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!