|A perfect example of a beaver gnawed beech tree (Photo Credit: Austin George)|
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Our Watery Friends: Leave it to Beaver!
Hello, Paul here. I am currently a junior at Western, and a student in the 2016 Archaeological Field school. As you know, Fort St. Joseph was key to the French fur trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. Native American hunters brought pelts to the French traders at the fort from deep inside the continent. The furs made their way from the fort around the Great Lakes, on to Montreal and Quebec, before making the Atlantic crossing to Europe where they were in great demand. These waterways and their importance to the fort are the theme this year for the WMU Field School. I am writing briefly on an animal that impacted, and was impacted by the waterways.
The single most recognizable animal from the early fur trade has to be the beaver. The beaver is the largest North American rodent, and was hunted extensively for its fur, causing severe population decline. I have spent barely two days in Niles, and, without meaning to, have learned two interesting things about the beaver.
The first thing I learned happened by chance. Due to morning rain storms on the second day, we put off going to the dig site. Instead we took the opportunity to visit the Fort St. Joseph Museum in Niles. The museum has an exhibit on display describing “giant” beavers. These beavers were the size of an adult human. Bones found point to them having lived over 10,000 years ago. I tried to imagine what it would be like running into one of them in person.
The second interesting thing about beavers is that they seem to be active in the Fort St Joseph area. While we were clearing the site where we plan on digging, we saw several tree stumps with evidence of beaver gnawing. On the second day, before we started to actually dig our shovel test pits, I looked around and found even more tree stumps which had been gnawed down. There were at least 8 stumps, and the majority of them were young beech trees. Time permitting, I plan on walking the rest of the island and searching for more. I find it ironic that they are active at a site, which, 300 years ago, was a focal point for exterminating them. I am looking forward to the rest of field school, and hope to find many more interesting things!