Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Experiential Learning at Fort St. Joseph

Dr. Michael Nassaney demonstrates profiling techniques to the field school students.
(photo by John Cardinal)
                During the past week, the field school students of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project have worked at excavating at the Lyne Terrace site, which is located nearby the fort. We have found a number of artifacts from both recent and colonial times. My pit partner and I found a piece of lead shot the second day last week. Artifacts we as a whole team have found include such items like beads, fire cracked rock and a chert projectile point used for an arrow along with other artifacts. Prior to coming to Niles and the field school, I thought I knew everything there was to know about archeology. I've never been more wrong. Since coming here I've learned much about sighting our units, documenting our finds and the methods we use for both.
                When it came to sighting out our units we were given a certain area based on degrees from a fixed starting point. We call that our datum point which is where all our points derive from so that we have some kind of unit of measurement for reference.  After that we measure from our datum point of reference and get the 4 corners of our units, we start digging. Everyday my partner and I averaged close to 10 centimeters in depth. Everyone thinks it's easy and that putting a shovel down and shoveling dirt shouldn't be hard. However, we only skim off less than a centimeter at a time, constantly re-measuring the unit making sure that we hadn't gone too deep for the day. We then sift the soil through 1/8 inch mesh screens.  After that, we take the soil and record the color and texture, then document everything. We document artifacts, the soil, our units, even what we think about that day, like what we did and the experiences we learned. There is more writing in this field school than in any college class I've ever taken.  After documentation we take our findings to the lab. We clean all the artifacts carefully using both dry and wet cleaning techniques.  Then we take our artifacts and sort them, while interpreting what we found and finally documenting them for our archives.
                The work itself is not too hard but very time-consuming and tedious. But it's what we live for, and the work itself is its own reward. We find items that have been lost to the past and using these items, we are able to unravel the past and explain a story that still has many missing pages.  This field school is a great experience for me but for the people of Niles it runs much deeper. To them, it's their history and heritage. We've been given the opportunity to discover and interpret the lost past and relay the knowledge we gain to those that who are interested in it. For example, everyday during our first week at the Lyne site, we were visited by elementary students. They seemed genuinely interested in our work and they seemed excited that work like this continues. Every day with each visiting group was asked if they wanted to become archeologists. Every one of them seemed very excited about it, although I know maybe one or 2 of those kids from every group will go into the same field as me. Which is fine by me, but maybe it's not about the total conversion of the future workforce into our field. I feel that providing these kids with knowledge and background of what we're doing will interest them in all things in our life. There's something mystifying about the work we do. We never keep the artifacts for ourselves, and we're not looking for personal glory in it, but rather looking for what benefits the community that we have been working for and what we're trying to accomplish as a learning program from Western Michigan University. 


No comments: