Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lead seals and some history

Hi all,

I spy an artifact! Looks like part of a bone.
For this weekend update I wanted to keep everyone posted on our latest finds especially now that the students are getting down into layers dating to the occupation of the fort, but also spend some time summarizing the history of Fort St. Joseph for our readers that are less familiar with the site.

Yesterday our week ended early when a fast-moving storm swept into Niles, but the day was not without success. One of the most exciting finds came out of Lance and Erika's unit--a lead bale seal! These seals were used to identify and regulate the quality of merchandise, typically cloth. Seals found in this region typically date to the eighteenth century, matching with the time period of French presence at Fort St. Joseph! The impression on the seal would have been made when one disc was folded over to overlap with the other and then stamped closed. The impressions left would typically designate the place of the goods' origin as well as the quantity or quality.

This particular seal is unlike any other found at Fort St. Joseph to date. The first line appears to be a "B" followed by a fleur de lis; the remainder looks as though it reads "GRAINE DE LILLE." Lille is a city in the north of France that specialized in textile production, which would lead us to think that this seal was used for cloth. Further evidence that this was connected to goods from Lille is the fleur de lis, the city's traditional coat of arms. What is puzzling is the actual translation of the writing, which is "seed/grain of Lille." Could this seal have been used for a shipment of B-grade wheat or other type of grain, or is it simply a way of saying that the seal marked a product from Lille? In some instances Jesuit priests attempted to have Native Americans adopt more intensive farming. Is it possible that seed from France was imported to Fort St. Joseph for this purpose? This may be a single artifact, but it certainly raises a lot of questions! If you have any ideas or thought please feel free to share them!

We have been finding a lot of beads that would have
been used for trade with Native Americans.
Jesuit priests were actually some of the earliest Europeans in the Fort St. Joseph area, arriving in the 1680s to establish a mission in hopes of converting the Native Americans that had been living in the area for thousands of years. In the 1700s the fort developed as a military and trading post for the French, supporting as many as fifteen households and potentially more depending on the season. The fort was particularly important in France's network of posts in the Great Lakes region, and saw a significant amount of trade between the French and the Miami and Potowatomi Native Americans.

Most artifacts are found when wet-screening.
The British gained control over the fort in 1761 during the French and Indian War; however, the British attitude of suppressing and dominating the Native Americans was very different from that of the French which consisted of intermarriage, gift-giving, and a mutual trade relationship. Thus in 1763 the Ottawa leader Pontiac lead a rebellion to drive the British from the region. The fort was briefly reoccupied by the British in 1779, but the presence in the region was not persistent unlike that of French traders that remained in the region until the 1780s, some possibly longer.

The reason the Spanish flag also flew over Fort St. Joseph is that a group of French and Native American men were sent to the fort by the Spanish governor of St. Louis in 1781, though the group remained at the site for less than a day. After that date the site of the fort was largely abandoned, though trade between Europeans and Native Americans likely continued in the area. This specific timeline makes the site excellent for archaeological excavations as there are no 19th and 20th-century occupations to obscure the dates of deposits.

If you have any questions about the fort's history or our ongoing excavations please do not hesitate to leave a question or comment! We will do our best to answer it or point you towards sources that may help.

Have a great weekend!

Photo credits Cathrine Davis

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Site Tours

Part of the hard-working crew.
Hi everyone,

This is a reminder that site tours are on Fridays (that means today!) at 2:00. If you are interested in seeing how our excavation is going mosey on over to the intersection of Fort and Bond Streets where the St. Joseph River Park is located. If you would like to visit but are avoiding the heat that is no problem--we will be out there for Friday tours until our Open House on August 13th and 14th. Hope to see you out there!

Stay cool,

Photo credit Cathrine Davis

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Greetings from N30 E23

Working through alluvium.
My name is Greg Savage and I’m one of the archaeologists working on the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project here in Niles; North30 East23 is the coordinates of the excavation unit my pit partner Amber and I are assigned to. We were a little apprehensive on day one, because unlike the other excavation units which were assigned based on previous area finds, our unit was an “exploratory unit” to see what might extend into this area. I did what I could to remain optimistic and began to refer to our unit as the “Lewis and Clark” excavation unit.

We shovel skimmed our way through 20 cm of thick alluvium – Nothing! Dr. Nassaney says “take it down to 30 cm and let’s see how things look." 30 cm – Nothing! 35 cm – Nothing! 40 cm….40 cm changed everything! We had conquered the alluvium and were now in the old plow zone where history was unfolding before us with every skim of the shovel and cut of the trowel. Bones, beads, blacksmith-cut nails, lead shot, fire cracked rock, things which have no monetary value but to archaeologists and other scientists prove invaluable for the information they yield. Yes indeed! “exploratory unit” N30 E23 is exactly where I was meant to be as an archaeologist this summer.

The Lewis and Clark unit.
Today was also special as I was able to provide a site tour to a visitor who has been a lifelong resident of Hartford, MI. He had heard about the project and wanted to stop in to see for himself what we are doing. At the conclusion, our visitor thanked me for providing the tour and for the work we are doing in historical recovery and preservation right here in his “backyard.”

I would like to invite you all to come out to the site and see for yourself what we’re uncovering in YOUR backyard. If you can’t make it to the site continue following our progress here on the blog as we sweat it out digging into the past, not only learning about Michigan history but American history and the role Fort St. Joseph played in it.

Greg Savage

Photo credits Cathrine Davis

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Even the Animals are Interested!

The heat sure makes that river look tempting...
Hello everyone! My name is Erica Stone, one of the archaeologists digging at the fort. I am actually from Edwardsburg, and am pretty interested in local history. I recently had an internship with Carol Bainbridge at the Fort St. Joseph Museum here in Niles, and feel like I learned so much about the history of not just Niles, but of this whole area. If you need an introduction to the fort story, I would really suggest going there and looking around. You can always check out the two-headed lamb or do a scavenger hunt!

Well, we are about four days into our excavation at the fort site and are already finding some pretty interesting artifacts! In the past field seasons, there were units adjacent to the one that my pit partner and I are assigned to. In these units, a hearth feature, or fireplace, was found and partially excavated. We had some knowledge of this, and by the end of the first day, we were already finding rocks that may have also been part of that same feature.

When digging at the fort site, one of the first things that you tend to find is bone, usually small pieces that were broken by a plow in the 1800s. Instead, we were finding long pieces of bone that showed evidence of burning as well as some smaller pieces that were had been superheated, making them white because the calcium had been leached out.

Archaeology at Fort St. Joseph has all kinds of surprises for us archaeologists. Not only are we dealing with scorching heat, we also battle roots, bugs, water, and sometimes each other (but we always resolve our differences). Just today, we had to do a little battle with nature: a crawdad had crawled into our covered unit and just would NOT detach himself from my partner’s glove! We’ve had other visitors, such as chickens at the Lyne site, an ermine who pops up now and then, and some adventurous frogs all seem to want to check out just what we’re up to. So come and visit on Fridays attwo in the afternoon and for the open house, the animals beat you to it!

Erica Stone

Photo credits Cathrine Davis

Start of Summer Lecture Series

Dr. José António Brandão
Hi everyone,

This is a reminder about our Summer Lecture Series that begins tonight! Our speaker is Dr. José António Brandão, the Chair and Professor of History at Western Michigan University. His talk is titled "The French and the Fur Trade in Michigan" and will address how the fur trade was organized in this area and the role it played in the development of New France.

The presentation will be held in the community room of the Niles District Library located at 620 E. Main St. We hope to see you there! Stay tuned for information about the three remaining lectures in the series.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Diggin' Your Roots

The site.
Hi everyone, I'm the intern of this year's field school! I like to think of myself as the site's ghost excavator, since I kind of float around to different units as needed, helping out when someone's pit partner is gone for the day or out sick, and just generally doing whatever odd jobs need to be done. I have so far worked with a lot of different people and in all different types of units (ones with lots of roots, rocks, loose soil, hard packed soil, muddy, etc.). 

Joe taking on the roots!
Today, as well as yesterday, I was working with Amanda and Max on their fort site unit. It had a lot of roots in it, which required quite a bit of time to work through, but we finally got all of the big ones out, especially "Big Bertha" (yes we named our roots), and it really paid off! It seems that once we just got through that top layer of roots they now have quite a nice unit, with fairly loose soil, and shade. It has given hope to the adjacent L-shaped units who are still struggling through even bigger tree roots to get to the good stuff beneath; they had to take a chainsaw to some of the roots they were so big!

Of course some of the units without all of those natural obstacles to get through have already dug out the majority of their alluvium layer and are beginning to see signs of the plow zone, and more importantly, artifacts! We began our wet screening operation today,
setting up the necessary pump and hoses and having our subsequent "teaching moment" on how to and why we wet screen. In summary: the soil at the Fort is mostly wet clay, so the only way to be able to effectively screen the soil is with water. We spray pressurized water at the dirt and through the screen and expose the really small artifacts that we might otherwise miss. As you can imagine, combining muddy soil and water is a somewhat messy task, yet very important and even fun, especially on such a hot day like today. The wet screening yielded some nice finds today, including lots of bone, some lead shot, and even a part of a gunflint we able to be identified as French from its honey coloration.

All in all it was a very productive day and I hope you are just as excited as we are to discover what else is hiding in the soil, and beneath the roots! And if you'd like to learn more about Fort St. Joseph and especially about the fur trade (or would just like to meet this year's wonderful archaeolo
gists) please join us tomorrow, Wednesday, at the Niles public library at 7:30pm for the first of this summer's public lecture series. Hope to see you all there!!
Just being a ghost excavator!

~Devora Gleiber

Photo credits Cathrine Davis.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tales from the Excavation

Fighting the roots.
We arrived at the Fort St. Joseph site this morning. We gazed upon the site, eager to dig the units meticulously prepared the past weekend. Our trowels grasped firmly in hand, we received our assignments and set forth into the wetlands, prepared to do battle with the quagmire of Mother Nature. I glanced at my partners in excavation, our battle plan already made for the removal of twenty centimeters of alluvium. Alluvium, what a cursed word! The river has deposited silt over the years, with vegetation stacking high above the precious ground hiding the keys to the past. Oh alluvium, how we hate thee!

The pumps hummed in the background, splashing the water from the depths below. The ground dried slowly as we were assaulted once again by Mother Nature. The rain cooled us as we continued to dig slowly through the mud, centimeter by centimeter. We found no artifacts, for the fort is buried deep beyond the sight of human kind. We continued to shovel, removing the alluvium and making steady progress. Baby steps to the fort, baby steps.
Centimeter by centimeter...

The sun came from beyond the clouds, joining the humidity in the assault against progress. I could feel my body losing energy, forcing me to pause and hydrate. Heat stroke and dehydration are both enemies, constantly forcing archaeologists to pause  in their quest. I regained my energy, pushing onward despite the conditions.

As the sweat ran down my brow I continued my journey into the depth of the past. But, what's this?! Roots, the bane of archaeology! Thick, strong root from the towering trees of the forest blocked our path to clues to history. I grabbed the root clippers, vanquishing the beast from our path. With the roots and alluvium removed, we were free to move farther down towards the depths of the fort. While only twenty centimeters in, we have faced challenges at which some humans would balk, but we have prevailed and shall continue as we move that much closer to the past.

Tellin' it like it is.
Until next time,

Photo credit Cathrine Davis

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Speaker Series starts this Wednesday!

Hi everyone,

Please take the time to consider attending one of our upcoming Lecture Series events. These begin Wednesday, July 20th at 7:30, and continue for the three following Wednesdays at the Niles District Library. This week's speaker is Dr. José António Brandão, the Chair and Professor of History at Western Michigan University. His talk will focus on the relation between the French and the fur trade in Michigan. Please click the image below to be able to zoom-in on the details. Support the Fort will be providing snacks!

Also please check out this press release from the Michigan Humanities Council (MHC). This year the MHC awarded the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Project a grant of $10,175 in support of our Open House event on August 13th and 14th that will showcase excavations, historical interpreters, and more! This grant certainly has been an excellent boon to the project.

Tomorrow we are back at the Fort Site. It is going to be a hot week, but hopefully one full of great finds. I hope to see you all at the talk on Wednesday; please be in touch if you have any questions about the speaker events.