Thursday, July 26, 2012

These Hands

           Ground was broken today, for the first time this season, at the Fort site. We will be moving our work there from the Lyne site on Monday and we will all finally begin the archaeology that we have so longed for. However, before we can move our work to the Fort site we have to finish our work at the Lyne site. This meant that every pair of hands was working feverishly with a new fire of aspiration lit under the archaeologist attached to them. Today, these hands, the hands of every person working in the Fort Saint Joseph Archaeological project excavated with an accurate intensity and the goal of digging the fastest and hardest they have yet. We’re going to finish these units and we’re going to dig the Fort.
            Where did we leave off from yesterday when we started these units? Less than twenty centimeters down!? It’s go time. These hands are ready to move. With a newly developing muscle memory this work is becoming second nature and we’re prepared to make it the last twenty centimeters by the end of the day. A challenge that we’re all up to; digging hard and digging well.
            Shovels and trowels working in a flurry, removing a centimeter of earth with every shovel-full. Buckets filled with soil faster than we were able to screen it. One person digs and the other screens. A non-stop flow of Archaeology ensued. Like the workers on the Henry Ford assembly line, our hands moved with skill in a new effective system of constant activity. Before you know it, you’ve finished your level and are ready to begin mapping.
            Measuring tape and levels. Make sure the floor is even. Put those fingers to work at clipping away those last few roots and mapping in the ones too large to take out. What’s the soil matrix? Note the change in the color and texture. Are we already that deep? Make your measurements precise and don’t miss a thing. Just because we’re working fast doesn’t mean we can be sloppy. Note the artifacts we’re finding; a handful of flakes, a few nails, bits of charcoal, some fire-cracked rock. Jon and Sue found some iron and lead shot! That’s good, but don’t get distracted. The paperwork is approved! Get more paperwork and get ready to go down another level. Back to digging.
            After an hour of repetitive motion, your hands seem to form to the handle of the shovel, of the trowel, of the handle on the 1/8 inch dry screen. Eyes are constantly scanning while hands are constantly moving. Is that a culturally significant piece of altered stone, or just a beautiful example of a Michigan pebble? Bag the flakes and don’t miss a thing. The buckets are filled with soil again and need to be screened! You can’t dig if you have nowhere to put the dirt. Bucket after bucket, your hands and eyes work independently of one another in a Zen-like state of artifact searching and identification. Did I miss anything? Re-check and then re-re-check. After all of this it is easy to lose sight of the big picture, of the significance of what exactly it is you are pulling out of the earth after hundreds of years of laying motionless and unseen.
            And then you find it; an artifact that takes your breath away and causes your heart to skip a beat. For me, it was the tip of what is possibly a bi-facially chipped projectile point or stone drill. For Sue and Jon it may have been the projectile point that was discarded mid-production. For Adam and Annie it may be the bullet casing that had visible English printing on it. You see the excitement of other peoples’ faces when they get to see and touch what you just pulled out of the ground. These were made and altered by human hands hundreds of years ago just like our hands working so eagerly to recover what may have just been cast aside.
            At these moments, you take a step back, you give your hands a rest, you take it all in and remember the significance of what it is your hands are doing and touching. We are finding objects that time had forgotten and bringing them back to life and relevance with our own amazement, interpretations, and wonder. The excitement takes you once again and you return to your work with a new zeal and respect. You now have in mind the feeling of what a single artifact can give you and your mind begins to race with the thoughts of the amazing things we have yet to uncover within the Fort site. Monday couldn’t come fast enough. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How Many Archaeologists can you fit into a 1x1 meter unit?

Who would have ever thought of this question?  Well, in case you ever wondered, we have proof that it is 5!  However, there is talk of a possibility of 6, so stay tuned!  It’s Wednesday of week 3 and many of us have closed out our first unit and just opened up our second.  It’s also noticeable that everyone is getting on the goofy side, which makes this even more fun, but we remain focused. 
5 Archaeologists fit into a 1x1 meter unit
Cassie, Tabitha, Erica, Michelle and Leah

Many of us found quite a few items in our first units at the Lyne site, but the last 20 cm were quite lacking in artifacts.  I hadn’t been at the site for two days and it was strange to see my unit that I had worked on with my pit partner, Jon, all filled in.  Actually, it was kind of sad; it’s like moving from your first home to another home, the first one is always special.  After the units are all documented, photos are taken and when all the paperwork is done, each unit is filled in.  It was exciting that we were assigned a new unit to begin just about 15 meters off the river.  Wow, riverfront property, the high rent district.  All the excitement of opening up our first unit started all over again as we laid out our second unit.  It went much quicker this time and within 30 minutes we had our unit all measured, string line completed, datum line tied on, all beginning measurements taken and we started in with shovel skimming.  This didn’t last long as the amount of roots in our unit increased and using a trowel was the best way to go. 

Within our unit we found 27 stone flakes, and we’ve only gone down 10 cm. Jordan and Scott found the first musket ball of the season.  The life-long campers came in after lunch to start their units and many of them joined us at our units and gave us a hand.  Our camper, Jill, learned quickly how to start identifying stone flakes, way to go Jill! 
Jordan holding their musket ball, the first one found this year!
We had about a 30 minute rain delay as a rain storm came through and we got to the cars just in time, great timing!  Right after lunch we heard some strange noise and looked up and we had the Goodyear Blimp overhead, what a contrast to us digging up 17th century artifacts.   

The Goodyear Blimp visits Fort St. Joseph

Coming through town we noticed the new sign that is up over downtown advertising our Open House that is being held August 11-12, Niles does a great job of supporting us which is evident every day from the great people here.  

The Fort St. Joseph Open House Sign in downtown Niles.  Great Advertising!

Also today was our second Speaker Lecture Series, Mr. Larry Horrigan titled “Firearms of New France” dressed in 17th century Voyageur clothes, Mr. Horrigan spoke to a large crowd at the Niles Library and shared his extensive knowledge of the history and how the flintlocks were used. 

Mr. Larry Horrigan speaking on the “Firearms of New France”

Tomorrow should be another exciting day as we head back into the field, let’s hope the rain cooperates and comes when we’re not in the field.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

To Dig or Not To Dig...

At Fort St. Joseph Museum
In the ballroom at City Hall
            We woke up this morning to rain pounding on the roof and dark ominous clouds lingering over Niles preventing us from going into the field. The morning ended up being occupied with watching “From Moccasins to Main Street,” a movie about the Great Sauk Trail, known as US-12. Dr. Nassaney makes a movie debut in the film. Fort St. Joseph Museum was next on the list of rainy day activities. Wandering through all the artifacts collected, there were actual pictographs drawn by Sitting Bull. There is a good collection of Fort St. Joseph artifacts on display along with a possible diagram of what the fort may have looked like. The Chapin Mansion, also known as City Hall, was next on our tour. The Chapin Mansion was erected in 1882 and was later bought by the city for $300. The mansion has beautiful stain glass along with a ballroom we were able to explore.
Calvin and Jon filling a pit
   The rain gods were kind to us and in the afternoon we were able to go into the field and inspect our pits. Most pits are being closed and filled once the paperwork is complete. The paperwork includes a full summary of who, what, when, where, and how of each pit. It includes the soils, artifacts found, the methods, etc. Two pits are still digging; one pit is still finding flakes! My pit, we are pretty sure, has reached the sterile zone. We are just leveling at 50 cm below datum then closing it up.  Once a pit is filled, the next pit at Lyne can be started which we are hoping to start soon. Campers made their appearance later in the afternoon to lay out their pits. The campers this week are life-long learners. It will be nice to be able to give them tips like were given to us the first week of our field school.
Tabitha and me leveling our pit 
At Lake Michigan, Weko Beach
 For dinner, we were hosted by Barb and Craig Schwaderer, who take part in history reenacting. A delicious meal of smoked chicken with bean salad was provided and thoroughly enjoyed. To our delight, they live about a ten minute walk from Weko Beach. Soccer ball in hand and swimsuits on, we headed to the beach to enjoy the beautiful sunset on Lake Michigan. The water was so warm and a large group played free-for-all with the soccer ball. Once the sun has set, a trumpet plays taps to signify the end of the day. A wonderful way to end a busy day. 


Public Lecture 7/25!

Remember to join the Fort St. Joseph Archaeologists at our lecture series. Tomorrow night's presentation will be by Larry Horrigan titled "Firearms of New France" which will discuss the history and use of flintlocks in the 17th and 18th centuries. Larry will also have replicas on display. The talk starts at 7pm at the Niles District Library, we hope to see you there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Third Week's The Charm!

Tabitha and Cassie demonstrating proper mapping techniques
Today marks the beginning of the third week of the 2012 Fort St. Joseph Archaeological school.  We had a lovely drive into Niles from Kalamazoo this morning and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.  When we arrived in Niles at 9:15am it was 85 degrees, sunny, and starting to prove that it couldn’t have been a better day to be out in the field.  Everyone is starting to understand that they can’t bring everything they own and that made packing the van extremely painless for the first time. 

Doctor Nassaney conducted our weekly meeting and everyone is starting to really open up to each other. This field school has been great so far because we get to actively learn while being outside of the classroom.  In a classroom setting, the teacher is the “head honcho” and is responsible for presenting the learning material.  Out in the field, everybody is able to bring their own knowledge to the table.  This creates an environment that is judgment-free, open to anyone’s opinion, and really lets an individual come to their own conclusions.

Mary Ellen and I working hard on mapping our unit's profile
We are all currently in the stages of finishing up our first units and completing all the necessary paperwork.  My pit partner was unfortunately unable to make it today, but she was still with us all in spirit (WE MISS YOU SUE!).  I had the pleasure of working with Mary Ellen today and we were able to complete a lot of our paperwork today.  We always arrive to the field Monday mornings a few hours later than we do the rest of the week so it was a short work period before lunch today.  Mary Ellen and I were able to finish up most of our unit’s profile today.  A profile is a way to capture exactly what an individual unit’s stratigraphy looks like.  This is important because it is an exact replication of what we are looking at so if someone in the future wants to know what we did, they are able to look at our data and be able to re-create/envision exactly what we were looking at.  This takes a lot of careful mapping and descriptive writing.  Every little detail counts and it’s very important to be as precise as possible.
Dr. N showing us alternative uses of a trowel

Lunch was a real treat today because Dr. N showed his field school exactly how dedicated of an Archaeologist he really is.  If most of us were lacking a spoon and had some yogurt to eat, we’d probably save it for later. Not Dr. Nassaney; not our field school leader.  A trowel is an archaeologist’s most important field tool, and Dr. Nassaney proved today it also works great as a spoon!
The campers checking out the Lyne site

After lunch, we all headed back to the field to finish up our work for the day.  Today starts the first week of our summer camps and we had the pleasure of meeting our life-long learners today.  They were an upbeat group that is eager to learn and I can tell it will be a great experience to be able to work with them this year. They will be joining us in the field tomorrow and we can use all the help we can get! Time went by way too fast, as usual, so our day ended quicker than I wanted it to.  This is also our first five day week so there is plenty of time left this week to get some more experience in the field.  As long as the precipitation avoids Niles, we will have a big group of happy archaeologists. 

-Jonathan VanderLind