Sunday, October 20, 2013

Public Presence and Future Plans

One of the FSJ displays at Archaeology Day.
If you thought that the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Project was taking a break because the 2013 field season is over, you thought wrong!  We've been hard at work in the lab back at Western Michigan University working on further analysis of the artifacts recovered this season.  Beyond that, we've been spreading the word about Fort St. Joseph!
Saturday, October 12th was Michigan Archaeology Day at the Michigan Historical Building in Lansing.  Last year attendance was estimated around 500-600 people throughout the day.  This year almost half that amount of people came through the door in the first hour.  We brought several posters and artifact cases and had many visitors interested in the project.  The staff at Archaeology Day seemed to be a bit short handed so our FSJAP students had the opportunity to help run kids’ activities.
Last week, the project was approached by Mary Burleson, a 7th grade social studies teacher at Linden Grove Middle School and asked us to talk to her classes about the Fort St. Joseph project and archaeology in general.  Alex Brand and I talked to five different classes throughout the day about what archaeology is, what we do at Fort St. Joseph and at WMU, and what kind of careers can be made with a degree in anthropology.  I got to talk to them for a bit about my passion, underwater archaeology, which most of the kids did not even realize existed as a field of study.  Many of the students seemed very interested in what we had to say and some even showed interest in our summer camp program.  At the end of the day, it was a very exciting feeling to think that we talked to over 100 kids about archaeology.
On October 19th, Dr. Michael Nassaney and Alex Brand presented a paper on the history of Fort St. Joseph and the French in the St. Joseph River Valley at the Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference. Alex also presented a poster on the field work from the past three years. We also had the opportunity to invite other members of the academic community to the conference we are currently planning for next summer that will take place in Niles, MI. There we will discuss the field work that has taken place at FSJ, as well as the future of the project. For now, we’re working on our next booklet, planning for the SHA conference, and continuing to process the artifacts and information recovered from the 2013 field season. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue our work in Kalamazoo, and thanks for your support!

            -Aaron Howard

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Starting My Sabbatical Leave

Kaministiquia River from the observation deck at Fort William  
Historical Park
After a very successful field season at Fort St. Joseph (2013), I eagerly began my sabbatical leave research for the 2013-14 academic year. I have been invited by the University Press of Florida to write a comprehensive overview of the archaeology of the North American fur trade that will appear in my edited book series, The American Experience in Archaeological Perspective. Thus far, there have been 12 books published in the series (with two more in press). As you might guess, Fort St. Joseph will feature prominently in my book, which will explore the contributions of historical archaeology to the study of the fur trade and demonstrate how the fur trade contributes to a better understanding of the American experience.
Modern day "fur trader" in 
Hovland, Minnesota
I was approved for funding through a Support for Faculty Scholar Award from Western Michigan University for research travel to examine archaeological collections related to the fur trade in Minnesota. I am particularly interested in what we can learn about the fur trade from archaeology, including the types of goods that Natives acquired in the fur trade and how they were modified to reflect a Native worldview.

With those goals in mind, I spent a week visiting several sites and collections in Minnesota where there is ample evidence of the fur trade. Not only did French and English traders operate in this region of the western Great Lakes—fur trading continued well into the 19th century with the establishment of the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company after their merger.
My trip began with a visit with two well-known fur trade archaeologists: Rob Mann, who is now teaching at St. Cloud State University and Doug Birk, a founder of the Minnesota Institute for Archaeology. Doug showed us around a site he had investigated in Little Falls in the Elk River Preserve that represented a wintering post occupied in the third quarter of the 18th century. I had read about Doug’s work, so it was great to get a guided tour of the actual site with the excavator. After being given full access to Doug’s library the following day, I made my way to Grand Portage along the northwest shore of Lake Superior.

The North West Company post along 
the Snake River, Pine City, Minnesota
Grand Portage is a 8.5 mile trail used by voyageurs to get around the 120 foot waterfalls on the Pigeon river, currently the boundary between the US and Canada. At the mouth of the river is the Grand Portage National Monument operated by the National Park Service. I met with the park historian and local archaeologist who gave me a tour of the reconstructed depot consisting of the Great Hall and attached kitchen. This was the place where the shareholders of the North West Company from Montreal would meet with their men in the field to insure smooth economic relations, quality furs, and a good profit. The interpretive center houses a wonderful collection of artifacts from the depot, as well as objects that have been recovered along the portage at posés, or resting places for voyageurs carrying heavy loads of furs and trade goods. At the end of the portage, trade goods would be loaded onto canoes in the Pigeon River to be taken further inland to Native villages and encampments. Of course, not all goods made it into the canoes, and some have been found lying at the bottom of the river. Doug Birk and his team recovered scores of 18th and 19th century objects through underwater archaeology in the 1970s. Image my astonishment when the park interpreter allowed me to inspect a perfectly preserved canoe paddle and fragments of a birch bark canoe that had been used by French voyageurs over 200 years ago!

The next day I went even further north into Canada to visit Fort William, billed as the world’s largest fur trading post. When the area of the Grand Portage became American territory in 1803, the North West Company decided to move its headquarters to the Kaministiquia River. Although the original site lies beneath a railroad yard, the Ontario Provincial government has reconstructed the fort and over 30 buildings some 9 miles upriver based on detailed maps and sketches. While somewhat controversial due to its placement, the Fort William Historical Park exposes thousands of tourists annually to the importance of the fur trade in Canadian history.
Reconstructed Great Hall at the Grand Portage Depot 
with the kitchen in the background.

The following day I made a foray into Wisconsin to the Yellow river, site of the 1802-05 Ojibway Indian/North West Company-XY Company fur-trading outpost known as the Forts Folle Avoine (French for “crazy oats” referring to the wild rice that was an important food resource in the region). The site is run by the Burnett County Historical Society and features a reconstruction, first-person interpretation, and a small museum with displays of materials from the 1970s excavations. John Sayer, a NWC partner who resided at the site, also established another post about 30 miles to the west along the Snake River now in Pine city, Minnesota. Archaeology had also been conducted there to expose a fortified settlement with a row house consisting of six rooms that housed voyageurs, a clerk, Sayer, and a storehouse. Interestingly, the rooms and associated materials show that Sayer, who was a share-holding representative of the NWC, was afforded different amenities than his subordinates. Information on the location, size, layout, and architecture of the fort were all derived from the archaeological remains and led to a reconstruction. Fur trade life and its role in the context of Native American and Euro-American interaction are currently being interpreted at the fort and in very modern, interactive, and comprehensive museum exhibits by the Minnesota Historical Society.
Reconstructed wigwam ay Forts Folle Avoine

All this travel and sight seeing invigorated me in preparation for continued research on the archaeology of the fur trade. If that was not enough, on September 27 I was given the Service-Learning Award from the WMU Office of Service-Learning in recognition of my work on Fort St. Joseph. Later that evening I accompanied Dorilee Schieble of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee to a banquet held by the Historical Society of Michigan (HSM) where we received an award for Fort St. Joseph’s archaeology education program. I’m thankful to Dorilee for preparing the nomination. The following day my colleagues José António Brandão, Tim Bober, and I discussed the history, public education, and archaeology of Fort St. Joseph to over 50 HSM members at their annual conference in Kalamazoo.

As you can see, the start of my sabbatical leave has been stupendous!

Michael S. Nassaney, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology
Principal Investigator
Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project

The 120' falls along the Pigeon River.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Light and Dark Side of Archaeology

Michigan is one of those places; people don’t think of it as a place to vacation, they don’t even really think about it. This is because Michigan is not an easy place, she does not give up her gems to the unworthy. She will test you, bend you and break you before she reveals her mysteries. This summer we have been tested, bent and broken in numerous ways. We’ve been forced to hack through roots, wait out storms and survive the elements.  We’ve proven worthy and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what she holds. This summer we have gathered a vast amount of data from Fort St. Joseph, we have compiled a million theories and the only thing to do is to pack up, go back to campus and barricade ourselves in the lab. Looking back this summer has been crazy.

I tore through a root, it was dirty sweat breaking hard work but I stuck with it. I hardly ever turn down a challenge and I hacked and troweled and still came up with nothing I would get excited and have the hope torn away by a cold analytical eye that looked logically at the unit and saw that nothing was there. The time dragged by and I found nothing, I came up with nothing. When I found a wooden beam, today when we backfilled in on that beam without taking a sample (other than the previously taken) I felt a part of me cry out in horror knowing that once the matrix around the beam was disturbed it would never survive. Organic matter is very particular thing to preserve which makes it very hard, very expensive and very time consuming. If it was extracted and not preserved it would turn to dust in a box but left in the ground disturbed as it was it will do the same thing and in a year may not even be there. Though I will hope for the best and that Michigan will preserve the jewel she let us unearth this summer and made this experience well worth it.  

Archeology is wonderful and horrible study; we actively destroy everything we touch as we excavate. Yes we come out with amazing artifact that look gorgeous in a display case but those artifacts themselves cannot tell us what we want to know. Those artifacts cannot tell us what would it have looked like to the European settlers coming to this wild and untamed beautiful land? What did they see that we will never understand? In the past few weeks we have made astounding steps to revealing the life of these settlers through the association of artifacts. We’ve found their shoe buckles, their homes, their hearths but what did they see that they didn’t bother to write down?  Fort St. Joseph is not well document; we don’t know what it looks like, where things were or really who lived there. What would this place have looked like? We don’t know, we have complied a picture in our minds of a series of structures possibly homes lined up along the river. We’ve found the hearths we found two walls and a wooden beam but we still have a lot to do.

The voyager of Fort St. Joseph
See you 2015, ready and rearing to discover more of Michigan’s Jewel.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Media Day and Open House: A Great Ending to a Memorable Experience

A view of the site from the entrance

Wow, what a fast, but fun weekend! On Media Day we had the opportunity to show off our progress to the local news services in the morning, attending eight speakers, each of which gave short but heartfelt speeches. I was fortunate enough to be chosen as this year’s Media Day student speaker so I joined in the fun of speaking in front of the crowd of about 50 people. Because I am a Native American of the Ojibwa people, I gave my speech from the Native American perspective of Fort Saint Joseph, its history, and the results of the archeological work done at Fort Saint Joseph. To paraphrase, the Fort and its inhabitants were unique in that they shared French culture with the local Native Americans. The cultural mixing of religious beliefs, art, clothing, food ways, medicines, etc…, was done in such a way that the Fort becomes an inspiration for those who wish to see present and future generations not only tolerate each other’s cultures, but share them as well. The media and attending officials took all of the speeches to heart, and it was a great way to advertise and begin the Open House.
18th-centrury food being cooked and provided by TartTown
Saturday and Sunday were both very busy, with about 1,500 excited and curious visitors attending, as well as plenty of re-enactors of 18th century life on the frontier of New France. Each morning was spent in preparation and set up for the event, as well as wrapping up some work in our respective excavation units. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. we manned stations showcasing our work for the public to circulate between, including: an artifacts table displaying this and previous year’s finds, a zoo-archeological table with Dr. Terry Martin describing the significance of animal bones, and a children’s station where kids could play with wooden muskets, walk on stilts, put sherds together to make a complete ceramic plate, and even sift through a “unit” of dirt and find interesting “artifacts” related to the site, such as ceramics, bones, or seeds. We also stood near the excavations and wet screens, explaining the processes of excavation, wet-screening, artifact preservation, and interpretation of artifacts and features. Every station held its own excitement, due to the curiosity and engagement of the public.
I once again had the opportunity to speak to the public on Saturday, this time on the subject of Native American Food Ways. Rather than speak from the podium, however, I decided to lead a guided discussion on the subject, inviting the participants to engage my knowledge of the dig site and the history and culture of Fort Saint Joseph, while bringing our thought process back to Food Ways. Interesting topics of discussion were the location of bones in relation to living spaces, the types of bones and the significance of large amounts of deer bone, and Native agricultural methods, such as the “three sisters” system of farming.
Che explaining the interpretation of a few units
While the purpose of the Open House itself was to invite the public to see our work and explain the importance of archaeological study at Fort Saint Joseph, I always believe that the end goal of any study of human activity, whether it be historical, cultural, or a mixture of both, should be for the good of the public and the public’s education. It is quite obvious that visitors grasped the importance of Fort Saint Joseph as a site of cultural and historical significance, where the French and Native Americans were able to form a unique community from people of different social, economic, cultural, and linguistic and subsistence backgrounds. The research, in the end, informed the public as to the realities for French and Native American, as well as later inhabitants of the region. In short—there was a lot of learning going on, and not all of it from the public.
The participation of the public and their appreciation for the work at Fort Saint Joseph was amazing. We are all truly grateful for a public that values the importance of discovering our past, especially when we can use our knowledge to inspire a better future. They truly embody the mantra of the Field School:



New Technology at Fort St. Joseph

Here at Fort St. Joseph our program extends beyond a typical field school experience, into extensive interaction with the public, but also into exploring new possibilities provided by technology.  Over the last few weeks here in Niles, I’ve been experimenting with digital recording of the fort site.   Every archaeological site documents excavations by taking photographs of the walls and floors of units.   By implementing a series of 50-70 photographs taken from various angles, we are able to compile a 3D image of some of the open units at the site. 
            The possibilities provided by this technology are endless.  Not only does it provide a more complete record than a regular illustration or drawing, but also allows for a completely different look at the artifacts and features within.  After the season has ended and the excavation units are backfilled, there is a lasting image of layout and provenience of rocks and artifacts at a certain level. 
            In order to compile these images I’ve been using a freeware program called 123D Catch.  This program is able to produce realistic models taken from an ordinary DSLR camera.  Even better they have a mobile app that produces a similar file.  All the images are uploaded to the programs cloud and processed into a 3D model.  The model can then be edited and painted.  The following videos are examples of our currently open units.

The uses of digital technology and 3D modeling of an archaeological site provide great potential for research, as well as community and public engagement.  I hope to further explore the applications of utilizing 3D technology in the field of archaeology and at Fort St. Joseph in the future.