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