Friday, May 29, 2015

Welcome to the Floodplain

                Hello everyone, my name is Liz Mantyck, and I will be entering my senior year at Western Michigan University in the fall. I am majoring in both criminal justice and anthropology, my ultimate career goal is working in partnership with a law enforcement department as a forensic anthropologist. I have enjoyed every minute of this field school so far. After a long and relaxing holiday weekend, the 2015 Field School was eager to return to Niles and get back to work! On Wednesday morning we finished all our paperwork and closed up our units at the Lyne Site, before packing up our equipment and heading down to the floodplain.
Me laying in points with a theodolite
(photo by John Cardinal)
                Upon our arrival at the floodplain, we cleared out some of the grass so that we could begin to plot our units. One of the first things we did was survey the site. A survey is an archaeologist’s way of collecting information or data about the geography and physical space of a specific site. There are certainly a number of ways an archaeologist can go about conducting his or her survey. One of these ways is using a theodolite. And with the help of one of our graduate assistants James Schwaderer, I was lucky enough to help and try my own hand at it.
                Theodolites are becoming more and more popular at archaeological sites nowadays. But what is a theodolite and what does it do? A theodolite is an instrument that is used to measure distance and elevation change. By imputing the location of the theodolite on the site grid, the height of the instrument, the height of the target which is a prism on a pole, and setting the horizontal angle in degrees from north, the theodolite can determine how far away the prism is from the unit along with the change in elevation. This means that a theodolite can measure any point at a 90 degree angle. When we choose our excavation units, we plot them on a grid and use a North and West coordinate to identify them. The theodolite helps us find these coordinates.
Survey at Fort St. Joseph
(photo by John Cardinal)
                For someone like me who has had no prior experience using an instrument like this, it seemed to be a daunting task. Thanks to James, I got the hang of it pretty quickly, though. The first thing you have to do is set up the tripod base and check to make sure the instrument is level. Then one person stands behind the theodolite while another person stands in close proximity of where we want to plot certain coordinates on our grid. This person will hold a rod with a prism at the top of it while keeping that level, too. My excavation partner, Stephan, was holding the rod while I looked through the view finder on the instrument to sight him in line with the cross hairs of the view finder. Once he was sighted in and positioned in the right place, I pressed the “observation” button on the theodolite’s display screen. By doing this, the device calculates the coordinates Stephan was standing at by shooting an infrared beam at the prism. Based on that calculation, I was then able to direct Stephan where to move to ensure we were on the right coordinates.

Welcome to the floodplain!
(photo by John Cardinal)
                After our coordinates were all set, we were finally able to map out and string our units. Today Stephan and I began our excavation and reached the depth of 20cm. We are all very excited to begin finding artifacts, but even more excited to share all of our knowledge of Fort Saint Joseph with all of you!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Late Woodland Era Pottery

For the first two weeks of this field season, we have been excavating a smaller site about one hundred yards south of where Fort St. Joseph used to be, known as the Lyne site. The Lyne site is close to the river and has been used for camping well before the Fort was constructed in 1691, and the artifacts we have been finding definitely prove this theory. Perhaps some of the more significant finds at the Lyne site are several pieces of pottery from the late Woodland era [500 C.E.-1200 C.E.], these pieces of pottery not only prove that Natives have been camping here for quite some time, they also give us insight as to how they were living.
 Pottery from the Late Woodland period are identified as different from other pieces of pottery by the depth in which they are found (in our case about 35-40 cm below ground level) and by the structure of the pottery itself, which is much different than from earlier periods. Generally speaking the pottery that was manufactured in this period had thinner walls with large collard rims, and compared to pottery from the Early to Middle Woodland periods would have been highly decorated with impressions made from plant cords. Because pottery allowed the Native tribes to store food, a nomadic lifestyle was no longer necessary to feed everyone, and because of this they had time to perfect their pottery making techniques, which resulted in larger, more stable, and time consuming craft objects being produced. The pottery was made by first selecting the clay very carefully; this clay would then be pounded with a hammer stone (which we have also found on site) until it had the consistency of a very fine powder. Water would be added and the powder would be worked until it was malleable, and then a tempering material like crushed mussel shells, sand, or limestone would be added to prevent shrinking when the object was fired. The vessel walls would be created by rolling the clay into a ropy shape and coiling these ropes on top of each other, the surface of the vessel would be paddled with a flat beater to bond the coils into a single unit. When the clay pots were dry they would be put on top of rocks in a fire pit and covered with manure so they would burn slowly and evenly, after several hours the pots would be removed from the fire and rubbed with grease to waterproof them and protect their contents.
This sherd is one of the largest we've found at about 4cm long.
(photo by Aaron Howard)
Pottery chips have been found in two units on the Lyne site, but my pit partner Gary and I were lucky enough to have found our pottery pieces very close to what appears to be a very old fire pit beneath the plow zone. We can only guess as to how this pottery was being used, but the presence of small chert flakes in this same area, and of a similar depth, indicate that Natives were busy finishing tools and possibly making pottery next to this fire pit, which we have labeled as “Feature 24”. Giving a voice to artifacts is a passion of ours, and we are blessed with the opportunity to do so this summer at Fort St. Joseph. Be sure to join us and check out the site during our Open House on June 27th-28th! Thank you for your support!


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.