Monday, July 8, 2013

Our First Day in Niles!

Our first group photo!
 Hello from Fort St. Joseph's 2013 field school members! Today we left from WMU's campus at 8:45 AM to spend the day in Niles for the first time.  After unloading our personal gear at our new home and organizing our dig equipment at the field, we came together as a group to talk about our initial feelings toward this experience.  Many people (including myself) were nervous – even though we've had a four day orientation at WMU, I still felt unprepared for actually being in the field.  But everyone expressed excitement about doing real archaeology, most of us for the first time.  After our discussion, we met our wonderful host Stephanie and her family, who have generously offered us their home, the Stables, for the group to stay in for the next six weeks.  She gave us a tour, and then we began to prepare for actually working in the field.
            It had been raining throughout the day, and we had to tramp through the mud to get to the flooded Fort St. Joseph site.  We talked about some of the difficulties of the area – from the 1930's to the 1960's it was a landfill, so today some parts are impossible to excavate without digging through six feet of twentieth century trash first.  Also, as the area is a floodplain, we will need to drain the area of water first, a process which has been started by our staff member, Alex, as well as an extremely helpful volunteer, Neil.  We will also need to clear the area of vegetation before we can dig.
Admiring the massive boulder
            After seeing the floodplain, we quickly stopped at the recently re-dedicated Boulder.  It was placed in 1913 to commemorate Fort St. Joseph, although how (or why!) they moved a 65 ton boulder is beyond me.
            Next, we went to the terrace to see where we will begin digging.  Pits have been dug here by previous field schools, but there is still a blank area on our map which we want to learn more about.  We spent an hour or so clearing the site with machetes, grass whips, and rakes, and kept an eye out for spiders and tick bites after swapping scary bug stories earlier in the day.  It was hard work, but we managed to do okay for a first time – Dr. Nassaney gave us a B+.
Aaron and James getting acquainted
            Finally, we came back to the Stables for a dinner hosted by Stephanie, her family, and her friends.  It was overwhelming to me how much everyone in this community I've met really does care about the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.  Dr. Nassaney had told us that the community was supportive, but after the delicious dinner and friendly new faces I am starting to understand how right he is.  I was nervous before coming, but now that I have met people interested in what we are doing and gotten to know my fellow students better, I already feel comfortable and excited to continue.  Our first day was long, but I have a feeling that this whole thing will be finished all too soon.


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