to have to come to this year’s open house to find out.

Adrienne Andrus

Friday, February 27, 2015

Storing an Empire: Commercial and Military Storage at Colonial New France Forts

            What is the primary purpose for establishing a fort? Most people would think that a fort’s major function is to serve as a launch point for military operations or a defensive structure to protect colonists from Native attacks. While the military and strategic value of eighteenth-century French forts cannot be denied, another important role that they served was as a trading post. The trading that took place in and around French forts in the western Great Lakes was critical for maintaining their alliances with Native peoples. Fort St. Joseph was no exception, and the trading that went on there was so important that during the 1690’s beaver glut it was one of only three forts that was kept open. As military commanders and governmental officials explained to the king, if Fort St. Joseph was closed the Miamis and Potawatomis might begin to trade with the British and leave the French alliance network.
            Key then to preserving the French’s foothold in the western Great Lakes was the storage facilities at forts. Keeping a well maintained storehouse for highly desirable trade goods kept Native peoples happy as they became ever increasingly savvy traders. My research so far has shown that these commercial storehouses were important buildings. The storehouse at Fort Pontchartrain (near present day Detroit) was constructed out of high quality oak in the piéce-sur-piéce (piece on piece) style. These buildings were also quite large, 37.5 feet long by 22 feet wide with walls being 8 feet tall; this at a time when most residential cabins were no larger than a medium sized bedroom. The sources I have consulted thus far have made it seem this was normal for these types of buildings. I have also begun to get an idea about the volume of goods that came through Fort St. Joseph. Consulting some of the documentary evidence has shown that Fort St. Joseph was a key commercial post, and that many goods passed through its storehouse.
Example of piéce-sur-piéce (

            In the upcoming weeks, my partner and I will continue to explore the storehouses at other forts in an effort to hypothesize about what the storehouse at Fort St. Joseph may have looked like. We will also examine what the powder magazine may have looked like at Fort St. Joseph by comparing it to other forts. I look forward to continuing this research. I am enjoying learning about Fort St. Joseph. I study Native-French interactions during the seventeenth and eighteenth-century, but this is my first time learning about Fort St. Joseph.

Kyle Moerchen

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Museum Explorers’ Night a Go!

            On Thursday, February 12, we celebrated the opening of the exhibit Evidence Found! at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum with a reception entitled Museum Explorers’ Night. Joseph Hines of Project Arts and Ideas did a fantastic job creating the display in collaboration with Dr. Michael Nassaney and the Museum. Dozens of curious spectators joined us that evening to discover the new displays. There were a number of events that night including a special children’s event, a lecture given by Dr. Michael Nassaney, and a really nice reception sponsored by the Michigan Society for Colonial Wars. Aaron Howard, my fellow Fort St. Joseph intern, and I were also in attendance promoting the Project, the Niles History Center, the Historic Chapin Mansion in Niles, and our annual summer camp program.
Attendees gaze at the many exciting aspects of the new exhibit.
            The exhibit, which officially opened Saturday February 14 and runs until August 31, highlights the importance of archaeology through various displays covering a number of different sites from all over the globe, including Fort St. Joseph. The exhibit looks great and turnout was better than expected with a wide variety of interested spectators. Artifacts from a wide range of time periods were on display as well as some of the tools used by archaeologists when conducting field excavations and laboratory work. There were also hands-on activities that explain key concepts of the discipline in ways relatable to people who might not have any prior knowledge of what archaeology is and how it works.
            There was also a children’s gameshow put together by the Kalamazoo Valley Museum staff which was  held in the auditorium. The audience had to choose who the real archaeologist was and who was fictional and made their choices based off of several factors including the archaeologists’ clothing, introductory statements from the four candidates, and questions from the audience.

Can you tell the difference between a real and fake archaeologist?

            The highlight of the evening was a lecture given by Dr. Michael Nassaney to a full audience in the auditorium of the museum. During the lecture, Dr.Nassaney explained to an eager audiencethe development of the new exhibit, the  goals of archaeology, what archaeologists have learned from some sites in southwest Michigan, and the important work at Fort St. Joseph that highlighted inferences about 18th century life at the fort.

            Overall it was a great event hosted by the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Many people enjoyed the event which could not have been made possible without the hard work of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum staff, Joseph Hines, Dr. Michael Nassaney, the Michigan Society for Colonial Wars, and various others who contributed.

Dr. Michael Nassaney gives a talk on archaeology "in our own backyards."

John Cardinal
Fort St. Joseph Museum Intern

Friday, February 20, 2015

Architecture in 18th Century New France

Have you ever wondered what type of buildings were constructed in New France? What about the possible structures built at and around Fort St. Joseph? What construction techniques were used? How big were the buildings? What kinds of materials were used and where did they come from? And what types of artifacts are associated with architecture? Each of these questions are being explored right now by me and my classmates in Western Michigan University’s Anthropology in the Community class under the supervision of Dr. Michael Nassaney. My name is Erika Loveland. I am a first year graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Western Michigan University. I first became interested in Fort St. Joseph when I attended its Archaeology Open House a few years ago and am excited that I have the opportunity to further my curiosity in Fort St. Joseph and New France.

Throughout this semester, our class will research different architectural topics related to the structures found in New France. These topics include fortifications and military architecture, Native American and French-styles of domestic structures, storage facilities, architectural artifacts, temporary structures, and special purpose buildings. My partner, Kaitlin Burton, and I will be focusing on Native American and French styles of domestic structures during the 18th century. Our research will aim to answer many of the questions that I posed above. Recently, I have been examining two common construction techniques that the French used to build domestic houses. In the poteaux en terre (posts in the ground) technique, posts are placed in the ground to anchor the structure. The poteaux sur sole (posts on sill) technique employs posts resting on a heavy squared piece of wood acting as the sill which is placed on a stone foundation. These two styles of construction are important because they represent elements of an older, traditional style of house originating in France.

Examples of the poteaux sur sole and poteaux en terre construction techniques, respectively. This figure is from Thurman, Melburn D. (1984). Building a House in 18th Century Ste. Genevieve. Ste. Genevieve, MO: Pendragon’s Press.

While our class has just began investigating, please stay tuned for more updates on the architecture of New France!


Erika Loveland

Friday, December 19, 2014

Meet Your Interns

               This past September, we posted a blog entry discussing the search for an intern for the Fort St. Joseph Museum.  I am proud to say that I am one of two people selected for this position.  My name is Aaron Howard.  I am an undergrad anthropology student at Western Michigan University.  I was part of the 2013 Fort St Joseph Archaeological Project field school.  The following fall, I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to work in the archaeology lab at WMU under the supervision of Dr. Michael Nassaney and gained a greater understanding of how archaeology works by analyzing and interpreting some of the artifacts recovered in the field season.
Attendees of the 10th Annual MHAC wait for a tour of the Fort St. Joseph Museum
                John Cardinal is the other undergrad anthropology student that was chosen as an intern this year.  He also worked at Fort St. Joseph in 2013 and has volunteered his time in the archaeology lab.  John is partly responsible for the 2013 FSJ t-shirt design and has contributed several illustrations to Dr. Nassaney’s upcoming book on the Fur Trade.

                John and I have been working on several projects since the fall semester began.  Our job description is simply to promote the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Project.  Our first project was to aid Dr. Nassaney in the 10th annual Midwest Historical Archaeological Conference that took place in Niles, Michigan in late September.  After the conference, we have been working with some fellow WMU students in Dr. Nassaney’s Historical Archaeology course to create a five-year plan for the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project using data collected from attendees.  We have had some other great opportunities such as presenting a table display at Michigan Archaeology Day, a one-day event held at the Michigan Historical Museum  in Lansing this October, and are working on further efforts to spread the word about Fort St. Joseph.  We've also been managing the FSJAP blog and Facebook page, and just expanded our social media presence by implementing a new Twitter account!  Follow us at @fsjarchaeology.
Our first tweet!
For the past several weeks, John and I have been working with Dr. Nassaney and Michael Worline, a graphic designer with Western Michigan University’s College of Arts and Sciences to create an exhibit display highlighting the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.  On Monday, December 1, we installed the display in the Bernhard Center here on WMU’s campus.  The display discusses the history of the fort, the project’s recent achievements and accomplishments, and future project events.  The display is down for the break but will be back up on January 12!
Be sure to check out our display in the Bernhard Center
We have one more semester working as interns and we could not be more excited about continuing our work with the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.  Remember to keep checking the blog, look us up on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Aaron Howard
2014-15 Fort St. Joseph Museum Intern

Friday, October 17, 2014

MHAC10 a Huge Success for Niles and Fort St. Joseph

As many of you know, the Niles District Library was the site of the 10th annual Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference organized by the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, a partnership between Western Michigan University and the City of Niles, MI, September 26-27, 2014. I initiated the conference in 2005 at Western Michigan University and it since been held annually throughout the region. The conference provided an opportunity for archaeologists, historians, heritage planners, economic developers, museums specialists, and other stakeholders to discuss effective strategies to manage the archaeological resources associated with Fort St. Joseph, our 18th-century French trading post that has been under investigation since 1998.
Conference attendees toured the site of Fort St. Joseph on a beautiful fall day. Photo by Cathrine Davis.
By all accounts, the conference was a huge success. Over 80 historic preservation and heritage tourism specialists, along with local supporters, were in attendance over the two-day conference. The first day began with a welcome from Niles City Administrator Ric Huff, followed by presentations about the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project from project participants José António Brandão, Terry Martin, Bob Myers, Juan Ganum, and me. About 60 people then toured the fort site where I gave a brief overview of its discovery and investigations over the past 16 years. We then broke into smaller groups to visit the Fort St. Joseph Museum and the proposed interpretive center to be housed in the old post office on Main Street. Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee members Dorilee Schieble, Larry Sehy, Dave Bainbridge, and Carol Bainbridge greeted visitors and discussed their vision for the building.
Members of the City Council enjoyed refreshments at the sponsored reception and learned more about public and professional interest in Fort St. Joseph archaeology. Photo by Sue Reichert.

After lunch, we rolled up our sleeves and engaged in the real work of discussing the drivers and barriers to creating sustainable facilities, programs, and partnerships to bring the story of Fort St. Joseph to a larger audience. The discussion was ably facilitated by John Beck from Michigan State University and included a good mix of local stakeholders, students, and preservation professionals from academic, governmental, and private sectors. Ideas regarding goals and measures of success were also discussed and recorded in small and large groups. A consensus emerged that the program had a good track record and was well positioned to build on past accomplishments to make Niles and Fort St. Joseph a heritage tourism destination. Students in my Historical Archaeology (ANTH 3030) class will summarize the information that was gathered to prepare a comprehensive report containing recommendations for a 5-year plan in support of archaeology and heritage tourism at Fort St. Joseph. The report will be made available to the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee and posted online for broad dissemination.
The Niles District Library was an ideal venue for MHAC10. Photo by Sue Reichert.
Friday was capped off by a wonderful reception provided by our partners, Kreis, Enderle, Hudgins & Borsos, P.C. The keynote presentation was kindly delivered by Lynn Evans (Director of Archaeology at Mackinac State Historic Parks) who stepped in for Uzi Baram whose flight was canceled due to a fire in an aircraft control tower that halted air traffic throughout the region.

More discussion, presentations, and posters filled the Library on Saturday as many of the attendees returned and new faces appeared. A number of invited papers focused on the theme of managing archaeological heritage in the 21st century, while other contributed papers provided updates on various projects throughout the Midwest and beyond. Dean Anderson (State Archaeologist of Michigan) moderated audience questions and comments, which provided ample opportunity for interaction and exchange of ideas and perspectives. Funding for the conference was provided by the City of Niles; Kreis, Enderle, Hudgins & Borsos, P.C.; Western Michigan University; and the Joseph L. Peyser Endowment for the Study of New France. Numerous volunteers contributed their time and energy to ensure a smooth flow and pleasant venue conducive to planning the future of the past at Fort St. Joseph. I am grateful to all of our community partners, students, and professional colleagues who made MHAC10 a memorable experience for all who attended.


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