Friday, July 29, 2016

Lecture Night at the Library

Hi everyone, it’s Nolan again! For the second Wednesday evening in a row I walked into the Niles library anticipating seeing and talking to the people who I met last week and anxious to meet a new face or two. For four weeks during the summer the Niles public library hosts a speaker for their lecture series. The week previous to last night’s event the library hosted Kevin Finney’s lecture. This talk revolved around how the people occupying Niles in the past traversed the St. Joseph River, and other rivers and waterways, in different types of canoes. Last night however, the library hosted Dr. Michael Nassaney. He is a familiar face to anyone who has heard of the Fort St. Joseph archaeological project as he has conducted research at the fort site and surrounding sites as principal investigator since 1998. Dr. Nassaney replaced the evening intended speaker, Allison Hoock, who had complications and could not attend the lecture. But, all attendees of the event were still in for an informative lecture.
Dr. Nassaney oriented his lecture toward his newly published book titled, The Archaeology of the North American Fur Trade, but also towards the theme of this year’s field school, Rivers and Waterways. He briefly went over the occupation and territorial gains of European powers in North America, but the main focus was on the remains left in the archaeological record and how waterways influenced the fur trade, as well as the Native population in North America. Dr. Nassaney emphasized the importance of understanding the Fur Trade and the significance it had on Fort St. Joseph. The study of the Fur Trade is primarily composed of researching documents. Whether those documents be maps, letters, government documents, trade lists, or archaeological remains it is important to understand the context of what these resources tell us about the history of the land. However, since Dr. Nassaney is an archaeologist he highlighted that the archaeological remains are vital to discovering what ordinary life was like in the past, specifically at Fort St. Joseph.
Wednesday's lecture audience tuned into Dr. Nassaney (Photo Credit: Tommy Nagle)

Finding artifacts and archaeological evidence at Fort St. Joseph began at the giant boulder that has engraved on its face “Fort St. Joseph”. Approximately 350 shovel test pits were dug near the boulders location and almost all of the testing proved to be negative. Dr. Nassaney pointed out that while hardly any evidence was found of the Fort this only proved that the Fort was not at that location, but elsewhere. With more research and shovel testing a major part of the Fort was found near the river in the floodplain area. The floodplain area is not the only area where the Fort is. Dr. Nassaney put it nicely when he said “understanding the forts size would be like examining Niles, but only looking at downtown.” Anyone from Niles, or from any city, would know that there is so much more to a community to just a downtown area. However, you can get a general sense of how people are living in an area if you examine the objects and items in an area of decent size. Since 1998 that is what has been happening at the floodplain and in other nearby areas.
The next section of Dr. Nassaney’s lecture revolved around the items uncovered and how we interpret them to help our understanding of the lives of the inhabitants of the Fort. Despite the importance of archaeological objects presented by Dr. Nassaney a few stood out to me of great significance. Firstly, the animals remains. Nearly 40,000 animal bones have been excavated and almost 90% of those came from wild animals, particular white-tailed deer. As Dr. Nassaney told us these statistics and their relation to the site I thought back to how many bones I have personally uncovered and how vital each one of those bones were to people living at the Fort. Food was just as important as it was back then as it is now. The next set of items that resonated with me was what Dr. Nassaney classified as personal and recreational items. One of those items was a pipe-stem. As Dr. Nassaney lectured about the fort’s occupants I remembered finding one of my first artifacts, which happened to be a pipe-stem, and how that little white piece of clay was so important as a recreational tool and to someone who was living at the site where we excavate daily. Many of these personal items were imported and relied heavily on the waterways in North America. If you were to ask any of the students working on the site what artifact aside from bone they encounter the most their answer would almost always be seed beads. These seed beads were used to barter with between the Colonials and the Native Americans. What is important about the seed beads is that they were manufactured in Europe, mostly in Italy. Earlier during Wednesday’s excavation we were lucky enough to receive a visit from Dr. Heather Walder and she talked about her research with seed beads and their importance to Fort St. Joseph. These pin-sized beads occupied the time of many living at Fort St. Joseph and could only come to the site by nautical trade routes. Dr. Nassaney emphasized the importance of amical relations between the French and the Native Americans during his lecture, and tiny personal items cleared the pathway for peaceful relations to be made with two culture of completely different thinking. Dr. Nassaney also talked about religious items, metals, and items related to hunting and ware these all play a tremendous role in uncovering hidden aspects of the past that cannot be earned through documents but through archaeology.  
An example of some of the seed beads traded between Native people and colonial people. (Photo Credit: Austin George)

Each Wednesday we are delighted to go and listen to different topics from people who are just as excited as I am to learn about history and how it has impacted society today. This past Wednesday night’s lecture was no exception to an informative evening. I have the unique opportunity to learn from Dr. Nassaney in the field daily, but hearing his lecture about his area of interest was special because it was outside of the field and in a class-like setting. I am excited to hear lectures from faunal analyst Terry Martin and distinguished professor from the University of Florida, Kenneth Sassaman as I am sure both will create another informative and passionate atmosphere.

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