Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Life After a Field Season at Fort St. Joseph

Hello Fort St. Joseph followers,
           This is Alex Michnick from the 2019 field season, reporting back to you from Grand Valley State University. When I walked back on campus in Allendale, to begin my third year of undergraduate studies, the field season I had spent in Niles was still fresh in my mind. The day to day routine of working in my unit was an awesome memory, and another formidable experience in my archaeological career. While I reflected on this memory with satisfaction, I looked forward with ambition to the next step of my journey. 
            Near the close of the last week spent at WMU digitizing field notes and unit summaries, I applied for a laboratory position with my home institution, Grand Valley State University’s Department of Anthropology. With two field seasons under my belt going into my junior year, I felt confident that my experience would make me a competitive applicant. I was also excited about the prospect of getting my first paid position in archaeology. Two weeks later, I received a job offer from our Collections Manager, Wesley Jackson.
Alex enjoying his work at the GVSU Archaeology lab. Photo by Wesley Jackson.
            I am glad to have two seasons of field experience at this point in my academic career, and I appreciate the support of my supervisors and professors. On that note, while I find two seasons in a primarily-excavation and survey setting extremely useful and foundational, having a job exclusive to a lab setting is a change of pace that I feel has benefitted me. At the start of my involvement in the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, my goal was to hone my field techniques and learn more about historical archaeology. I believe I walked away with an achievement of that goal, and a great deal more. I learned how to recover, classify, and interpret 18th-century artifacts associated with one of the more prominent archaeological sites in the Western Great Lakes region. The staff that I worked with were an exceptional group of people, and assisted my professional growth as much as my personal growth. I firmly believe that it was this integrative, community project that provided me with a unique experience that I could not have gained elsewhere. It also provided me with more tools in my toolkit for engaging with the public, developing a deeper understanding of the importance of curation, and working in historic archaeological contexts.
Ceramic pipes from the DeMarsac collection at Grand Valley State University. Photo by Wesley Jackson.
At my current job with Grand Valley State, I wear a variety of hats that revolve around curational duties. My job description requires me to assist faculty in the department with class projects, such as preparing forensic anthropology kits and comparative faunal and ceramic collections for hands-on experience. The job also calls for assisting students in preparing archaeological collections for analysis. However, these tasks have been about 20% of what I have undertaken this year.
 My first day on the job, my supervisor Wesley Jackson informed me that I would be re-inventorying Grand Valley’s collection of the Daniel DeMarsac trading post, one of the last fur trading posts on the Grand River, and even in Michigan. DeMarsac’s post operated in the 1830s on the banks of the Grand River near present-day Lowell, maintaining ties and ultimately burning a bridge with local Odawa natives. It has not been excavated in about 45 years due to land development in the area. Curating the collection has entailed a great deal of ceramic research and analysis on my part to organize the materials. I was hand-picked out of the three lab assistants working this year due to both my interest in and recent experience with historic artifacts and the fur trade. My task then has been to see what can be further identified in terms of ware type, production, chronology, and function. Many Staffordshire-produced ceramics are present in the DeMarsac collection, including the William Adams and Sons “Caledonia” print, and “Spanish Convent,” of Jackson’s Warranted both of which were produced in the 1830s. In addition, the common “seaweed” print can be found on much of the DeMarsac site’s Mochaware. 
Reconstructed tableware fragments from the DeMarsac collection. Photo by Wesley Jackson.
A Staffordshire fragment, with a partial "Caledonia" maker's mark. Photo by Wesley Jackson.

In addition to working with the DeMarsac ceramics, I have also helped in further identifying many of the gunflints in the collection. Many are similar to the French honey-colored flints found at Fort St. Joseph and numerous other French sites in the New World. The exposure to this artifact type while at Fort St. Joseph has helped me to recognize these gunflints, and enabled me to assist Grand Valley in better understanding the DeMarsac site. I have also worked to classify glass by functional types based on their color, shape, and other attributes. 

A French honey-colored gun flint. Photo by Wesley Jackson.

The primary goal of Grand Valley’s Anthropology Department is to bring our curation standards up to speed digitally and physically. As Erika Hartley, the Fort St. Joseph Curatorial Fellow reminded me throughout the summer, curation is an ongoing process, and is never complete. I now know what she means!
At Grand Valley, we have a reference card containing catalogue information for each provenience in an accession, and we also have a corresponding digital database powered by FileMaker Pro software that allows us to compile, update, and create new entries for the entirety of the Grand Valley’s anthropological collections. On that note, another aspect of curation that I gained experience in at Fort St. Joseph was data entry into an existing system, which certainly came in handy in the first week of my time at Grand Valley when I began re-inventorying the DeMarsac site. In addition, three primary categories of artifacts – prehistoric, historic, and faunal, are now the delineation of general artifact types for the DeMarsac collection, whereas before, many of the artifact types were simply sorted into smaller bags and placed into a larger bag for an individual provenience. 
A photograph of Alex, taken during the 2019 field season at Fort St. Joseph. Photo by Hannah Rucinski.
In closing, I would like to thank Dr. Nassaney and the rest of the 2018 crew for providing me with the experience at Fort St. Joseph that allowed me to further my goals and aspirations. I am pleased to be able to put my experience into practice at Grand Valley. I also enjoyed being a part of the collaborative archaeology community in Niles. It taught me that even non-archaeologists care about archaeology! It is a privilege to work in a job that I thoroughly enjoy, and which allows to continue pursuing my passion of archaeology. Who knows where my next adventure will find me?
It has been a pleasure reporting in to all of the Fort St. Joseph followers,
Until next time, adieu!
Alex Michnick
Laboratory Assistant
Department of Anthropology
Grand Valley State University

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Fort St. Joseph Goes To Michigan Archaeology Day!

On Saturday the 19th, a small group from the Fort St. Joseph community drove to Lansing for Michigan archaeology day at the history center. This was my first time here and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I do know that it exceeded my expectations! This was a family friendly, fun, and informative gathering for all the Michigan archaeologists to show off their work. 
   In order from left to right, Shailee, Cece, and Lucy. Photo by Cameron Youngs
We had our own table for Fort St. Joseph where we got to inform people about our project, and all the exciting artifacts we had discovered this year. I talked to people who had never heard about Fort St. Joseph and told them all about all the amazing archaeology we do at the Fort. We had an artifact case for people to see some of the things we had found, and I noticed that the kids really enjoyed being able to see this display. There was a scavenger hunt where kids were encouraged to explore all the tables to find the ones that had keychains, and if they asked a question, they would get an archaeology-themed keychain. Our table was one of the stops for the scavenger hunt, and we had plenty of kids and adults come by and ask questions about Fort St. Joseph. It made the whole experience more fun because people asked questions they might not have said otherwise, and we got to talk about all different aspects of the project. Many people were excited to hear about our annual open house and all the different activities we have!
Not only did I get to teach people about Fort St. Joseph, but I also got to learn about other projects in Michigan. I found out there is a small project right near my hometown that I didn’t even know about! I got to see all the different universities in Michigan and their field schools. Central had a pretty interesting field school, and some really cool artifacts being shown at their table. 
Overall, I had a great time, and this archaeological convention is an amazing time for all types of people and families who are looking for something fun to do on a Saturday! You get to learn about the archaeology in your own state! I know I will be attending again next year, and you should too.
Until next time,


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Visiting the Mother Fort

Michael Nassaney delivering his CFCS presentation to a riveted crowd. Photo by Erika Hartley.
The Center for French Colonial Studies held its annual conference in Mackinaw City, Michigan, Oct. 4-6, 2019. This is an important place for French colonial aficionados because it’s the site of Fort Michilimakinac, the most strategic French trading post in the Great Lakes region. You might say it’s the “mother fort.” Indeed, archaeologists are drawn to it because it has been the site of continuous archaeological investigations since 1959—and they’re not done yet!

To provide some historical context, Jean Nicolet was the first documented French explorer in the Upper Great Lakes region when he passed through the Straits of Mackinac in 1634 in search of that illusive northwest passage to China. Father Jacques Marquette founded his mission at St. Ignace on the north side of the Straits in 1671. Sometime between 1679 and 1683 the French formally established a military presence with the construction of Fort de Buade, also referred to as Missilimakinak (Michilimackinac), in the same area. Lamothe Cadillac served as commandant of the post at the end of the seventeenth century, and the French stayed at the Straits after he departed to establish Fort Pontchartrain in 1701 at present day Detroit. The French moved to the south side of the Straits in 1715 and built Fort Michilimackinac where they officially remained until the end of the Seven Years War, surrendering the fort to the British in 1761.

A welcoming entrance to a French-style building at Fort Michilimackinac. Photo by Helen Crist.
Conference participants were treated to a behind the scenes tour of the reconstructed fort by Dr. Lynn Evans, Director of Archaeology for the Mackinac State Historic Parks Commission. In addition to seeing French-style buildings reconstructed precisely where they once stood, we also witnessed a wide array of artifacts from among the more than one million that have been recovered from the fort, along with preserved archaeological remains such as the burned roof timbers of the powder magazine that the British destroyed before moving to Mackinac Island in the late 1770s.

Saturday was filled with presentations about the archaeology (of course!), history, and genealogy of the French in the Mackinac region. Fort St. Joseph staff and supporters were well represented on the program and in the audience. Lynn Evans discussed some of the artifacts of religious devotion from Michilimackinac, a timely topic since Dr. Joe Brandão and I are currently studying the Jesuits and religious artifacts at Fort St. Joseph. James Dunnigan, a participant in the 2013 field season at Fort St. Joseph and M.A. candidate in Anthropology at WMU, discussed his research on the external village at Fort Michilimackinac. I had the opportunity to summarize 21 years of investigations at Fort St. Joseph, drawing on findings from our recent book, Fort St. Joseph Revealed (University Press of Florida, 2019). I closed by sharing some of the exciting work we conducted this past field season that revealed in tact deposits associated with the fort beneath the 20th century dump that deterred archaeologists for decades. Erika Hartley, the current Fort St. Joseph Curatorial Fellow, discussed the work we are doing to preserve the past for the future at Fort St. Joseph and why it is important to ensure proper curation of the archaeological collection.

The colorful Timothy Kent addressing the audience at the conference. Photo by Loraine DiCerbo.
After lunch, our friends and supporters from the French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan discussed what they have learned about their ancestors, including some people who lived at Fort St. Joseph and traveled throughout New France. The last two papers shed light on the Native peoples of the region, how they interacted with Catholics priests, and how they are currently reviving their language. The day ended with an authentic Native American feast followed by an informal yet informative presentation by Timothy Kent. It’s always a pleasure to hear Tim chat about his work drawn from (in his words) “original French documents, archaeological site reports, museum collections, genealogical research on more than 800 of my direct French and French Canadian ancestors, visiting and studying at each of the 137 ancestral communities in France, several decades of private living history research (focusing on the lives of a French trader of the seventeenth century and his native family), and paddling with my wife and two sons from end to end the 3,000 mile length of the mainline fur trade canoe route across the U.S. and Canada.” Tim visited Fort St. Joseph as a public scholar in 2011 when our focus was the fur trade and he hasn’t missed a beat in his knowledge and enthusiasm.

Fort Mackinac from a distance with menacing storm clouds rolling in. Photo by Erika Hartley.
After an exhilarating weekend, some of us still had the energy to brave wind and high seas to take the ferry to Mackinac Island to conquer yet another fort. The following morning before an early breakfast I ran into the intrepid travelers: Erika Hartley, Mary Ellen Drolet, Neal and Kathy Hassinger, and Lynn and Meryl Christensen. I’m sure Fort Mackinac and its personnel were able to withstand any affront these French sympathizers from Fort St. Joseph tried to wield.                                       
                                                                                                                                                                 Until next time,                                                                                                                                                Michael Nassaney 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Hangin’ Out at the Four Flags Area Apple Festival

"Mary Ellen & Erika Hartley, scrupulously identifying lead seals"

Hi Fort followers! This is Cece, here to report back on the fun happenings at the Four Flags Area Apple Festival in Niles. We really appreciated being a part of this event, that has been celebrating Michiana’s bountiful apple harvest since 1972!

Cameron and I set up camp in the Chapin mansion on Saturday morning with our artifact cases, t-shirts, brochures and booklets, ready to get people excited about the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project. Across from us sat field director and curatorial fellow, Erikaand fort supporter, Mary Ellen. They were working with a pile of lead seals, and a big old book on archaeological remains found at Fort St. Joseph written by Charles Hulse, working to get the artifacts properly identifiedinventoried, and cross referenced. This process involved studying the worn lead seals for identifying characteristics, like tiny fleur de lis or letters stamped into the seal. From there, we could trace where the seal originated. These artifacts travelled from northern and southern France to our very own Fort St. Joseph, sometime during the 18th century.  
"The curatorial experience, in a first-person perspective"

"Wool spinning, live and in action!"
A couple of rooms over, there was a woman spinning yarn on a wheeland another woman weaving fabric on a loom, educating people on the process of making clothes from sheep to shirt. Halfway through the day we were gifted Pizza Transit, highly esteemed among all of the FSJ students and staff. I was very happy to be eating those breadsticks again! 

The weather was rather rainy and gray so traffic in the mansion was light, but it was a great day reuniting with some of the community members and talking to folks about the project. After packing up, Cameron and I explored the fair grounds for a little while and went back to Kalamazoo with some beautiful apples. Now I am back in the lab, working on digitizing field notes from the past field seasonsand preparing for an upcoming visit to a local high school where well be getting students interested in archaeology and Fort St. Joseph 

Thank you as usual, for the lovely time, Niles!  

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Tirelessly Working on FSJ at WMU

Hi everyone! This is Lucy and I’m back again with a blog on our first few weeks back at Western! The work for Fort St. Joseph is never done, and this semester I get to do independent study with Cece, under the guidance of Dr. Nassaney and Cameron Youngs. Cece and I were both field school students during the 2019 field season, and we both decided to continue our work for Fort St. Joseph through independent study. We are just beginning to start the list of things we need to do this semesterUp to now, I have started working with Doctor Nassaney on an artifact inventory for the materials we collected from this past field season. Cece has started the process of recreating the Fort St. Joseph brochure, which we do every year after the field season. You will get to hear from Cece a little later in the semester! 
Like I said, Dr. Nassaney and I have started to create an inventory of the artifacts from this field season. This is a meticulous process where we must take out every artifact we have, count them, weigh them, and categorize them by material and functionto create an inventory for the 2019 field season. So far, we have gotten through one of the four boxes of artifacts, and we now have around 50 accessions logged! This process appears to be a lot harder and tedious than it actually is, and up to this point am really enjoying this work. It gives me more perspective and knowledge about the artifacts we find at Fort St. Joseph. For example, throughout the whole field season, I had a hard time differentiating calcined bone from mortar, because they can look a lot alike. But throughout the inventorying process, I have been able to learn how to differentiate them with ease! I have also been able to see more of the artifacts that I was not able to see, or didn’t know we had discovered during the field season.  
Lucy wet-screening for artifacts during the 2019 field season.
Photo by Hannah Rucinski
Another task that I get to help with this semester is writing the annual report. The annual report is basically an overview of all the activities that have taken place pertaining to the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project. This includes all of our activities from the field school, our discoveries, the conferences that were attended, schools we have visited, the open house, our social media presence, and many other aspects of the project! I am excited that I get to help with this task, and learn more about some of the things we do and have done for this project. 
Overall, I am happy that I decided to enroll in independent study this semester. It keeps me involved with Fort St. Joseph, and has/will give me more experience in archaeology. Not only do I get to work in a lab setting, but I also get to make more of a mark on the project!