Friday, August 10, 2012

Open House this Weekend

The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Open House starts tomorrow! The event will take place in Niles, Michigan at South Riverfront Park from 10am-4pm on Saturday and Sunday. The NWTA will have living history participants portraying life at Fort St. Joseph on the eve of Revolution. There will be merchants, a tea tent, canoe rides by Sarett Nature Center, Children's Games, and of course, the excavation site will be open to the public. This year archaeologists have been working to excavate two features in the hopes of finding the foundation of a building. We are excited for the event and hope you can join us!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A preview for them, a preview for us.

            Like stepping into a time machine and being whisked away to the 18th century, today we got our first taste of what our 2012 Archaeological Open House will be like. Today, we were treated to the sight of many history enthusiasts donning their 18th century attire and excited members of the media all coming to the site of Fort St. Joseph for a glimpse at what this weekend will have in store for everyone.
            The day began the same as any other day with setting up equipment and preparing to give the media a taste of all the hard work and progress we’ve made since starting out here a month ago. Turning away from the Fort, one looked upon the hustle and bustle of tents being erected, displays being prepared, and reenacters pouring in. A podium was placed, a microphone connected, and we were ready to give our message of welcome to the media so they could then send it on to the public.
            A myriad of speakers graced our stage, each with nothing but good things to say about the work we have been doing here at Fort St. Joe. Those we heard from included Dr. Alex Enyedi; Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at WMU, Dr. Timothy Greene, Provost, WMU, Dr. Dean Anderson; Michigan’s State Archaeologist, Barbara Schwaderer and Bob Myers, in full 18th century attire giving a preview of what the open house has in store for everyone, and from the Mayor of Niles, Michael McCauslin. Finally, Dr. Nassaney presented the Volunteer of the Year Award to Larry Simpson who has been an avid participant in the project since 2004.
            My personal favorite aspect of the formal presentations was when one of our own, Leah Rice, spoke to everyone about her personal experience this summer. Her speech wasn’t just for her, or for us, but for the public; while everyone is excited about the work we do here, it is nice to inform them about how we feel about this work and our experience on a personal level. While her experiences may differ slightly from each other individual student that worked the Fort this summer, it was a good snapshot of what we have all loved and enjoyed.
            The Colonial Dancers from the area treated everyone to a couple of lively jigs. Their attire, spirited dance, and smiling faces kept the general mood of everyone in attendance high despite a spit of rain that kept a few huddled under umbrellas and tents. It will take a lot of effort for us students not to join them in their dances come the Open House.
            Finally, the ribbon to the Fort was cut and everyone was welcomed down to the site to get a good tour of all that we have been doing. Almost like kids in a candy store people flocked to open units with minds full of questions and eager Archaeology students waiting to receive them. In public Archaeology, this is definitely the best part: giving the excited public exactly what they want to see.
             After speaking to reporters from the Harold Palladium and the South Bend Tribune about the artifacts and interesting information gathered from our unit, I was in the best spirits yet. The last two folks my pit partners and I talked to have been active and interested in Support the Fort since its inception. How great it is to speak to these people who are truly interested in what we are doing and hang on every word and tell us their own stories of their interests and knowledge. Annie Krempa, one of my Pit Partners, summed up speaking to these great folks in that it left us with “a warm and fuzzy feeling inside”. Though I may not personally have many experiences with warm and fuzzy feelings, this was definitely one of them. I love what I do.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Road to El Open House

            And so ends what could possibly be the crew’s last full day of digging. With preparations for Open House well underway – what with Media Day tomorrow and the setup we’ll be doing on Friday – it’s possible that we may not fit in as much pure excavation as we’d like. Add that to the dismal weather we’ve got looming on the horizon (if it even hits us; what’s up with this Michigan weather anyway?) and our chances of pushing our units to 65 or even 70 centimeters below datum dwindle.
Tabitha doing an incredible job removing a jaw bone. 
            But that’s okay, because we have enjoyed our time in Fort St. Joseph while it lasted. And even though we’ve only had about a week and a half to excavate what past field schools have had three or four weeks to do, no one is falling behind. The shallowest unit is at least 50 cm deep – and the girls digging there could hide in it, if they wanted to! We’ve been pushing the envelope since day one, proving that each and every team we’ve got is made of powerhouses ready to get down and reveal the history hidden beneath the ground. Though we may not have the time to fully complete our excavations, each and every one of us is yearning to take out just one more trowel full of dirt, because that may be what it takes to find a Jesuit finger ring or a complete trigger guard or even another feature.
            Today my unit became the first feature of the season – feature 23, in fact, a huge ash deposit in the east side of our unit, almost taking up an entire meter of space. Though it was only about four centimeters deep, it raised a lot of questions: where did this come from? Why is it here? Is this from a chimney, or a hearth, or perhaps something else? Hopefully future field schools will be able to find the answer if we can’t. This year we did dig up old units to get a bigger picture of where two civilian houses were located. Maybe one summer years from now, some new baby-faced undergrad will dig up our little unit and find a chimney or even a foundation wall to the house. Who knows! The possibilities are endless.
Joe being Joe.
            And though we hid sniffles of despair as the conclusion of our field season races toward us, we did end the day on a positive note. Down in South Bend, Indiana, in a really cool and fun museum, the Center for History, we heard a lecture from Joseph Gagné about the militia in New France. Before the presentation began, we took twenty minutes or so to explore the museum, taking in all of the interesting exhibits they had on display. One of my personal favorites was a painting of a woman sitting in front of her vanity. At first the scene seems tranquil, quiet, and at peace; until you step back and see that her profile and gilded mirror together give the image of a brilliant white skull against a black backdrop. There were tons of other interesting things to see, such as old advertisements and outdated exercise machines. And to top it off, we learned of the militia and military policy in New France with a fluent French speaker and an extremely comfortable auditorium. A combination of soda and cookies provided by the museum helped ease us into our after-lecture glow as we enjoyed the warm stone of the pavement outside. It was a great end to a good, not-too-hot day.
            We can only hope that tomorrow will be just as nice and let us get our hands dirty a few more times before we all have to go home. 

-A. Lent

Join us for the Final Installment of our Lecture Series

Join us tonight at the Center for History in South Bend (808 West Washington Street
South Bend, Indiana 46601))for the final installment of our four part lecture series. Tonight Joseph Gagne, from Universitie Laval, will be doing a program titled "Minding Militia: Canadian Militiamen and the Great Lakes during the Seven Years' War." We're looking forward to another successful and informative talk and we thank everyone who comes out.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Baby, I'm troweling for you

Today was the start of the last and final 7 days of the 2012 Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Field School.  It absolutely blows my mind that we only have one week left.  I can remember the very first day of our orientation.  It was the 28th of June when I met my classmates for the first time.  We all arrived into orientation not knowing exactly what was in store for us or knowing each other.  I have had classes with several of the students, but never made great relationships with any of them.  It has been a little over 5 weeks since then and it’s truly amazing to realize how great of an experience its been so far.  5 weeks ago all of my classmates were strangers, and now I consider all of them to be close friends. We have worked hard and worked well together and I don’t think Doctor Nassaney could have gathered a more competent group.

When we arrived in the field this morning, Southwestern Michigan couldn’t have graced us with more beautiful weather. It was low 70s and in my opinion, that is what a Michigan summer should be.  I do enjoy the days in the 100s as much as the next guy, but not when I’m hunched over my unit moving dirt by the bucket-full. 

The Educators observing during our after-lunch pit tours.
The day was a little different than normal because we had so many extra sets of hands waiting to grab a trowel and help us out.  An associate and long time friend of Doctor Nassaney, Renee, came to the field today with a group of Boy Scouts eager to achieve their Archaeological badges.  We also had the pleasure of working with our Host Stephanie’s daughter, Jessica, as well as the summer camp who this week happens to be current educators.  The great thing about working under Doctor Nassaney is that he has actively promoted Public Archaeology.  Public Archaeology is essentially doing our work as we normally would, but doing everything we can to engage with the general public.  We know archaeological projects of this magnitude will raise the interest of members of the community and we welcome them with open arms.  We want them to be interested in what we do and we do everything we can to answer their questions and let them know that we appreciate their interest in what we do.  The feeling of being welcomed and being supported by the people of Niles has absolutely gone above and beyond what I expected.  Numerous people have hosted us for events, invited ALL of us over for dinner parties, and come to the site to see what we are doing.  I am very thankful for everything the people of Niles have done for us so far.

Two boy scouts listening to a demonstration.

The most exciting find of the today surfaced from the great depths of Cassie and Tabitha’s unit.  They worked hard as ever and were able to present the site with a beautiful, intact 18th century Jesuit ring.  It was an absolutely amazing find because something this old and this meaningful does not often come in the condition that it was found in.  It is complete, with very little damage, and the etchings on the face of the ring are still visible.  We know Fort St Joseph was one of the most influential Fur Trading posts of the Great Lakes area as well as a French mission and garrison.  This ring is just another piece of evidence of the great impact the Jesuit priests had on the fort and the surrounding area.
18th century Jesuit ring.

My unit is N33 E8, and is worked on by Sue, Adam, and myself.  We officially entered the occupation zone of the fort and we came into the occupation zone at about 55 cm bd.  Through countless hours of troweling and wet screening, we were able to uncover a great ash deposit.  We are not 100% sure if this is part of a hearth, a burned down home, or just a trash pit.  All three of us are working our tails off to uncover the story of unit N33 E8 and the viewers of this blog will be the first to know.  Don’t forget though, if you are coming to our open house which is this weekend; Saturday August 11th and Sunday August 12th, you will also have the chance to talk to me in person and ask as many questions as you want.  Please feel welcomed to invite anybody and everybody you know and come on out to Fort St Joseph to learn about local history.  I look forward to meeting you this weekend!

Alternative view of Jesuit ring.

-Jonathan VanderLind 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Countdown to Open House: Day 5

             Today dawned a new week. This is our last full week excavating at Fort St. Joseph, and already many of us are talking about how much we will miss this place of dirt, work, and dirty work.  But so much remains to be done before we are ready to leave!  Our units are now almost completely in the occupation zone, but still hold many secrets. Excavated artifacts are piled in heaps waiting for attention from the washing and sorting crews. Finally, we must prepare for the culmination of our efforts, the Open House.  If you weren't aware of this extravaganza or haven't thought about your weekend plans, please allow me to issue you a formal invitation to our Open House this weekend … trust me, it will be an amazing time.
Jon proving his strength.
            This morning began with cleanup from this weekend's heavy storm.  Fortunately, nothing was broken and no trees fallen, and so all that was necessary was to bail out water from our units.  (One individual did take it upon himself to chase my pit partner with a poor drowned mouse from our unit; the perpetrator Joe will remain nameless)  Then it was off to work. 

The oxidized soil of our unit is on the left; the feet point towards it.
            Michelle and I had reluctantly left our unit last week with only a little bit of work remaining, and so we were eager to finish our paperwork and our level.  Last Friday we came across a large patch of orange oxidized soil in our unit which is very interesting to us.  The oxidation in the soil tells us that something was burned, while the location of the soil implies this burning was related to the hearth which had been previously excavated directly next to our unit.  After we carefully exposed all the oxidized soil, we removed a 10 liter sample which we will take back to the lab for flotation.  By carefully analyzing all the soil, we will be able to find even the smallest carbonized seed or scrap of organic material which will tell us a lot of about what was happening here.
              Progress continues across the site: buckets are screened, walls cleaned, photographs snapped, and artifacts carefully mapped.  Along with the omnipresent piles of animal bone, Michelle and I turned up lead shot, copper scrap, seed beads, and our first piece of wampum.  Other groups had some great finds as well: a tiny carved bird missing its head, a round ridged upholstery tack, and two separate pieces of the same micmac pipe.  Although archaeology is not just about the artifacts, it is fascinating to see all the remnants of Fort St. Joseph emerging from the ground.
The micmac pipe.

One adorable headless carved bird.

             After packing up after our long day in the field, we hit the showers at the YMCA, and then headed over for dinner. Our meal tonight was generously prepared by Mary Ellen Drolet and her family. The vast quantities of baked beans and pulled pork, and the array of delights around the chocolate fountain went a long way towards satisfying us hungering students, fortifying us for the long night of lab work ahead.

Joe wants YOU to come to the Open House.

Washing in lab.

     Four days in the field lay ahead of us, and we are ready.

- Sarah Oren