Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Special Purpose Structures: Places of Rituals and Daily Practices

The history of Fort St. Joseph has changed my view of what archaeology means. Archaeology is not just telling the history of events that happened hundreds of miles away in various continents. Discovery can happen anywhere! Fort St. Joseph allows us to explore archaeology right here in Michigan! My name is Lakenia Payne and I am an undergraduate at Western Michigan University minoring in Anthropology. I have taken other courses in this field but none as insightful as Anthropology in the Community. This course offers a hands-on approach rather than just learning about history and culture. Initially, the focus was on enhancing our knowledge of New France in the 18th century. Now were able to apply this information to our research. 
My research partner, Adrienne, and I are exploring the architecture of special purpose buildings at Fort St. Joseph. I find myself more and more captivated by 18th century history and culture. We plan to examine the ritual practices and special purpose structures of the Native Americans and French.  Our research includes information on wigwams, tents, sweat lodges, and churches. Evidence from Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island) and Pontchartrain (Detroit) has helped guide our research. For an example, at Fort Michilimackinac there is a reconstructed church built on the site. In addition, at Fort St. Joseph we have found evidence of a few religious artifacts such as pendants and metal crosses. These two sites are in close proximity, so it may suggest that there was a place of worship at Fort St. Joseph.
Through research, I have discovered that Fort St. Joseph was a major 18th century fur trading post in New France. Voyageurs journeyed from Montreal to partake in the trade. Lakes and rivers acted as a fur trade highway in the Great Lakes region.  They traveled in heavily laden birch bark canoes carrying goods including metals and clothing. These good were exchanged with the Native people for furs. Voyageurs would travel for miles and days in an attempt to reach Fort St. Joseph. While on their journey, they stayed in wedge style tents. These temporary structures played a small but significant role during in the trading era. Tents acted as a defense against the rainy and snowy seasons. A standard wedge tent was fitting for the task because of its durability. Voyageurs would often sleep inside of the canoes and use tents to cover the top of the boat. On land, to position the tent, three larges poles are placed inside to form the frame. Thirteen pegs are then nailed into ground. The wedge style tents stood 7 feet in height.

In American history, I rarely hear about the Native American people. We decided to examine some of the rituals and practices of the Native people in the surrounding areas. I discovered, solely through research, that the indigenous people have used sweat lodges for centuries! The Native Americans used these as a ceremonial ritual for purification. The evidence found at the Schilling site in Kalamazoo, Michigan supports this notion. The structure of sweat lodges was made using saplings and skin coverings. Water was poured onto hot stones to create vapors. The native people believe this ritual gave them both a spiritual and emotional awakening.
Possible remains of a Native American sweat lodge at the Schilling site. Image from the Midcontinental Journal of ArchaeologyVol. 13, No. 1, published by The Kent State University Press (1988).
It’s incredible how the people in the community of Niles are so open to learning about the history. The research we are conducting will further progress the community’s knowledge. This site is important because it lets people get a first look at anthropology in the community. As we dig into more information, we gain a better understanding of the rituals and daily practices of those who inhabited Fort St. Joseph. By examining the structures and the correlating artifacts found on the sites, we can directly impact the legacy at Fort St. Joseph!

Lakenia Payne