Friday, December 2, 2011

Dr. Nassaney Offers an Update

We’ve been busy with Fort St. Joseph-related activities since completing our fieldwork last August. As the semester winds down I thought I’d take the time to provide an update on what I’ve been doing and what we’ve accomplished over the past year. Of course, this is in addition to everything my students who are working on the projects have been writing about in their regular blogs.

(Picture Caption) Participants in the panel discussion at the conference of the Center for French Colonial Studies in Columbia, Illinois (l-r): Michael Nassaney,Suzanne Corbett, Jesse Laurentius, Robert Englebert, and Hans Baade.

In September I attended the annual conference of the Center for French Colonial Studies held in Columbia, IL where I moderated a panel focused on the women of New France. This was a very familiar topic, since it was the theme of our 2010 field season that culminated in our first publication in the popular booklet series. The conference was an opportunity to reconnect with other French colonial aficionados and meet some new ones. A new contact, David MacDonald (Illinois state University) has assisted us by correcting our initial misreading of the lead seal that we recently recovered from the fort. More will be published on this in Le Journal, the quarterly publication of the Center.

I was invited to a symposium in November at Purdue University for the Battle of Tippecanoe bicentennial commemoration. My presentation to a full house discussed the relationships between the French and Natives peoples in the eighteenth century fur trade from the perspective of the western Great Lakes and Fort St. Joseph to provide historical background for understanding later relations with the English and the Americans. The symposium was unique because it brought together historians, park managers, preservationists, archaeologists, and Native peoples descended from the many tribes who were present at the battle to discuss ways to interpret the site that take into account the horrific events than transpired in the American quest for manifest destiny. Many of us left the symposium with a new resolve to create a more inclusive history.

It’s that time of the year when I typically compile an annual report that summarizes all of our activities through the end of the field season. Once again, we have remained extremely busy and we have lots to show for it! The annual report will be posted to the web site in the next few weeks and will contain a complete listing of project outcomes. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights, some of which might be old news to those of you who keep a close watch on our activities:

· The project was the winner of the prestigious Archaeological Institute of America’s first Education Outreach Contest

· The third annual summer lecture series was devoted to the theme of the open house which focused on “The Archaeology and History of the Fur Trade”

· A grant of $10,175 was received from the Michigan Humanities Council to support our annual open house

· Students and staff were recruited from distant states, including Maryland, Massachusetts, and Missouri, testifying to the national visibility of the project

· Mayor McCauslin, Provost Greene, and Dean Enyedi visited the site during our annual media day

· The first Volunteer of the Year for service to the project was recognized.

· Summer camps were overenrolled with 35 students, teachers, and life-long learners participating over three weeks.

· The second annual issue of the Fort St. Joseph Post newsletter was distributed.

· We were awarded a grant for $9,605 from Digital Antiquity to upload, store, and make accessible digital documents associated with Fort St. Joseph

· We identified another stone fireplace in our excavation, likely representing a fourth domestic structure

· The open house again attracted nearly two thousand visitors, bringing the total number to over ten thousand since the event began in 2006.

· Over 50 volunteers contributed hundreds of hours promoting the goals of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project

In addition, we have begun serious discussions regarding a permanent building in Niles to facilitate the archaeological investigation and interpretation of Fort St. Joseph. We have also been meeting with area museums to plan a major exhibit that tells the story of Fort St. Joseph and what archaeology is teaching us about life in the eighteenth century. Finally, we are busy working on the second issue of our booklet series devoted to the North American fur trade. Written by Rachel Juen and me, with help from lots of other contributors, the booklet will meet the high standards we set in compiling the Women of New France by providing authoritative information and numerous high quality color images to convey the complexity and significance of the fur trade to a wide audience. Stay tuned to learn more about each of these new initiatives and let us know how you would like to be involved.

Michael Nassaney, Ph.D.

Professor of Anthropology

Principal Investigator

Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project

Friday, November 4, 2011

Another Update on the Lead Seal found during the 2011 Field Season

Arguably the most talked about and debated artifact recovered during the 2011 field season was the small lead seal found in unit at N25 W9 reading “ORAINE DE LILLE”. The seal was first believed to have read “GRAINE DE LILLE”; however Dr. David MacDonald of Illinois State University has provided us with the likeliest interpretation. He has read it as:




The Bureau Foraine was a taxing authority in eighteenth-century France which issued lead seals and its form is typical of customs seals of the time. Dr. MacDonald also believes that the back of the seal will bear the arms of the city of Lille. We noticed a fleur de lis on the reverse of the seal; this may not be incompatible. We are looking forward to a closer examination of the seal for a decisive interpretation. Some quick searching brought up La Porte de Paris at the Place Simon Vallant. La Porte is an arch constructed between 1685 and 1692 and is decorated with the Coat of Arms of Lille (a single Lilly) as well as the Coat of Arms of France (which has three Lillies) The FSJ archaeologists thank Dr. McDonald for this information.

-Erica D'Elia

Monday, October 31, 2011


Je m’appele Cathrine Davis. It’s been a while since I wrote a blog during the field season earlier this year. It’s been a pretty wild ride since then and I have continued to do a good deal of photo work for the project, even now after the transition to the academic year. If a picture is worth a thousand words, think of how many papers I have written with just a few clicks! I am including some photos of students working in WMU’s shiny new lab in this blog for those of you who would like to see what everyday life is like for some of the nerds I work with.

In addition to helping create the face of FSJ in the publications and brochures being put together for next year, I have been traveling here and there with a contingent from the Anthropology Department, to conferences, lectures, and most recently to Grand Valley State University to celebrate the first ever National Archaeology Day. Last weekend, on the 22nd of October, GVSU hosted the celebrations for the West Michigan society of the AIA (The Archaeological Institute of America). There, several student presenters spoke about their current research and about experiences in archaeology. The topics presented ranged from excavating Mayan ruins in the jungles of Belize, to analyzing the mineral composition of ancient Turkish pottery and how it differs according to the ethnicity of the artisan, and even back to Southwest Michigan and the continuing work on Fort St. Joseph. Erica Stone (the project’s Museum Intern) and I gave a joint presentation entitled “Archaeology and Public Outreach at Fort St. Joseph.” We brought along a couple panels and display cases from this year’s open house, and overall, we were well received by the other archaeologists in attendance. As a token of appreciation, the other guest presenters, Erica, and I received line levels, key tools for archaeologists worldwide and something that always seems to be on the other side of the site when you need them. With luck, Erica and I will never need another line level again! This was a wonderful occasion to keep in touch with colleagues and even old friends from field school- Erica and I enjoyed cookies and cider with our FSJ buddy Amber Strick, who we hadn’t seen since we packed up our trowels this summer. These are the events that remind you that the future of Archaeology is getting brighter every day.

Au revoir!


Sunday, October 23, 2011

An Update from Amanda

So it has been months since I lasted posted on the FSJ blog and in that time much has happened. We finished up the field season and started on the lab work. Beside some set tasks we need to get done over the semester some of us have started our own research projects. I am working on a project taking the lead shot found at the fort and doing both qualitative and quantitative studies. I am looking at the weight of the lead shot to see if there is a trend in the size they were producing as well as I am using the size to compare it to modern day shot. Also I am looking at tell-tale signs on the shot it self that give away how the shot may have been made.

Along with this project this has to be a lot of back ground research done on lead shot. The most important thing is looking at the different processes in which lead shot was produced. By looking up the different processes find information on what to look for when studying individual shot pieces. This gives me tell-tale markings that I can used to figure out how the shot was produced. I also want to look at the distribution of weight of the lead shot. When looking at this I can get a better idea of if they are making a standard sized shot or not.

There is still a long way to before I am near done but the end product with give us another look into production on the site and if supplies like lead shot were produced there or if they were produced elsewhere and shipped in.

Monday, October 17, 2011

This week's blog comes from Ian Kerr, a graduate student who is very familiar with Fort St. Joseph:

A number of past and present Fort St. Joseph archaeologists made their way to East Lansing for the 7th annual Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference this past September 17th. Founded by our very own Dr. Nassaney and held initially at Western Michigan University this conference brings together archaeologists from all around the Midwest and beyond to share recent finds and present papers on varying subject matter.
This year Michigan State had the honor of hosting and highlighted their very unique and interesting campus archaeology program in which sites around campus are excavated by Michigan State archaeology students. A number of papers were also given on the future of digital archaeological databases. A representative from tDAR (the Digital Archaeological Record) gave a presentation on the utility and usefulness of using such digital repositories. Interestingly enough, the Fort St. Joseph has entered in a long term partnership with tDAR and as we speak information on Fort St. Joseph is being uploaded to this exciting online database.
A conference wouldn’t be a conference without some food and all attended were treated to unlimited access to the nation’s largest non-military cafeteria. A historic tour of Michigan State’s campus followed and areas where archaeology had been conducted were highlighted. Next year’s conference will be held at Illinois State’s campus in Normal/Bloomington. You can bet a contingent of Fort St. Josepharchaeologist will be there!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fort St. Joseph Booklet Series is Well Underway

I’m Rachel Juen, one of this year’s field school students and current editor of the project’s upcoming booklet on the fur trade. This will be the second issue in the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project Booklet Series intended to summarize our findings and explore topics that appeal to a wider audience in an effort to understand Fort St. Joseph in the larger historical and cultural context of early America.

The last few weeks I have been busy writing, rewriting, and researching. I’ve also been compiling the research I did for this year’s Open House panels on the fur trade (which you can see here: and information from our Summer Lecture Series presenters and other contributors to be used in the booklet.

As a historical archaeologist I dig not only in the ground but in the archives and library as well. By using complementary sources of information—both written documents and artifacts of material culture—we can get a more complete picture of the past and the people who lived it. My hope is that readers of our fur trade booklet will gain insights into how the archaeology and the history of the fur trade complement each other and how Fort St. Joseph fits into the larger picture of the North American fur trade.

The booklet is scheduled for completion later this year and will be distributed free of charge in 2012, thanks to a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council.

You can view our first booklet in the series (about the Women of New France) here:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Just a sample of our work...

Hello again!
Just to give a brief introduction for those of you that may be new to the blog: First off, welcome and thank you for joining us! I am one of the students currently working on processing information about the Fort and attempting to analyze the vast amount of data we have collected over the years. I am an anthropology major at Western Michigan University, starting my last year in the program. I love archaeology, both on land and underwater, and hope to continue my studies in archaeology in my graduate years. Enough about me though, you’re here to read about the Fort!
Well, work continues on processing the large amount of artifacts and information recovered from the field work during this past season. Recently, we floated the soil samples taken from a variety of areas around the Fort St. Joseph site. If there is an area of interest, such as a fireplace, we take a soil sample for later processing. When the sample returns to the lab, we run the sample through a machine. This machine separates the soil into two parts: the heavy fraction and the light fraction. The light fraction usually consists of organic materials, such as roots. The heavy fraction can consist of rock, small artifacts, or bone.
The separated sample is then set out until completely dry, and is then bagged and recorded for fine sorting. During the months between field seasons, we continue to sort these samples. We will often find seeds, bone, and a variety of small cultural artifacts such as seed beads. The seeds and bone can tell us about what the people were eating. Often we find seeds that are too small to see with the naked eye, and these seeds can be identified by comparing them to known samples. This can lead to more information on how the occupants of Fort St. Joseph were surviving in New France. Floatation samples are just one more tool that archaeologists can use to collect more information and help rebuild the past.
Well, that’s about it for current work. We continue to inventory artifacts, sort floatation samples, and work on planning out the next field season. We will continue to update the blog throughout the semester, so make sure you keep stopping by! Thank you again for your support of the project and interest in recovering and protecting the past. Until next time!
Alexander Brand

Saturday, September 24, 2011

New School Year, Same Old Fort

Hi, everyone!

While the field season has ended, work here at Western Michigan University continues. It's Erica Stone again, and this year I am the new Fort St. Joseph Museum intern. Right now, the annual field report is being written, float samples taken from excavation units are being processed, and the lab work has begun!

A few of our archaeologists are taking independent study credits, and a few others are volunteering their time in the lab as well. They will also be posting on the blog throughout the semester, so stay tuned in for that!

I am currently working on a new brochure for the project, and hope to have that done and circulated within the month.

Some more good news: we have a new lab space! The anthropology department has created a new lab space located on the main level of Moore Hall. There is a wonderful mural painted around it as you enter the building, and a large window in the center of the mural allows people to see just what we do in the lab . We are hoping this space will allow us to work more efficiently as well as raise awareness for the "behind the scenes" of archaeologists.

Stay Tuned!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

End of the season wrap-up!

Lance explaining his unit.
Hi fellow Fort St. Joseph fans!

Our Open House last weekend was a huge success! We hope you were able to make it out to speak with the students, see the excavations and artifacts, interact with the historical interpreters, enjoy some lunch, and partake in all the other great events and activities. Here is a generous helping of snapshots from those two days:

Larry talking canoes and voyageur life.
Erica D., Theresa, Zach, and Brian demonstrate wet-screening. 

Public Scholar Tim Kent discusses the fur trade.
French Marine Ray engages the public.

Devora and Xiaomeng at the children's craft tent.

Barbara explains a beaver pelt.

There are many more photos in our Picasa web album so be sure to follow the link on the bottom of the page to see more snapshots of the event.

Greg and Rachel ready for guests at our great artifact display!

As usual the peak of the Open House is followed by the sadness and relief of the end of the Fort St. Joseph field season. Monday through Wednesday were spent filling in the units, packing up the trailer, finishing paperwork, and heading back to Kalamazoo to organize the lab and say good-byes until next time. So, be sure to mark your calendars for August 11-12, 2012 for our Open House next year! In the meantime check back for occasional updates from the lab, and feel free to post comments or check out our facebook page to stay in touch.

Me with long-time Fort supporter and
gracious host/friend Barb Cook.
On a final note thank you to everyone in Niles and the surrounding areas of Michiana for all of your support and interest in the project this year; you make it possible to continue to discover life at Fort St. Joseph. Also, thank you to all of the students and staff of the field school this year--there were some tough, long days out there but everyone did a spectacular job, especially when it came to bringing everything together at the Open House. Thank you all again.

Until next time!

Friday, August 12, 2011


Hi folks,

The Open House is tomorrow and Sunday from 10-4! There will be food, archaeology, historical re-enactors, kid's activities, artifacts, public lectures, and lots of tents to keep all of us dry just in case we have a bit of weather (special thanks to the folks that stayed on site to help with setup)! Please bring your family and friends for a day of fun, and be sure to say 'hi' to some of the students and staff!

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Archaeology makes a good story!

Hi everyone!

Opening the site to the public!
Today marked yet another successful Media Day at the Fort St. Joseph site--we were so pleased with with our speakers including the Dean of Arts and Sciences from Western Michigan University as well as the Provost, LuAnn Wurst the Anthropology Department Chair, Mayor of the City of Niles Michael McCauslin, our living history coordinators Barbara Schwaderer and Bob Myers, and of course our very own Dr. Michael Nassaney and student Alex Brand. Thanks everyone for coming out to hear about the program and get a sneak peek at the artifacts and units!

Also special thanks to Dorilee Schieble who was honored as our Volunteer of the Year--this project would be unable to continue without wonderful folks like yourself!

Here are some of the stories following today's events:

South Bend Tribune (article no longer available online)


FOX28, South Bend

Well now you just have no excuse for missing out on all the excitement! Come down to the site at the St. Joseph River Park (intersection of Fort and Bond Streets) this Saturday and Sunday from 10-4. See you there!


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Last Summer Lecture is tonight!

Hi everyone!

It certainly has been a busy week but tonight we all have our calendars marked for the last lecture of our Summer Speaker Series and you should too!

We  find a lot of bone at the site...what can it tell us?
Tonight we have the pleasure of hearing Dr. Terrance Martin, curator at the Illinois State Museum, speak about animals at Fort St. Joseph. This is a very important topic given that this year we are focusing on the Fur Trade, and the animal remains from the site offer a lot of information about what people were eating and processing at the Fort, as well as what animals may have been important commodities in the fur trade. Dr. Martin will examine the faunal (animal) remains at Fort St. Joseph as well as other sites in the area. This is not one to miss!

The lecture begins at 7:30 in the community room at the Niles District Library. Support the Fort will be providing snacks and as usual I will be there to answer any questions you may have about the project or sell you a t-shirt. This will also be a great chance to mingle with the field school students before we return to our important preparations for the Open House this weekend. Hope to see you all there tonight!


Photo credit Cathrine Davis

Check us out!

Hi everyone,
The "featured" unit!

ABC57 came out to the site today to hear about our research and see the archaeology in action. Check out the story here. Now you have to make it out to the Open House this Saturday and Sunday from 10-4!


Photo credit Cathrine Davis

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Joe Hearns, a Retrospective

It was the tail end of a sizzling southeastern Michigan summer when Joseph Hearns burst into the world. He grew up, playing in the dirt, making mud pies out of real mud, and perhaps ingesting a bug or three. He had aspirations of paleontology. The sands of time flowed on, and he found himself in Chicago attending Loyola University. He continued to play with dirt in the basement of the chemistry building, sifting through pounds of dirt searching for the tiniest fragments of bone or burial artifacts. His neck hurt; his eyes hurt; he constantly had dirt under his fingernails; he was approaching heaven, dirty, achy heaven. However, he wanted more.

So, off come the shackles they call laboratory! He floods academia with his curriculum vitae (and a significant chunk of application fee money) in hopes of glimpsing this Land Beyond. In either a move of seer-like brilliance or a whim of lunacy, Western Michigan University extends to our brave hero a chance cross over into the Elysian field of archaeology. Brave Ulysses accepts.

A certain Dr. Michael Nassaney approaches the young man in a smoke-filled, dimly-lit room in Kalamazoo and says, "Hey kid, you ever hear about Fort St. Joseph..."


Photo credits Cathrine Davis and Erica D'Elia

Just bead it

Fashionable beaver hats of the time.
Image courtesy Library and Archives Canada
Fort St. Joseph was an important trade center for the French, Potawatomi, Miami, and others during the Fur Trade in the 18th century, but what were people trading?

The French were predominantly interested in pelts, specifically beaver, as beaver hats were all the rage in Europe at this time. This trade did begin to decline in the 1700s as Europe experienced a surplus of furs and fashions began to chance to the point where it was no longer profitable to maintain the fur trade' however, the French continued the practice for the sake of maintaining alliances and relationships with the Native Americans. Keep in mind, there were a whole lot more Native Americans than there were French at the time, and the French also had to think about what the British were doing in terms of imperial policy.

While the Native American groups shared similar concerns in terms of relationships, their preferred trade items were obviously different. The most desirable trade item was cloth, an item that generally does not appear in the archaeological record though archives and invoices from the period of New France list cloth as one of the most commonly traded items. This is no surprise given the ease of working with and wearing cloth as opposed to leather/animal skins. Leather has to undergo a long treatment process to be wearable, is very thick, and can be rather uncomfortable when wet. Cloth and pre-made clothing saved Native Americans time and was a suitable replacement for skins.

Beads from previous excavations at the fort.
Cloth was not the only trade item. Other objects included kettles for cooking, vermillion for ceremonial painting, some guns but mostly ammunition supplies like powder and shot, knives, and, on a smaller but no less important scale, beads. Beads came in many different types including those made from clay, antler, bone, and glass. Trade beads were made from glass and mostly came from Italy or the Netherlands, though there was possible a factory located near Jamestown, Virginia. Seed beads were used for embroidery, but there were other varieties of glass beads as well including those that were wound. This image shows a small sampling of the shapes and colors we have been finding. As displayed in previous blog posts, adornment was very important for both Europeans and Native Americans, evidence of which appears constantly in our excavations!

Photo credit Cathrine Davis.


Monday, August 8, 2011

True Life: I'm a FSJ Archaeologist

A Typical Day at 20BE23 

Hello all! It’s Abby again from N34 E16, and I’d love to walk you through a typical day in the Fort Saint Joseph Archaeological Field School. 

We start the day with breakfast from 7-7:30AM, but since most of my comrades choose to sleep in, there is plenty of space in the home-ec room to do some early morning reading while we eat. At 8AM, we head out to the loading dock for any announcements and to load up the vans to head to the site. 

When we arrive to the site we unload the water coolers from the van and supplies from the trailer. It’s about two trips per person carrying down buckets, dustpans, toolboxes, and various other materials. Then we each gather the supplies our units need and uncover the excavation units. That’s when the real excitement begins! 

We measure our unit depths so we can refresh ourselves how far we have to trowel down. As we trowel, we make sure that we’re not creating a bumpy floor or slanted walls. We also make sure that we are being careful to not damage any artifacts underneath the soil by troweling gently, and around anything large we can see. As we trowel, we accumulate a LOT of dirt; digging down 5cm in one half of a 1x2m unit can produce about 5-6 kitty litter buckets. Once we have two buckets, we haul them over to the wet screening area and put them in the queue of buckets and continue digging until our unit coordinates are called. Then someone from the unit goes up and wet-screens the buckets of dirt. 

Lunch break
Wet-screening is a tedious, but fun (at least it is for me) task. Depending on the person, half or a full bucket gets dumped into the screen. Then we have to push the mound down flatter and begin the boring task of spraying down the dirt. As you rinse dirt through the screen you begin to look for artifacts. The easiest thing to find is the large pieces of bone found in almost every excavation unit. The real interesting pieces, that demand a more watchful eye, are things such as beads, chunks of charcoal, flakes of glass, calcined bone, pieces of shell and metal, as well as countless other items. 
At 12PM, we eat lunch, which consists of sandwiches made by a crew the night before. We have other snacks, and everyone takes the time to mingle with people in units further away, and most importantly, HYDRATE! At 12:30PM sharp, it’s back down to the site for pit tours. During pit tours, we walk around to each excavation unit, and the excavators explain what’s going on in their unit and what they plan on doing next. This also allows for numerous “Teaching Moments” courtesy of Dr. Nassaney, as we encounter things we maybe haven’t seen yet. 

Joe rocks the pit tour.
After pit tours, everyone gets back to work; diggers get digging and wet-screeners get wet-screening. Some pits switch up jobs, others don’t, and it all depends on the unit. Personally, I’m a fan of the wet-screen since it gives us the opportunity to rinse off and cool down, and I’m not terribly good at mapping or keeping floors level anyways, so I’m sure Joe and Cathrine (PPP love!) don’t mind me being away. The Party Pit crew also takes time to seethe at Greg & Amber’s unit, which is commonly joked about as needing a ladder to get in & out of because it’s so much deeper than everyone else’s, and we’re sick of constantly having to belay them down their hole. This continues on through the afternoon, and around 4-4:30PM we cover our excavation units with tarps and break for the day. 

We arrive back at the school and have around an hour to clean up and relax before dinner at 6PM. After we eat, we have lab at 7PM until around 9PM. 
During lab, there are numerous tasks set out for us by the lab TA, Alyssa, to do. The two main activities are wash and sort. Wash entails exactly what it sounds like; we take bags of artifacts from the day, and take them, individually to wash/clean them. Certain things, such as charcoal and metal aren’t supposed to get wet, so we use a dry brush and dental pick to clean them. Items like bone, beads and glass can get wet, so we take a wet brush and clean them off. Then we carefully set them onto drying racks until they’re completely dry so that we can sort them. When we sort, we divide the items in the trays into different categories, and bag them with labels. Bones generally take longer to dry than other artifacts, so we usually leave those to the side for a few days longer before being bagged up. All metal artifacts must include a silica packet (you know, those annoying things in new shoes, bags, & vitamin containers) to stabilize the metal after it’s been removed from its comfortable home in the dirt. 
When lab is done, various things happen; some people go to bed or the store, some people make lunch for the next day, and some people go out to escape from living in a high school for just a little while. I feel some days as if this were camp, since we live, eat, sweat and do almost everything else together as a group. Something that happens throughout the day, thanks to having an amazing class this field season, is camaraderie. And that, dear lovers of the FSJ blog, is what makes it worth waking up the next day to dig. 

Peace, Love & Dirt, 

Abby Stoner

Photo credits Alyssa Klubeck, Amber Strick, Erica D'Elia, and Cathrine Davis

Play that funky music...

Fresh from the soil!
Photo credit Cathrine Davis.
As one of the oldest instruments in the world the mouth harp is certainly an interesting find, and we are lucky enough to have found several at Fort St. Joseph over the years including one just this past week! Theresa and Bryan saw this fantastic artifact while troweling, and it really is in excellent condition.

Looks pretty tough!
Mouth harps likely originated in Asia but before long they had spread around the world. They are often found on archaeological sites in North America but because of the different type of metal used for the center reed that part of the instrument usually does not preserve. In order to play the instrument this center reed rests against the musician's tongue and is plucked with a finger to produce a note (see image to the right). The note and volume can be altered by changing the shape of one's mouth and throat, as well as one's breathing.

Other names for this instrument are the jaw harp and ozark harp. People still play this instrument today, and back during the Fur Trade a mouth harp plus a bottle of wine was probably all you needed to get a party started!


Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Open House Approaches!

Hi all,

As we come into the last weekend before the big Open House we are all very excited about the continuing coverage of the project in the Niles Daily Star, WMU News, and elsewhere. For those of you just getting familiar with the project or unaware of the Open House Event I thought it might be a good idea to elaborate on this experience! First the logistics:

Open House
August 13th and 14th (Saturday and Sunday), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
St. Joseph River Park at the intersection of Fort and Bond Streets in Niles, MI

Check out the wet-screen!
The Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Open House was first held in 2004 to give the public an opportunity to learn about all the hard work field school students have completed and give the students a chance to speak to the community about their experiences. In addition to ongoing tours of the excavation units there will be wet screening demonstrations, artifact displays, and Fort St. Joseph Merchandise. Also, lectures from Western Michigan University professors and others provide more in-depth information about specific aspects of the excavation as well as this year's theme: The Fur Trade. Speakers this year include Tim Kent, a historian and living history enthusiast, Barbara Schwaderer and Bob Myers, who will discuss the process of making clothing items out of pelts, Terrance Martin, an expert in faunal (animal bones, etc.) analysis, Michael Zimmerman, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and native language speaker, Jessica Hughes, a former WMU student researching smudge pits, and Michael Nassaney, the principal investigator.
Artifact displays.

To round out the event and draw in the public a group of living history interpreters (re-enactors) has teamed up with the project to give demonstrations on 18th century ways of life. These folks are extremely knowledgable of their subjects and bring history to life with with spectactular dress and props. Do not miss out on the opportunity to see a Jesuit Priest, finger weaver, French Marine, and many others! The day will also feature a couple of canoe landings, book sales, a table hosted by Support the Fort, touchable animal furs, children's activities, a chance to try on voyageur (French trader) clothing, food, and more!
Public lectures.

Wait, did I mention that the entire event is FREE! So please bring your kids, bring grandma...well, bring everyone for a chance to see all of our new discoveries at the fort and get a taste of life as a fur trader in the 18th century. Here is a schedule of events:


10:00  Event Opens
Living history demonstrations.
10:30  Lecture--Dr. Michael Nassaney: Background on the Fort St. Joseph Project
11:00  Arrival of the voyageurs, canoe landing
11:30  Lecture--Tim Kent: Life of a Fur Trader
12:00  Musket Drill
12:30  Lecture--Dr. Terrance Martin: Animals of Fort St. Joseph and the Fur Trade
1:30    Lecture--Barbara Schwaderer: From Beaver to Felt Hat
2:00    Musket Drill
           Lecture--Dr. Michael Nassaney: Archaeology Update
2:30    Arrival of the voyageurs, canoe landing
3:00    Lecture--Tim Kent: Material Culture of the Fur Trade
4:00    Event Ends


10:00  Event Opens
10:30  Lecture--Dr. Terrance Martin: Animals of Fort St. Joseph and the Fur Trade
11:00  Arrival of the voyageurs, canoe landing
11:30  Lecture--Tim Kent: Life of a Fur Trader
12:00  Musket Drill
           Lecture--Michael Zimmerman, Jr.: Nishnabe, Native American Language
12:30  Lecture--Dr. Michael Nassaney: Background on the Fort St. Joseph Project
1:30    Lecture--Robert Myers: From Beaver to Felt Hat
2:00    Lecture--Tim Kent: Material Culture of the Fur Trade
           Lecture--Dr. Michael Nassaney: Archaeology Update
2:30    Arrival of the voyageurs, canoe landing
3:00    Musket Drill
4:00    Event Ends 

If you need more information please post a comment or e-mail me at

Hope to see you all there!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Stayin' in the news!

All cleaned up--the crew after dinner last night.
Hi all,

Check out this article in the Kalamazoo Gazette featuring Fort St. Joseph! Our big Open House Event is only a week away!


Photo credit Cathrine Davis

More camp stories

Hi everyone,

After a long day at French Market, on site, and enjoying a lovely dinner hosted by Fred and Diane, two longtime supporters of the project, I thought it would be nice to also post some of the remaining stories from last week's campers this morning. A lot of folks inquired about the camps at the French Market today so it sounds like we may be filling up for next year as well! Here is what one camper had to say:

"The first week of working on the site has been a real leaning experience for us. Using centimeters was very foreign to me, but we have all caught on fast. Each of the units is a little different depending on the soils and artifacts which have included bone fragments, seed beads, metals, flint, coal, and more.

On site staff and students were very helpful and informative...nothing but good to say about this week between the morning lectures and the afternoon spent on site. We really enjoyed going out and getting dirty while finding artifacts! What a wonderful experience!"

Another camper, Dennis, adds:

"Having been to all of the Open Houses at the end of summer as an onlooker I have often wondered how students reached the point in the dig to show the public what they had found. Well, on Monday our class found out. We were taken out to the site and shown three units that needed to be excavated. As a group we started taking turns digging the whole week! We have had a lot of fun digging as we head off and the new group of campers enter. I hope to see something at the bottom of the new unit we started at the Open House!"
Camp teach Tim Bober explains a unit.

This week the middle-school-aged campers have been hard at work in those units and at the screens. If you want to see the progress they are making as well as the rest of the units come by today at 2:00 for a site tour. We have some impressive features (like building foundations!) beginning to appear, and we always have "fresh from the dirt" artifacts to show. Hope to see you out there!


Photo credits Amber Strick and Cathrine Davis

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Best Day Ever!!!

An exciting find: a lead bale seal!

Enjoying the food and company.
I am Xiaomeng Bu, an international graduate student from China. I was so delighted to join this Archaeological Field School and enjoy daily excavations in the dirt. Archaeology is amazing because we never know what will happen as we trowel for artifacts that have not been touched for hundreds of years. My pit partners and I have uncovered many interesting artifacts in our excavation unit. What excited me today was the bale seal found during wet screening of soil excavated at the depth of 45-50cm. We can read some numbers on it, possibly "23." Wet-screening soil from our unit is difficult because of the abundance of naturally occurring gray clay; however, it is amazing that awesome artifacts are hidden in the mud!

Another amazing aspect of this field school is that I have learned not only about American history through excavation, but about American culture from fellow archaeologists, campers, and the community. They are so nice to me. They cook American food, explain cultural phenomena, and introduce American songs. I feel so upset that my vocabulary is rather limited to express my gratefulness. In addition, I have to say thanks to everyone who sponsor awesome food which make me feel that I will miss American food after this field school. :D

Thank you all!
Xiaomeng Bu

Photo credits Cathrine Davis

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

Getting artifacts ready!
It was a dark and stormy night… Well, Tuesday night it was. Hi. I’m Rachel Juen, one of this year’s field school students and a Public History graduate student at Western Michigan University. Last Tuesday I was driving back to Niles from WMU where fellow field school student Erica Stone and I, with the assistance of Ian Kerr, had been taking a break from field work to design and put together an exhibit for this year’s Fort St. Joseph Open House. We’ve put together several cases of fur trade related artifacts from Fort. St. Joseph. In addition, I’ve spent the past three months working on a poster panel exhibit about the fur trade in New France that I hope you will enjoy. Come see the fruits of our labors at the Open House next weekend, August 13th and 14th.

Possible foundation and fireplace!
Although I’m excited about our work on the exhibit, it felt good to be back in the field the next morning after three days away working in the lab. In addition to feeling the dirt between our fingers and toes and seeing our colleagues and friends again, we had some pretty cool finds. In our unit, Xiaomeng, Alex and I found a chisel and several hand-wrought nails which we believe may be associated with a metal cache found in an adjacent unit from last year. This cache may have been a storage heap for metal scraps that the fort blacksmith could have used. We are hoping that in the coming days we will be able to discover the extent of the cache, and uncover more about it.

Pottery and charcoal feature.

In the next unit over Lance, Erika, and Mary Ellen found some cut glass insets which may have once been part of a finger ring or a sleeve button. Even more exciting, their unit contains a feature which appears to have been a fireplace or hearth and shows signs of being part of a foundational wall for a building. Another really cool find—several broken shards of Native pottery— has rarely been found on the site previously. These shards, found by Tim Bober and our middle school campers, may be evidence that Native pottery continued to be used by Native women even after they married French men, pointing to the blending of cultural practices in the multi-ethnic community that was Fort St. Joseph. It always amazes me what we can learn from what we find and I hope you can come experience that wonder with us at the upcoming Open House!

Yours in Archaeology,
~Rachel Juen

Photo credits Cathrine Davis