Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Connecting to the Past

               Hello all! My name is Amelia Harp, and I am a first year graduate student majoring in Anthropology down at Georgia State University. This field school marks my fourth archaeological field experience, and my second dig at Fort St. Joseph. I participated in a week-long summer camp at the site back in 2011, and ever since, I haven’t been able to get the fort out of my mind! What most interests me about the site is its history of interconnectedness. Hundreds of years ago, the French and Native American peoples in the area intermingled in this unique community, exchanging things both tangible and intangible: furs as well as different ideas, traditions, worldviews, and so much more. Such collaboration at Fort St. Joseph continues to this day, in more ways than you would expect!
               Today was a chilly one compared to yesterday, but despite this, we accomplished quite a bit at the Lyne site! This morning, we finished laying out our 1-by-1-meter units. All of the stakes were in, and once we finished tying up string to outline each unit, we measured the starting elevations in the center and each of the four corners. This was done to establish a “starting point” for our excavation. By measuring how far above or below the ground level was in relation to our datum point (the southwest corner of a unit), we were able to determine how deep we needed to dig in order to form flat, uniform, 5-centimeter levels.
               Before any of our trowels or shovels broke ground, however, we stopped to observe a short, but very important ceremony. Seth Allard, of Ojibwe descent, smudged each and every one of us with the smoke of smoldering sage. Then, he came around and had us each take a pinch of tobacco, and instructed us to go to any point in the site for a private moment in which we dropped our tobacco. These rituals were done to purify us for our task at hand, and to acknowledge and give thanks for what we will be taking from the earth during our excavations. I am familiar with this ceremony, as I learned about and previously experienced them among my tribe, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. It would be an understatement to say I was pleasantly surprised to see those same rituals included in the beginnings of our field work! It makes me all the more proud to be involved with this project, knowing that we (Native Americans) are as very much a part of this site today as we were centuries ago.
Seth Allard prepares sage for a pre-excavation smudging.
                 The second time I came face-to-face with the Native reality of this area came much later in the day. After some excavation (with some interesting finds!) and dinner, Dr. Nassaney took us all out to visit a site of interest just down the road. Among houses and churches, there was a grassy lot on a street corner with a couple big trees, a historic marker, and a few unusual little hills. These were the Sumnerville Mounds, dating back to the Hopewellian culture of the first few centuries A.D. To be sure, they are nowhere near as marked as the Etowah Indian Mounds back in Georgia – in fact, as this corner of the city was being built up by early Niles founders and residents, other mounds in the area were destroyed! Fortunately, those mounds we saw at that grassy little corner have been preserved, with minimal archaeological disturbance, for future generations to visit and learn about.
                As an anthropologist and a Potawatomi woman, I cannot describe how happy it makes me to see Native perspectives and traditions being taken into such careful consideration when working with sites like Fort St. Joseph. It makes me proud to be involved with this project, and I cannot wait to see what more we can learn about the Native Americans that called Fort St. Joseph and the surrounding area their home.


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