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

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Words from the project director

Hi everyone!

Dr. Nassaney explain a find...
It is again that time for our weekly speaker. Tonight marks the third event of our Summer Lecture Series and will consist of a talk from the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Project's Principal Director, Dr. Michael Nassaney. He will focus on the connections between Fort St. Joesph and the fur trade, with a particular emphasis on what past and recent finds at the site can tell us about trade relations. Please join us in the community room of the Niles District Library at 7:30. We will have updates from the field, examples of our recent finds, and our new t-shirts! Support the Fort will also again generously provide snacks. Don't miss it!

...helps out with a screen...
Also, in light of our rapidly approaching Open House Dr. Nassaney would like to formally invite everyone to the event and say a few words about the project and the site's history:

"Dear Fort Followers,

I welcome you to attend the 2011 Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project's Sixth Annual Open House! The project has been in the field since July 6 after a busy year of analysis in the lab and attending conferences and other venues to spread the word about this project. With your help, we were winners of the Archaeological Institute of America's first education outreach contest this past Spring!

...and participates in a Musket Drill at a
previous Open House event!
As you may know, Fort St. Joseph was an integral part of the French fur trade in the western Great Lakes for nearly two centuries. Lost to the ravages of time, the fort was rediscovered in 1998 by Western Michigan University archaeologists who have been investigating and interpreting the site ever since. The theme of this year's Open House is the Fur Trade. Evidence of this important economic and political process abounds in our excavations as testified by the lead seals, imported glass beads, and numerous other objects that were intended for trade or used by the traders themselves along the banks of the St. Joseph River nearly three centuries ago.

At the Open House see some of these objects on display, read about the trade through informative panels, listen to public scholars, interact with reenactors demonstrating 18th century life, and meet with student archaeologists. Please be sure to introduce yourself and tell us how you may want to get involved in the project.

Looking forward to meeting you in the trenches, the lab, or on the lecture circuit!"

-Dr. Michael S. Nassaney
Seeing artifacts and learning from historical
 interpreters at the Open House.
I certainly hope everyone has their calendars marked for the Open House event which will be held on August 13th and 14th from 10-4. I will be sure to post more details in the upcoming days and remind everyone again about this exciting chance to see archaeology and discovery in action! In the meantime please click on the flyer below for a close-up of what to expect. Tell your friends and's free!


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Archaeologists In Training

Trowel power!
There are so many wonderful aspects of archaeology and the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Project--researching what may be underneath our very feet is quite exciting! There’s nothing like uncovering hidden pieces of the past that have been untouched for centuries. But above all, there is nothing as encouraging as meeting those in the community who share the same interest of preserving history with us!

Me in the middle with campers
Jim and Heather.
This week, we are fortunate enough to have middle school-aged campers working beside us in our excavation units. I was able to talk with a few of these highly interested young students about the project and archaeology as a whole; here are some the responses I received:

Genevieve (2nd year camper): "I like archaeology. I’ve been interested in it since I was five years old. I love how much you can learn from the little things you’re finding.”

Alex (1st year camper): "I’ve always been a big colonial history fan. Fort Michilimackinac (in Mackinaw, MI) really set me off in my interest in colonial history, but I think Fort St. Joseph is really unique. My favorite part of archaeology is water screening because you get to discover what made it past toweling."

Monica (2nd year camper): "I like archaeology because I am really interested in the history before us. I like to dig in the dirt and find stuff. I love getting dirty!”

We all come to the site with different expectations, ideas, and levels of interest. Whether our favorite part is toweling, water screening or simply getting dirty, we all share the same passion: uncovering the past firsthand. We learn from each other, teach each other, and discover the history of Fort St. Joseph together.

“Really, the reason we’re all here is to help preserve history!” -Earl (1st year camper).

Teresa Pizzimenti

Photo credits Cathrine Davis

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Day in the Dirt

Welcome my fellow FSJ enthusiasts! I hope you all had a wonderfully beautiful and relaxing weekend. All of us here really needed one after a busy week. We have been hard at work digging up the past and trying to add to the collective knowledge of this project. Last week my fellow student archeologists uncovered what is looking to become the first feature of the year, which is very exciting around here. I am sure that more information will come in future blogs about this, so stay tuned!

Lance taking on the muck!
My pit partner and I started to uncover a mini stash of metal last week and today pulled out three more pieces of metal. It's hard to say what it could be but our current theories are gun parts or cooking ware. Either way, it would be an understatement to say we are only excited. Other recent finds that have come from our excavation unit include a lot of broken glass, bones, and beads. The most numerous artifact we are finding has to be lead shot, which is making me lean toward gun parts for the mysterious metal that has been found in the past few days. But lets not get ahead of ourselves...

Pit tours.

Finally, I find it very important that I use this tool to thank the community that surrounds this project. This work can get hard and we all lose perspective at time but there is no shortage of excitement and joy that comes from the people visiting the site, bringing baked goods for an afternoon snack, and the families bringing a big group of dirt covered college kids into their homes and feeding them. I thank you all.

Max Golczynski

P.S. I hope to see all of you at our open house that is swiftly approaching. (Only two weeks away!)

Photo credits Cathrine Davis

Mysteries of the Past

Ken's eyes gleamed like lead shot found in the wet screen. "Jordan, look at this!" he exclaimed as he carefully stepped across the damp, fragrant hay surrounding our unit. I looked into his outstretched hand, curiosity evident in my expression. The sun caught on the artifact, sending delicate rainbows of light scurrying across his palm.

I gasped with amazement as I gingerly retrieved the object and began to study it in closer proximity. It was a small piece of elegantly cut glass, obviously meant for personal adornment. I rolled it back and forth daintily between my fingers, feeling the alluring caress of the past as I imagined what sort of ornamentation it served as during its heyday. The ridges were strong yet subtle, creating a silhouette both graceful and pleasing to the eye.

Even while engrossed in my observations of the glass bauble, I noticed a break in the earthy music of the site as my unit neighbor to the west paused in his troweling. Alex stood up slowly, wiping the sweat from his brow. A glint of green shimmered in his firm hand, piquing my interest. "We have a green cufflink here, set in some sort of metal." Our eyes met as we halted our perusal of our respective finds. Identical expressions of pleasure flooded our faces as I somberly declared, "We must be approaching occupation level!" We carefully placed our artifacts in amber vials and picked up our trowels anew, anticipation renewing our efforts.

Jordan Freeman

Photo credit Cathrine Davis

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hi all,

I hope it has been a restful weekend for everyone, especially the hardworking campers and students. To begin today's post let's hear some more from our campers. One writes:

Dedicated campers!
"As first time archaeological campers this was a week of new experiences for many of us. From shoveling thick alluvial soil to gently troweling around sherds of bone, we all got down and dirty (literally!). Our days generally begin with history lessons. Tim, our coordinator, was a wealth of information who obviously loves his work.

Later, in the afternoons, we joined the students on site for lunch and then toured their units to hear about their progress. The campers had three units of our own that were rotated between us. We found areas of ash/charcoal, bones, beads, and some metal. Our time was also spent helping the students with wet-screening and cleaning artifacts."

Another camper, Therese, adds:

Pit tours.
"What we learned at camp was how to look at things differently. When we first opened the pits they didn't look very interesting, but after we learned how to look and what to look for suddenly each unit became fascinating with many stories to tell. It's pretty exciting to be the first person to see these things in 250 years. Archaeology camp was dirty but fun. It will be great to come back next year and see what else shows up."

It is great to hear that I am not alone in the thrill of finding bits and pieces from Fort St. Joesph!

The screening brigade.

Onto an update about one artifact in particular. Some of our wonderful public has come forward with suggestions to deciphering the lead bale seal I wrote about last weekend. The 18th century French word "graine" does not necessarily mean seeds of a plant but could refer to a type of fabric with a bumpy surface or items that could have been referred to as coming in the form of a grain such as beads. Also the word is related to the word "grenette" which could mean "seeds of Avignon" and was a name for buckthorn berries dyers. These berries were used to produce particular colors of dye and, while it may be a bit of a stretch, we do know that vermilion, a bright red/orange pigment, was a trade item desired by Native Americans. Vermilion does not come from buckthorn, but we should not overlook the possibility that this lead seal marks dye products. We still are leaning towards the idea that this was a particular type of fabric given Lille's notoriety as a place of textile manufacture, but archaeologists must entertain all the possibilities!

The shirts look even better in person!
Click for a close-up.
Finally, exciting news! The new Fort St. Joseph t-shirts have arrived and are lookin' good. They are available in sizes S-XXL and come in four colors: glamorous gold, colonial blue, sage green, and charming charcoal (okay, I may be exaggerating with those descriptors, but they are lovely colors!). We will have them for sale at the lecture this Wednesday, French Market on Thursday, and at our upcoming events. Thanks to Alyssa who did  the design for the shirts this year which features the French flag and a pair of voyageurs in a Montreal canoe...perfect for our Fur Trade theme.

Artifacts fresh from the wet screen.
Well, that is about all for this weekend. We are getting down to occupation-level layers in the units which means lots of artifacts, careful mapping, and hope for foundation features. Remember, if you are interested in chatting with any of the students of checking out some of our finds from the excavation we have several opportunities throughout the week. We will have our third lecture of our Summer Speaker Series this Wednesday at 7:30 in the Niles Library, a table with information and some of our artifacts at French Market from 9-2 in downtown Niles on Thursday, and a site tour at 2:00 on Friday. Come to one or all, we look forward to meeting you!

Hope to see you out there,

Photo credits Erica D'Elia, Cathrine Davis, and Kelley Walter