Friday, July 19, 2013

Playing in the Mud

Hello, my name is Stephen; I‘m a Western Michigan University sophomore attending the field school for archaeology here in Niles Michigan. This is my first year here at the field school and it has been splendid. We have approached the end of the third week here in Niles as the Fort St. Joseph archaeological project continues for the summer of 2013. It has been an excellent experience here working to discover what is under our feet, enlightening us with a clearer sense of what came before us. We have done so much all week, not to mention finally we have closed all the units at Lyne site.

Video: "On my way to the Stables"

Today we arrived at the site of the Fort at about 8:15am and began preparing it for our new units we are starting there for this summer. The units we prepared at the site were previously planned based on already excavated units; units where significant features were found. After a hearth and wall were excavated in the past indicating where a house would be, this happening more than once, archaeologist in the project used detailed  information on French houses in this time period and these findings to produce where the rest of the houses are most certainly to be encountered. This is where we come in. I had quite a refreshing day today working at the Fort site.

As one portion of us closed up Lyne site I did very nice work in the mud. Not even half way into my time out in the field I had the job of walking out into the wet, mucky bank of the St. Joseph River to place the end of the water pump that we needed. All this came about because I happened to be the only one in high rubber boots today. I had water in my boots all day in the field, even after pouring them out. To add to these watery adventures John and I hosed down the trench under the tetrapod screen and later dug out a path for the water to flow back into the river. When all the hosing and trench work was done all began on our new units.

It was pretty hot and humid outside today and we were interrupted from digging for a bit by a passing rain cloud. After the rain it got even more humid and hot to where we had more breaks in-between work to get in the shade, hydrate and rest before going back to the units. What was different about the Fort and Lyne site is that Lyne site is very shaded while the Fort site is in the path of sun. This is definitely a new environment to adapt our work to.

We found only modern artifacts in the first shoveling of our units. There were mostly pieces of glass found in each unit. We didn’t wet screen this time because we are only at the beginning layer of alluvium soil, this is not so much culturally significant when it comes to soil levels. My unit partner is Seth and we’ve got our unit floor pretty level at the base, this is something I feel good about when working on a unit. After spending the first day on our new units we packed up, freshened up and went off to the Drolets' where we had a pool party. The party was great and we had delicious food there. I can remember the tortillas, baked beans, and pulled pork sandwiches very well. All in all this was a splendid day and has been a splendid week for us here for the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.

Video: "Pool party at the Drolets'"

-Stephen Staten

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On Our Way to FSJ

The modern  feature in the upper left corner in Hayden and Alexis's unit.

Today was a great day in the field, even though it was hot and muggy. We started work around 8:15am on the Lyne site. Most units at that time were very close to being done since majority of us were hitting sterile soil around 40cmBD. However there were two units (out of the six that we had) that were taking longer than planned. These two units were showing quite a lot of human activity and producing a lot of artifacts. The first unit that showed a feature was Hayden and Alexis’s. Their feature resembled a modern trash pit based on the artifacts that we found (a metal can, plastic bag and a few aluminum foil balls). Although this was not material associated with the fort it was still very exciting to find because it was the first feature that many of us got to see. This feature did disappear around 40cmBD though. 

The potential feature uncovered in Aaron and Che's unit.
The second unit that showed quite a bit of promise was Aaron and Che’s. Their unit ended up being dug down to about 50cmBD (a whole 10cmBD deeper than everyone else’s unit) and was still showing quite a bit of cultural material. But since we are all so egger and excited to get down to the Fort site they are choosing to close up this unit and keep documentation on it for further excavation, if needed.

When people started to finish their units it was very exciting, at least it was for my partner and I! This was the first unit we have ever dug and it felt like an accomplishment, my pit partner and I even took photos of us standing in it, that it how accomplished we felt! Even though there weren’t very many artifacts in ours it still felt like we contributed information on the Lyne site to further archeologist.
 After we were done with our work we were asked to help down at the Fort site. While entering the site from the short walk between the Lyne and Fort site I saw two people I have never seen before. They were actually our guest speaker Keith Widder and his wife. They were both very nice and welcoming.

It's awesome to see how dedicated people are to this project!
The guest lecture that we had tonight was by Keith Widder (like stated before) and it was called “Beyond Pontiac’s Shadow A Fresh look at “The War Called Pontiac’s”.” The turnout for this lecture was outstanding. We ended up filling the whole basement of the Niles library lecture room and have now been promoted to a bigger room that is located on the main floor. It is nice to see how many people come out to support a great cause and learn about interesting topics. This lecture focused on why Fort Michilimackinac and its surrounding area were not affected that greatly by Native American conflicts. This was because of the alliance that the British had with the Native Americans in the area. What I found quite interesting throughout this lecture was how Native Americans would protect some of the British men because they considered them friends.
Overall today was a great day! There was no rain to chase us out of the field, we had great company for dinner (Keith and his wife) and ended the night with an interesting lecture on a very relevant topic to our research. Thank you to everyone who came out to the lecture today!


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Finishing Up at Lyne

The trash pit found in one of the excavation units
On this Tuesday, the goal was to begin finishing up at the Lyne site for this field season. At the end of today, one excavation unit was completely finished and filled back in, and the rest are nearing completion. By tomorrow, everyone should be starting in at the Fort. So far, there have been several finds, though very few pertaining to the time period of the Fort. However, several finds are still interesting. In one of the excavation unites, a feature has been uncovered: a trash pit. Though it is of more modern times, it is giving us some experience pedestaling (digging around an artifact or feature to observe it in situ), as well as recording feature context. This will hopefully be more useful at the Fort St. Joseph site in the coming days, where we are more likely to find features.

Also today, in one of the units, an item that at first appeared to be suspiciously skull-like in resemblance was uncovered. But, it became apparent as it was being pedestaled around that it was in fact just an ordinary rock, most likely a specimen of a stone high in kaolin content like kaolinite, or high in calcium such as a limestone. However, in the first stages of excavation around it, it was of interest and some anxiety. If it had been a human skull, it would have closed down excavation on the site while it was being investigated by police to determine if it was a recent murder and later NAGPRA officials. Due to weather, we already have had some delays, and this would have definitely put us behind schedule for this field season. In the end though, it really was just a natural occurring specimen. In another nearby unit, some fragments of tooth enamel and calcined bone were uncovered, though these are most likely from a deer.

Excavations at the Lyne site are close to being done and a variety of artifacts have been uncovered. Many are evidence of the more modern use of the surrounding area as a landfill, which include glass Clorox bottles from the mid twentieth century and pieces of metal cans. Some, found in the plow zone, bear testament to the area once being a farm. Examples found this year include a flat iron disc, rusty nails ranging in size from a couple centimeters to around ten centimeters if straightened out. As far as artifacts that date from the same period as the fort, however, there was a general paucity: all that was found that seems to date from the eighteenth century is some lead shot. This scarcity, however, tells us that this particular area of the site was not a major area for activity.
Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Mike Zimmerman came for a visit to the site
In addition to all of these artifacts, however, chert and jasper flakes and possible cores have been discovered in several units. Though piles of debitage have clearly been scattered through plowing and natural occurrences and the flakes found throughout all of the units are fewer in number than would be produced when creating a stone tool, there are a variety of sizes with some change in material and found in several levels (in some units, actually increasing in frequency with depth), suggesting a longer period of habitation that predated the fort. Though we don’t know much about the age of these flakes, the area around Fort St. Joseph was clearly a site of activity for perhaps thousands of years before the arrival of the French fort.

As we are wrapping up the Lyne site, everyone is anticipating the coming days excavating in the flood plain in which the remnants of the fort are located. Though there doesn’t seem to have been any extravagant finds yet this field season, as archaeologists we still have gained valuable insight into this area very close to the fort. We also still have several weeks of excavation at the fort site, especially working with some features that were identified in previous seasons.
Interested in engaging in archaeology and becoming more involved with the Fort St. Joseph site? Then check out our week long summer camps, it's not too late too apply!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Going Ostrich: Sticking Our Heads in the Ground

Today we learned that archaeological field work is subject to the world around us.  From the moment we stepped outside this morning we knew it would be a long day.  The sun was barely over the horizon and it was already blazingly hot.  The weather forecast for this week repeated two words, “hot” and “humid”.  It would cost a lot of money to air-condition the forest, so we had to tough it out.  This tends to make very irritable archaeologists.  As we headed out into the field, it was clear that everyone was excited to be back and eager to get down to work. 

A flake of chert stone tool production
Not much was uncovered today.  A few chert flakes were found, as well as a piece of lead shot with some white corrosion on it.  This shows that we are approaching the level of ground that represents a time before the site was inhabited.  We will be heading down to the Fort site later this week so stay tuned for upcoming discoveries and tales from the field!

The chert flakes represented at the Lyne site offer us a unique idea of the kind of stone tool production that took place in this area.  We are finding small pieces (roughly the size of the nail on your little finger) as well as larger pieces (some 4 or 5 cm in diameter).  The larger pieces represent early stage reduction and the smaller pieces represent late stage reduction.  With this information, we can conclude that on this site, stone tools have been started, finished and even refined on the Lyne site.  Every stage of production is represented on one site!

Washing some artifacts discovered this summer
Despite the heat and humidity, we were all very happy just to be digging again.  The heat could not dampen our spirits!  Unfortunately, some rain that swept through close to 3pm dampened the site a bit too much to continue our work.
We arrived back at the stables a little before 4pm and Katelyn was gracious enough to give us a “rainy day lecture” on some work she has done on cataloguing ceramic artifacts from an archaeological dig in Iowa.  She photographed and catalogued roughly 1500 artifacts!

Today was also our first day doing lab work.  We learned how to properly wash artifacts and soon we’ll learn the entire process of how an artifact goes from the ground to part of our collection.

Who can tell us more about Goldie?
We had another guest visit us at the stables today while we were grilling burgers and corn on the cob for dinner!  Dr. Nassaney pointed out a huge bird perched on top of the stable roof.  James soon identified it as a golden eagle, which would be a sweet band name.  We noticed that the eagle had its mouth open and appeared to be drooling.  We looked this up on the internet and learned that this might indicate that the eagle had just mated.  Any eagle enthusiasts out there?  Tell us if you might know anything more about this guy!