Thursday, July 19, 2018

Letting Loose with the Community

Mary Ellen and I. 

Hi everybody,

My name is Seneca Bradley and I am a Western Michigan University student. I am a senior and I am participating in the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project this year.

Being out in the field all day is an exciting experience with all the artifacts that we find, but the most exciting part of it all is being able to be involved with the community and the city of Niles. The community is very supportive and really involved with the archaeological project. Honestly one of the best things about the community is how they host us throughout the community and in their homes. I mean, getting food is not the best part about the community but who doesn't love free food right? Anyway, today, Tuesday July 17, 2018, after being in the field all day, the FSJAP staff and students were hosted for a pool party at the home of Mary Ellen Drolet. Mary Ellen has been involved in the Project since 1998 and has a lot of passion for the project, and she gets down and dirty with us in the field. She was out there all day with us working out of the excavation unit, which is awesome.

The first time I met Mary Ellen was at the Mansion Dinner before our first lecture and I thought she was an amazing person. She told us about how her mother went on a field trip in the third grade to the area where the fort and said that on day we were going to find this fort and now that there is project being done involving the fort, I know that it is exciting for her and I know as a team, it makes us really thrilled to be involved in it. The pool party was fun and the water in the pool was great, from what I heard, and everyone had a great time in the pool as well, especially Raegan with her perfect form cannon ball. I know from watching, that everyone was having fun talking with the community and eating great food.

Being able to bond in the community and the people of Niles is honestly a blessing and the support that we have from the community is amazing and it really motivates me to keep going out there and digging and find more to show to the Community of Niles to give back.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Smoking Good Find at Fort St. Joseph

I am troweling the north half of my unit. 
Hey everyone, my name is Kaleb. I am a senior majoring in biomedical sciences and anthropology, and minoring in chemistry at WMU.  During the first full week of excavating at the Fort St. Joseph site here in Niles, my pit partner Melanie and I found an interesting artifact, that at first appeared to be calcined bone in the bottom of our pit. On closer inspection however, we noticed that there were letters engraved into one side of the artifact, and that the underside had a bit of a curve to it between the two lines where it broke at. After conferring with Dr. Nassaney and several staff members at the site, we found out that the artifact we had uncovered was not bone, but in fact a segment from the bowl of a clay pipe. The reason that the pipe looked like bone was that it likely broke when the area was plowed, well after those who lived at Fort St. Joseph had moved on. We were able to tell this because the area of soil we were excavating at the time was approximately seven to eight centimeters beneath the grass covered silty soil, deposited over the years from the flooding of the river. The silty soil is a number of centimeters above what we call the occupation zone of the soil; the area in which artifacts such as large sections of oxidized soil (soil where there was at one point in time high heat over a period of time), or features (larger man-made remnants such as building foundations, walls, or fireplaces) lay undisturbed.

 The pipe piece that we found had the letters T. D., with filigree (ornamental patterns resembling swirls or leaves) below the letters, all within what appears to be a circle surrounding it. We believe that the T. D. engraved on the pipe bowl is related to 1700’s clay pipe maker Thomas Dormer and is either a part of his pipe company’s makers mark or is a post 1750’s nod to Thomas Dormer’s style of pipe that became incredible popular among pipe smokers and was imitated by later pipe companies such as the D. McDougall Co. out of Glasgow Scotland in the early 1900’s (Sudbury, 2006).
The T.D. pipe bowl fragment.

 While the marker of an artifact is incredibly important in understanding the way that it came to be lost, discarded, or left behind by an individual; the use of an artifact is also incredibly important. In todays “modern society” we use items such as gas gauges or mile markers to determine how much distance we can traverse before either having to stop to refuel or to reach a destination. In the early 1700’s the French fur traders at Fort St. Joseph did not have pre-calculated and posted delineations of distance like we do with mile markers, so they used what tools they had at the time. The voyageurs would measure distance by the length of time between packing their pipes and having to repack their pipes. These distances became known as 'pipes' which were then used similar to having a half of a tank of gas and knowing that you could go 200 miles off of that tank. 

Technology of today’s world has changed the items in which we measure how far and how long a journey is. However, the concept behind the modern gas gauge and tobacco pipes is the same, linking us to the past in ways we never really considered before.


Sudbury, J. B. (2006). Historic Clay Tobacco Pipe Studies. Phytolith Press.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Public Archaeology at Fort St. Joseph

Hello Fort Friends,

For those of you who don’t know me, I am Erika Loveland and serve as the field director for the Project. This is my fourth year working with the Project and at the site. I truly love every bit of it! I completed the master’s program through the Department of Anthropology at Western Michigan University in Spring 2017. My thesis, “Archaeological Evidence of Architectural Remains at Fort St. Joseph (20BE23), Niles, MI,” examines the architectural remains of Fort St. Joseph.

We have our hands full with many different fun and exciting opportunities throughout the year, especially during the field season. The Lecture Series, for instance, began last Wednesday (check out Melanie’s blog) and will continue for the next three upcoming Wednesdays in the Niles District Library at 7 pm. These talks are awesome! Not only do they provide information on how technology is used in archaeology, but they also allow everyone who attends to interact with one another. Field school participants are able to share exciting news about what they are uncovering at the site and community members share any knowledge they have related to the fort. This informal opportunity to interact and communicate is an important avenue for the Project as it truly highlights the collaborative nature of our work.

One of the best ways to find out more about what is going on is to continue the in-person interaction. Site tours are offered every Friday at 12:30 pm (weather permitting). It is really exciting to see the public, their interest in the site, and their strong desire to learn more about what we are finding out. Please come out and visit us, you will not be disappointed!

Our site visitors also teach us a thing or two! Last week and today, the local Pokagon Band of Potawatomi have brought out around 100 summer campers to see the site and how the artifacts unearthed relate to their history and life today. For example, the campers shared information about the use and production of beads and tinkling cones with us. It was amazing to see their excitement! I know that each one of the field school members enjoyed having them on site.
Eating lunch together at the site. The university students were excited to meet the 2018 middle-school campers.

There are more ways to share information about Fort St. Joseph, its inhabitants, and archaeology beyond the lecture series and site visits. We often are invited to attend a variety of events and programs happening in southwest Michigan. Pears Mill in Buchanan, the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, the Mini Makers Faire in St. Joseph, the Brothers of the Holy Cross in South Bend, and Nile’s own Third Thursday have all invited us to come out, spread our enthusiasm, and convey knowledge about archaeology. Additionally, the blog, Facebook, and Instagram are a few great ways for us to post about happenings at the site. We enjoy looking to see how many people read, “like,” and comment on our posts! Feedback from fort followers is so nice to receive.

In sum, there are many activities and opportunities that the Project participates in and we love every minute of it! I hope to see you at an upcoming public event. Please introduce yourself and tell me what interests you about Fort St. Joseph.

Monday, July 16, 2018

LEADing Off a Remarkable Field Season at Fort St. Joseph

Trying to identify the lead seal. 
How do you do, my name is Samantha Brown and I am currently a ‘super’ senior at Western Michigan University.  I am currently partaking in the archaeology field school at Fort St. Joseph in Niles, Michigan as a student. I am working towards a double major in biomedical sciences and archaeology with a minor in chemistry.  I wanted to take a bit of time to explain the importance of one of the artifacts that we have found repetitively over the years at Fort St. Joseph called a lead seal, also known as a bale seal.

These lead pieces are stamped with a unique seal that can be identified to a specific manufacturer, designer, merchant, and even to a place or date of origin.  By examining and identifying the seal stamped into the lead, archaeologists can then make claims as to what country, merchant, or types of goods these seals would have been placed onto, as each design is associated to one specific location.
Lead seals can be categorized into three different and very distinguishable types.  Type A lead seals have a lead disk at one end, a lead doughnut shaped loop at the other end, and these are connected by a narrow lead piece.  On the reverse, or back side, of the disk is a protruding knob or post.  This knob would have been passed through a packaged good, like wool or silk, and then sealed by passing it through the loop in the doughnut.  The two pieces, the disk and loop, would then be pressed very tightly together, sealing the lead.  Type B lead seals are the rarest of the three types, especially to locations like Fort St. Joseph.  Type B seals are composed of a single lead disk with a narrow lead band.  The narrow band would have been bent over a packaged good and then clamped tightly.  This would result in the seal appearing on both sides, obverse and reverse, of the lead disk.  The last type of lead seal is called type C.  Type C lead seals are composed of a single lead disk that has two holes in it.  A wire would have been wrapped around the trade good, and then sent through the lead seal, ultimately sealing it shut.  It is very common to find a hand etching of a date or merchants initials on the reverse side of a pressed seal.

Obverse of the lead seal. 
I am sure your wondering why any of this is important, or why I choose to explain all of this to you.  Well, that is because I recently found a lead seal while troweling between two rocks in my unit, north 9 east 2.  When we can associate a lead seal to a specific merchant or manufacturer, we can further deduce exactly what materials were being sent from France to be traded with local peoples or fur traders during the 18th century.  Upon referencing both Cathrine Davis’ thesis on lead seals and Lyle M. Stones book titled, Fort Michimackinac 1715-1781 along with some internet searching, and viewing roughly 85 different seals, we could not deduce a definite merchant.  We encourage you to both assist us in sealing the mystery of what merchant or trade good this seal came from as well as giving us your own personal thoughts on our most recent, exciting, and promising discovery here at Fort St. Joseph.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Making Memories at Fort St. Joseph


Hello everyone, I’m Kaylee Hagemann. I am a senior at Western Michigan University, I’m majoring in Anthropology and double minoring in Comparative Religions and Public History. This is my third year participating in the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project. I was in the life-long learners summer camp in 2015, I was a field school student in 2017, and this year I am the Lab Coordinator for the 2018 Field Season.

After a year of being away from the field, I was surprised to see how easy it was for me to fall back into the same field school routine since we have a new group of students. I was used to the group of students I was part of last year, so I thought it would take a while to get used to all the new faces. But it has been surprisingly easy. The students of this field school are engaged and so full of energy. They are a joy to work with!

As Lab Coordinator, my job mainly entails keeping track of the artifacts and helping the students in the field and in lab. During the day while we are in the field, I assist the students with their units and at the wet screening station. I go from unit to unit, helping the students excavate and answer any questions they may have. While the students are digging in their units, they dump all their soil that they remove into buckets and is saved to go through the wet screen. They take their buckets to the wet screens and dump their soil through screens with 1/8” mesh. They then use water from hoses to help push the soil through the screen to reveal any artifacts they may have missed while hand excavating. So far, students have found unburned animal bones, calcined animal bones, seed beads, wampum beads, lead shot, and more in their wet screens.

After working in the field, the students do lab work. All the artifacts recovered in the field are taken to the Stables to be washed and sorted. The students must remove dirt from the artifacts before they are sorted. They use water, tooth brushes, and dental picks to clean the artifacts. Once the artifacts are completely dry, they can be sorted by material and how the artifact was used. For example, we would separate iron nails from unidentifiable iron. This activity helps the students to learn how to identify 18th-century French colonial material and Native American material. They can use what they learn from the artifacts to get an idea of what life was like at Fort St. Joseph. These artifacts are then put in bags, are given identification tags, and is put in boxes to be ready to be studied, to be cataloged into the artifact inventory, and integrated into the artifact archives at the Fort St. Joseph Museum during the year.

I am very excited for this field school and all the things the students will discover at Fort St. Joseph. All the field work and lab activities can be hard work, but the students will be able to learn so much from it. When they handle the artifacts, they are not just touching an object, they are connecting themselves to the artifact’s memories and to the people who owned these materials. Once the students dig past the alluvium and the plow zone soils, and reach the occupation zone, they will be able to touch a ground that has not been touched in about 250 years. The artifacts they find in the occupation zone were not disturbed, where they lay is exactly where they had been set down all those years ago. I believe it is such a special gift to be able to learn from the memories of the people who lived at Fort St. Joseph and to continue these memories.

Friday, July 13, 2018

"Cu" at the Library

Troweling in my unit. 
Hello, my name is Melanie, and I am a Western student participating in this summer’s Fort St. Joseph archaeological program. The first lecture of this year’s field school hosted Dr. Kathryn Ehrhardt as our guest speaker. Dr. Ehrhardt has worked at various 17th and 18th century sites across the northeastern United States. She specializes in studying copper and copper alloys, and in her lecture, that is what she focused on. She discussed the differences between Native American and European copper, explained some of the best tools and techniques used to analyze a copper artifact, and what archaeologists, as well as the community, can learn from this information. Her lecture tied in perfectly with this field season’s theme of technology.

There is a vast difference in quality comparing Native American copper to European copper. The Natives of the 17th and 18th centuries worked copper that was 99% pure, while the Europeans smelted their copper and added in various metals such as tin, zinc, and brass. This mixture of metals is called copper alloy, and during the colonial era, it was used to make a multitude of products of every-day quality. Native Americans of the northeastern section of the United States had a plethora of mines around Lake Superior from which they could extract copper. In fact, this area has the largest deposit of pure copper in the world! It is unclear whether or not the Natives hot-worked their copper, but it is certain that they did not add in other metals at all.

Around the 17th and 18th centuries, groups of Native Americans began trading with Europeans, especially the French. The Europeans desired furs, while the Natives received items such as guns and kettles made of brass or copper alloy. While they did occasionally use these tools as they were intended, it was more common for the Natives to reinvent these items and incorporate them into their own culture. They stripped the metal plating from the guns and dismantled the kettles to use the sheet metal for their own purposes. These reimagined items were often jewelry or other types of clothing ornamentation. As Dr. Ehrhardt explained, the Natives likely viewed copper as a precious metal, thus they were willing to trade many furs for copper items.

Despite being almost completely pure, there were very few scholars who were interested in the study of Native American copper before Dr. Ehrhardt began her research. This was in part because of lack of interest in the subject, as well as lack of proper equipment to analyze copper artifacts. Dr. Ehrhardt helped usher in new techniques for archaeologists, and with that, a booming interest in the study of copper and copper alloys.

After consulting with several scientists and convincing them of the importance of researching 17th and 18th century copper, Dr. Ehrhardt and several other scholars were able to find pre-existing scientific technology able to analyze copper artifacts. The main technologies and methods that are still used today include: Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA), Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), Particle-Induced-X-Ray Emission (PIXE), Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometry (PXRF), metallography (the study of the structure and properties of metal), and microscopy (the use of a microscope). Each process has its own pros and cons, and their use should be evaluated based upon the artifact in question as well as the situation of the archaeological excavation.
Kathy explaining the methods and techniques of analyzing copper. 
From the analysis of various copper artifacts, it is possible to track the source mine that the copper was pulled from, as long as there is a sample of that mine’s copper on file. This is a very important piece of information for archaeologists, because from this it is possible to determine who was trading with whom at what time. As we can determine from the fur trade, the exchanging of goods can impact a culture drastically. Archaeologists are now able to acquire this information regularly thanks to new technologies and scientific methods.

The things we can all learn by working together to analyze the past are incredible. Communicating with various scientists, communities, and organizations gives archaeologists a larger perspective. It is likely that if archaeologists do not have the solution to a problem, there is someone out there that has the answer. When we communicate and focus on our shared interest of the past, learning from each other and incorporating new methods and technologies into our research, there is very little that we cannot overcome.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

An Open Letter From a Niles Native

Dear reader,

The Fort Saint Joseph Archaeological Project is very special to me.  It is possible that it is so important to me for one of the same reasons that you have found yourself on this blog post.  The City of Niles has been my hometown for all twenty-one years of my life.  It was while I was a student at Ring Lardner Middle School that I decided I loved history, and while I was a student at Niles Senior High School that I decided I loved archaeology.  What better way to appreciate history than to study the physicality of it, the proof of days and people past?

I left Niles, then, for four years to pursue an undergraduate degree in anthropology/archaeology in Erie, Pennsylvania.  This past spring, I graduated and returned to Niles with a degree in… hospitality management?  It’s funny to me, looking back over the past four years, that I found my passion and had everything I needed to pursue it.  I, in no way, am implying that I fear I have made the wrong choices, and I would argue that my decision to complete a degree for event planning with a minor in anthropology and archaeology resulted in my direct involvement in the Project today. 

It's easy to overlook the incredulity of something in your own backyard.  Its normalcy has clouded its value.  I wonder if the lucky people who live in far-away destinations look outside and sigh and fantasize about great pines and two-story houses as the pyramids crumble on their doorstep…  It seems trivial, maybe.  The world is so vast for the simplicity that comes with being human.  And yet, simple as we may be, there is much to be said for the refreshing new views that accompany a homecoming.  It was with fresh eyes that I returned to the city that has always been my home – the boring, quiet, redundant city on the state line.  Niles hadn’t changed at all, but I had, for my greatest worries of what would become of “home” had never come to fruition. 

This is where you, dear reader, along with the Fort Saint Joseph Archaeological Project, come in.  I said that the Project was special to me, which may be an understatement.  In my foolish younger years, I had mistaken my own familiarity of the site with growing public disinterest for a truly amazing project.  The way that other publics from other places saw history was disheartening.  The archaeology sites in my textbooks were riddled with problematic politics; so much so that when my professor in Erie recommended that I apply to work at the site in my hometown, I had many, many fears.

Fort St. Joseph is right along the St. Joseph River.
We have many idyllic views!
Imagine, if you will, leaving your hometown for four years and experiencing the lack of awareness, and sometimes care, for an area’s history by its own residents.  Imagine changing your major so that your studies can be more relevant and being told how silly it is to maintain a minor in the field you love.  Imagine being told “the past is in the past, so keep it that way”, when you know well that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.

Now, imagine coming home to see that not only is the public archaeology project that you remember still in effect, but that the community continues to support it!  Imagine going to an event a half an hour north of the City of Niles to promote this same project and seeing how excited everyone (children and adults alike) is about the site!  Imagine meeting the newest class of students attending the field school – students who have never been to Niles – and hearing them say how excited they are to learn about the community!

I see in this project the potential to bring a community together in the form of public lectures, open houses, and social media – just as you are here! – and to also promote the study of archaeology and public (our) history.  Such is the nature of public archaeology: not to find treasures, but to treasure the stories the finds tell.  That is why I could not turn down the opportunity to work for this Project, to promote it to the public, to preserve the very practice that is preserving the past.  That is why I came home.

Thank you all for your continued support,

Eleanor Hein