Friday, December 19, 2014

Meet Your Interns

               This past September, we posted a blog entry discussing the search for an intern for the Fort St. Joseph Museum.  I am proud to say that I am one of two people selected for this position.  My name is Aaron Howard.  I am an undergrad anthropology student at Western Michigan University.  I was part of the 2013 Fort St Joseph Archaeological Project field school.  The following fall, I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to work in the archaeology lab at WMU under the supervision of Dr. Michael Nassaney and gained a greater understanding of how archaeology works by analyzing and interpreting some of the artifacts recovered in the field season.
Attendees of the 10th Annual MHAC wait for a tour of the Fort St. Joseph Museum
                John Cardinal is the other undergrad anthropology student that was chosen as an intern this year.  He also worked at Fort St. Joseph in 2013 and has volunteered his time in the archaeology lab.  John is partly responsible for the 2013 FSJ t-shirt design and has contributed several illustrations to Dr. Nassaney’s upcoming book on the Fur Trade.

                John and I have been working on several projects since the fall semester began.  Our job description is simply to promote the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Project.  Our first project was to aid Dr. Nassaney in the 10th annual Midwest Historical Archaeological Conference that took place in Niles, Michigan in late September.  After the conference, we have been working with some fellow WMU students in Dr. Nassaney’s Historical Archaeology course to create a five-year plan for the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project using data collected from attendees.  We have had some other great opportunities such as presenting a table display at Michigan Archaeology Day, a one-day event held at the Michigan Historical Museum  in Lansing this October, and are working on further efforts to spread the word about Fort St. Joseph.  We've also been managing the FSJAP blog and Facebook page, and just expanded our social media presence by implementing a new Twitter account!  Follow us at @fsjarchaeology.
Our first tweet!
For the past several weeks, John and I have been working with Dr. Nassaney and Michael Worline, a graphic designer with Western Michigan University’s College of Arts and Sciences to create an exhibit display highlighting the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.  On Monday, December 1, we installed the display in the Bernhard Center here on WMU’s campus.  The display discusses the history of the fort, the project’s recent achievements and accomplishments, and future project events.  The display is down for the break but will be back up on January 12!
Be sure to check out our display in the Bernhard Center
We have one more semester working as interns and we could not be more excited about continuing our work with the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.  Remember to keep checking the blog, look us up on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Aaron Howard
2014-15 Fort St. Joseph Museum Intern

Friday, October 17, 2014

MHAC10 a Huge Success for Niles and Fort St. Joseph

As many of you know, the Niles District Library was the site of the 10th annual Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference organized by the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, a partnership between Western Michigan University and the City of Niles, MI, September 26-27, 2014. I initiated the conference in 2005 at Western Michigan University and it since been held annually throughout the region. The conference provided an opportunity for archaeologists, historians, heritage planners, economic developers, museums specialists, and other stakeholders to discuss effective strategies to manage the archaeological resources associated with Fort St. Joseph, our 18th-century French trading post that has been under investigation since 1998.
Conference attendees toured the site of Fort St. Joseph on a beautiful fall day. Photo by Cathrine Davis.
By all accounts, the conference was a huge success. Over 80 historic preservation and heritage tourism specialists, along with local supporters, were in attendance over the two-day conference. The first day began with a welcome from Niles City Administrator Ric Huff, followed by presentations about the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project from project participants José António Brandão, Terry Martin, Bob Myers, Juan Ganum, and me. About 60 people then toured the fort site where I gave a brief overview of its discovery and investigations over the past 16 years. We then broke into smaller groups to visit the Fort St. Joseph Museum and the proposed interpretive center to be housed in the old post office on Main Street. Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee members Dorilee Schieble, Larry Sehy, Dave Bainbridge, and Carol Bainbridge greeted visitors and discussed their vision for the building.
Members of the City Council enjoyed refreshments at the sponsored reception and learned more about public and professional interest in Fort St. Joseph archaeology. Photo by Sue Reichert.

After lunch, we rolled up our sleeves and engaged in the real work of discussing the drivers and barriers to creating sustainable facilities, programs, and partnerships to bring the story of Fort St. Joseph to a larger audience. The discussion was ably facilitated by John Beck from Michigan State University and included a good mix of local stakeholders, students, and preservation professionals from academic, governmental, and private sectors. Ideas regarding goals and measures of success were also discussed and recorded in small and large groups. A consensus emerged that the program had a good track record and was well positioned to build on past accomplishments to make Niles and Fort St. Joseph a heritage tourism destination. Students in my Historical Archaeology (ANTH 3030) class will summarize the information that was gathered to prepare a comprehensive report containing recommendations for a 5-year plan in support of archaeology and heritage tourism at Fort St. Joseph. The report will be made available to the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee and posted online for broad dissemination.
The Niles District Library was an ideal venue for MHAC10. Photo by Sue Reichert.
Friday was capped off by a wonderful reception provided by our partners, Kreis, Enderle, Hudgins & Borsos, P.C. The keynote presentation was kindly delivered by Lynn Evans (Director of Archaeology at Mackinac State Historic Parks) who stepped in for Uzi Baram whose flight was canceled due to a fire in an aircraft control tower that halted air traffic throughout the region.

More discussion, presentations, and posters filled the Library on Saturday as many of the attendees returned and new faces appeared. A number of invited papers focused on the theme of managing archaeological heritage in the 21st century, while other contributed papers provided updates on various projects throughout the Midwest and beyond. Dean Anderson (State Archaeologist of Michigan) moderated audience questions and comments, which provided ample opportunity for interaction and exchange of ideas and perspectives. Funding for the conference was provided by the City of Niles; Kreis, Enderle, Hudgins & Borsos, P.C.; Western Michigan University; and the Joseph L. Peyser Endowment for the Study of New France. Numerous volunteers contributed their time and energy to ensure a smooth flow and pleasant venue conducive to planning the future of the past at Fort St. Joseph. I am grateful to all of our community partners, students, and professional colleagues who made MHAC10 a memorable experience for all who attended.


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

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Archaeology Internship

The Department of Anthropology at WMU and the Fort St. Joseph Museum in Niles invite applications for a paid internship ($2000) during the 2014-15 academic year. The Fort St. Joseph intern will have the opportunity to:

*contribute to an ongoing public archaeology program focused on the historical archaeology of Fort St. Joseph, an 18th century mission-garrison-trading post in Niles, MI

*work with Carol Bainbridge, the Museum Director, and the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee to develop initiatives that heighten the profile of Fort St. Joseph in the community

*assist Michael Nassaney, Principal Investigator of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, with processing materials from the 2013 field season and making preparations for 2015

* engage in community outreach and education as needed

*assist in preparing promotional materials, a strategic plan based on the Niles conference (MHAC10), and the annual newsletter, the Fort St. Joseph Post

Students will be expected to devote about 6-8 hours/week on the internship from September 2014 through May 2015. Compensation will be paid in four installments of $500 in November, January, March, and May.

Qualified candidates should be currently enrolled students at Western Michigan University. Preference will be given to applicants who can work with the public, articulate the needs and goals of the project, and demonstrate a willingness to engage with the Niles community. Applicants with current or proposed interest in the historical archaeology of the fort will be given preference.

Interested students should submit a letter of application and a current cv with the names of at least two references to Dr. Michael Nassaney ( by September 10, 2014 for an appointment to begin September 15.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Evidence Found

During this snowy winter, exciting things related to Fort St. Joseph (FSJ) have been occurring. Dr. Michael Nassaney has been collaborating with the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and Joseph Hines, a designer with Project Arts and Ideas. The last few months these plans have started to take shape and now we are ready to share the exciting news with all of you. In January 2015, an exhibit called “Evidence Found” will open at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. The exhibit is designed to communicate in an interactive format what archaeology is, what archaeologists do, and the presence as well as the importance of archaeological sites in southwest Michigan. The primary archaeological site presented in the exhibit is Fort St. Joseph. Artifacts uncovered at FSJ and photos of the site will be on display. One section of the exhibit will include the presentation of information and artifacts from five other sites in Southwest Michigan. Those five sites are the  Native American mound in Bronson Park, the Warren B. Shepard homestead site, Ramptown an Underground Railroad site, Dieffenderfer a Late-Woodland site, and Schilling a pre-contact sweat lodge. In accompaniment to the photos and artifacts, archaeological procedures and tools will be on display and interpreted for the visitors.
I participated in the 2012 Archaeological Field School at Fort St. Joseph and I worked in the lab the following Fall semester. I am collaborating with Dr. Nassaney and Mr. Hines on the preparation for this exhibit. One of my responsibilities is to conduct background research on all the sites. For each of these sites, I am also suggesting a way that the sites can be interpreted in order to connect the purpose of the activities at each site to present people and activities. Another task assigned to me is to assist in obtaining and selecting photos and artifacts from the sites. I am selecting a sample of photos taken during field seasons at Fort St. Joseph.
Participation in this project is part of my thesis for the Lee Honors College. For my thesis, I am conducting the research on the sites and I am selecting artifacts and photos associated with them. This project fits with my future career plans, as I hope to someday work in a museum. This project is beneficial to my future career as I am learning more about the research and planning that goes into the design of an exhibit in a museum. When I work in a museum in the future, I will have a better idea of how to plan and design exhibits because I worked on this project. Keep checking back for more information on the Project and details on the museum display!-Tabitha Hubbard 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Smoking a deer hide over a smudge pit. Photo: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 86, Plate 75.

Hello everybody. It’s Joe Hearns here. Some of you might remember me from past field seasons during which I worked as part of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project crew. In addition to spending time at the Fort site and in the lovely city of Niles, I have been working towards completing a Masters thesis at Western Michigan University. My topic is an exciting one: BONES!
            More specifically, I’ve been spending most of my days this past semester in the lab identifying the numerous animal bone remains recovered from the decade’s worth of excavation. Before I bore even myself describing the ins and outs of data collection, I’m going to take this opportunity to explain what we might possibly learn from this project, and how that might add to our knowledge of life during the fur trade.
            So why study animal bones in the first place? Granted, those of us who grew up in Michigan certainly have a relatively clear idea of what animals are around, whether it’s the pesky raccoons digging through our trash bins, the deer never looking both ways before crossing the road, the beaver that builds a secluded dam on a forgotten creek deep in the forest, or even the Canada geese honking over our heads and the wild turkeys spotted near the tree lines of our fields. However, odds are against running into a black bear, the ever diminishing and protected lake sturgeon, and the extinct passenger pigeon, all of which were visitors to Fort St. Joseph and its inhabitants. Identification of these species’ remains, and others like them, help uncover a history of animals found across our present landscape, giving us insight into an environmental past different from ours.
You can see by comparing to the size of the penicil, bones come in all 
shapes and sizes.  Even tiny bird bones (the three on the right)
 are preserved at Fort St. Joseph. Photo: Joe Hearns
            Everyone has to eat, and animal bones have long been seen as an excellent source of information regarding the diets of people in the past. The decisions made when preparing dinner is further evidence of daily life. As a modern example, consider our vegetarian friends and family; their daily choices in food reflect a specific attitude towards the consumption of meat. So, if we were to examine the animal remains to look at dietary patterns of the folks at Fort St. Joseph, we might find a reliance on certain animals over others. In 2004, Rory Becker did just that for his Masters work and found some interesting patterns in the collected bone data. Overall, the inhabitants of the site were found to be using mostly locally available, wild animals as a source for meat, especially white-tailed deer. The fact that their diet was more similar to the Potawatomis’ with whom they traded, lived, and married speaks volumes about the close relationships formed on the frontier.
            However, the use of animals does not end with a boiling pot of stew; this was the fur trade after all. Certain animals, especially the beaver, white-tailed deer, and raccoon, were targeted for their hides and pelts. This is where I began my work: How might we tell if animals recovered from the site were used for food or for their fur? Who was processing these animals and how did they do it? Where did this activity occur? These questions about hide production and others might be answered by looking at what are referred to as “site formation processes.”
            Site formation processes is a fancy term for asking, “How did all of this stuff get here?” We do different activities in different places. For example, my dad is a teacher and former high school administrator, but he is also an active gardener and does many household projects involving woodworking. Think of how the contents of a trash can in his home office looks compared to a much larger trash can by his work bench. Now, compare these two trash cans to the bin for yard waste, or even the compost heap by his garden. All of this waste disposal looks different and is different because of the activities my dad engaged in that produced this garbage. So, by looking at the Fort Site’s animal bones, we might be able to see different activities in the form of specific areas of activity, as cooking and hide production are very different activities that will produce distinct patterns of “production waste,” or, as I like to think of it, garbage.
Raccoon mandible, maxilla, and possible 
deer long bone. Photo: Joe Hearns
            The Gete Odena site on Lake Superior’s Grand Island might serve as a comparison for the Fort’s animal bone assemblage in regards to examining processing animal hides (see Skibo et al 2004). This site, dated to the period following European contact, yielded over 1400 animal remains throughout the two seasons of excavation. The overall species composition was dominated by large mammals, such as moose, white-tailed deer, and black bear. In addition, smaller fur-bearing mammals, especially beaver, marten, and muskrat, were also recovered. Although this would have been a prime spot for exploiting waterfowl and spawning fish in the warmer months, these species were not recovered to any large degree. The absence of seasonal animal visitors to the site in the archaeological record highlights a focus on the processing of mammals.
            The researchers at Gete Odena also noted the presence of five “smudge pits” at the site. Smudge pits were used in processing to smoke animal hides (Skibo et al 2006). Essentially, these small narrow pits were dug and filled with pinecones, small maize cobs, or other recently acquired, green plant material placed at the bottom. The narrow walls, which reduce the amount of oxygen available to the fire, and green material created a smokey, nearly flameless fire. Hides were then wrapped around cone-shaped wooden framework constructed above the smoldering pit. This process preserved the hide in a usable form, whether for personal use and later manufacturing of clothing or as tradable goods, and also added the golden color of processed hide.
            Between the species composition and the recovering of these smudge pit features, the authors argued the inhabitants of this site primarily focused on medium and large-sized mammals for the purpose of hide extraction and processing, although it is certainly reasonable to suggest these animals were used as a food source as well as a hide source.
White-tailed deer rib with multiple 
knife cut marks. Photo: Joe Hearns.
            On a recent trip to work with Dr. Terry Martin at the Illinois State museum, I was able to collect data from three excavation units at the Fort St. Joseph Site. Similar to Gete Odena, the animal remains were, by and large, medium and large-sized mammals, especially white-tailed deer. Although some remains enhanced the known diversity at the site in regards to the presence of fish and waterfowl, the emphasis was mostly on these mammal species. Similarly, past field seasons uncovered several possible smudge pits on the Lyne Site terrace to the south of the Fort Site. More data needs to be collected and more work needs to be done to draw connections between these pits and the animal remains recovered at Fort St. Joseph, but these preliminary results suggest that hide processing may very well have been taking place around the Fort St. Joseph community.
            These preliminary data only begin to scratch the surface of my faunal analysis and have only posed more questions. Once I start to discern patterns resulting from daily activities, broader questions can be asked. Did production change over time as prices shifted in the global fur market? Did it shift due to over-hunting of species? Through these and similar questions, importantly, we could begin to understand how the people living at the Fort used animal resources to organize their lives in relation to one another within the larger structure of the fur trade. -Joe Hearns

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fort St. Joseph Archaeologists Gather in Quebec

Photo by Joseph Gagné

Fort St. Joseph archaeologists gathered for the 47th annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, sponsored by the Society for Historical Archaeology, from January 8-12 in Quebec City, Canada. Fourteen faculty, students, and alumni who have worked on the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project were in attendance, including Andrew Beaupré, Erin Claussen, Erica D'Elia, Catherine Davis, James Dunnigan, Anna Gerechka, Jayne Godfrey, Joseph Hearns, Terry Martin, Michael Nassaney, Emily Powell, LisaMarie Malischke, Andrew Robinson, Andrew Zink. The theme of this year’s conference was the questions that count in historical archaeology in the 21st century. Despite the numerous flight cancellations and sickness due to extreme winter weather, conference attendees were given a warm welcome in Quebec.
Conference attendees were offered a wide variety of presentations on the fur trade and the archaeology of New France. Andrew Beaupré organized a session highlighting the forts and families of New France that included paper presentations by Andrew Beaupré, LisaMarie Malischke, and a co-authored paper by Alex Brand, Erin Claussen, Ian Kerr, and Michael Nassaney. Dr. Nassaney presented a second paper in a session on critical reflections on the fur trade organized by Amelie Allard of the University of Minnesota. His paper examined significant questions concerning fur trade archaeology, extracted from his forthcoming book on the same topic. Terry Martin also presented a paper featuring Fort St. Joseph archaeology in a symposium dedicated to the historical archaeology of French Colonial America.
A handful of seed beads placed 2nd in black 
and white artifact photographs.
With the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project’s strong emphasis on public outreach, engagement, and collaborative learning, the conference was an excellent venue to share our work while engaging in lively discussions regarding contemporary archaeology and the role of archaeology in the modern world. Emily Powell noted: “Continued involvement in a professional organization such as the SHA is integral to students’ success in the field of archaeology. We learn the benefits of networking, the importance of sharing our work with others, and the need to maintain dialogue among peers. Communication is everything in our line of work.”
As in previous years, the Project entered the annual photo competition at the conference. Once again we came away with several awards, including two second-place and two first-place prizes in various categories. We are particularly proud of our first place award in the diversity category, which was new this year. Furthermore, one of the students captured in the photo, Stephen Staten, was the recipient of the first Diversity Scholarship Award given by the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project for a student to participate in the 2013 WMU archaeological field school.  Donations to the project support scholarships and other student expenses as investigations and interpretations of Fort St. Joseph continue.-Cara Mosier

Alexis Jacobs wet screening placed 1st in
color portrait photographs.
A Munsell book and soil core placed 2nd in
color field work photographs. 

Seth Allard leads students in offering Semaa (tobacco) to acknowledge the sacrifice of the plant and animal life that was disturbed through excavation. This image placed 1st in the diversity photo competition.