Thursday, July 14, 2016

First Day of Wet Screening!

Hello, my name is Drew Sanford, and I’m a senior undergraduate student of Western Michigan University with a double major in Anthropology and Marketing! With this degree, I plan to become a cultural researcher to help market certain products to previously untouched markets. This is my first year in the field and I am excited for the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of archaeology. I am passionate about learning and I hope that everyone can learn something from what we discover
at Fort St. Joseph this year!
We are careful to keep a right angle with the unit as we trowel (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
                Paul Bonenfant, whom you all heard from in an earlier post, is my pit partner; he and I are digging a one by one meter excavation unit the furthest northwest on the site. Our interest in this particular unit comes from a previous excavation in 2011, which revealed a fireplace adjacent to our unit. Our hope is that we will see the rest of this fireplace and artifacts that are telling of the Fort St. Joseph lifestyle! If we find nothing, then that will also tell us that no noticeable feature was present in that particular area, which will also matter for future excavations.
                Today we started wet screening for the first time this season! The process involves placing skimmed dirt from the unit into a bucket and taking it to a screening station that is set up on a tetrapod. Two 1/8th inch screens are suspended from these tetrapods which will catch most artifacts. We are careful not to mix up artifacts with other units by only using one specific station for our unit and marking it with our excavation unit’s location. When the dirt is dumped in, the hose comes out, and we systematically spray and look through for artifacts, including ones that might even fall through this fine mesh. Seed beads, for example, are common at the site and could easily slip through if the person screening is not careful! Water is carefully gauged and kept from making contact with the river, while any non-artifact debris is disposed of safely.

The team starts the first day of wet screening (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
                We just started wet screening at the end of the day, and the results are already promising. We found multiple pieces of calcined bone (animal bone that was previously burned) in our pit, as well as a seed bead. That is the same one that can easily slip through our finest mesh due to its size! We found it relatively close to the surface as well, which means we can only find more onward! I look forward to saying more when I see it. Nonetheless, I am excited to learn more from the site!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Five Centimeters at a Time

Hello, my name is Tommy Nagle and I am from Coldwater, Michigan. I am a double major in anthropology and film video media studies at Western Michigan University. This fall will be the beginning of my 4th and final year at WMU. I had only heard of Anthropology a few times before college, but I quickly found myself enthralled with the subject after my first few courses. I am currently planning to apply to Vanderbilt University’s PhD program in anthropology.
Today at the site my pit partner, Anne, and myself began excavating our one by one meter unit. Before our shovels hit the dirt, we took notes about the nature of the surface soil and any trees near our unit. Once we finished taking our notes, we carefully cut a line around the edges of our pit using a trowel. After some trowel work around the edge we started to shovel skim the majority of the pit. Shovel skimming is an excavation technique that involves holding the shovel at a shallow angle while slowly scraping it across the surface of the pit. Each ‘skim’ removes approximately ½ centimeter of soil. After making our way down 5 centimeters using a mix of shovel skimming and trowel work, we leveled our pit surface and straightened our walls. We are instructed to only move down 5 centimeters before we take more notes about the nature of the soil and any obstructions we find in the pit. My pit had a large root that extended across most of the east wall. Anne and I had to carefully excavate another 10 centimeters down around the root before we were able to saw it off flush with the wall of the pit.

Anne carefully trowelling in our unit! (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
Digging a square hole one centimeter at a time is tedious work, but it has proven to be very rewarding. I already notice myself critiquing the sharpness of the angles and the consistency of the depth in my pit. I am excited to uncover the wealth of historical knowledge that lies centimeters below my trowel.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Flood Plain Firsts

The clearing of the site (Photo Credit: Austin George)

Hi, I’m Dale Kraai and I am from Grand Haven. I’m a senior, double majoring in anthropology and economics at Western Michigan University.

Today was our first day at the Fort St. Joseph site. We began the day by clearing the site of its green growth with the use of grass whippers, rakes, and a weed whacker. Once only soil remained beneath our feet, we moved on to setting up the area to begin our archaeological work. After removing a couple of wolf spiders the size of my hand, an ant colony including their queen, and a warren of mice, our supplies were freed. Our spoils consisted of pallets that we use to traverse the mucky site and support us while we screen the dirt that may contain the artifacts that will help us glean information about Fort St. Joseph. The pallets were set across a small ditch with the tetrapods placed above them. These structures are designed to allow us to wet screen our potential findings by placing them on top of a screen mesh while spraying them with water to dislodge the dirt into the ditch below. 

The tetrapods after set up (Photo Credit: Austin George)

Once they were ready for use we began our final project for the day. My pit partner and I outlined the area that we will begin excavating tomorrow. From a starting point, we mapped out a one by one meter square and then lined it with string, making note of the elevation differences between each point. This excavation unit was purposefully chosen since its northern points align with a past unit that begs further investigation. The previous unit holds a fire pit used by the residents centuries ago. I’m excited to get a more in depth look into their daily lives. With that, we tidied up the field for the day and hit the showers. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead tomorrow!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Our First Week of Digging!

Hi everybody, I’m Maureen Massie, an anthropology major and a senior at Western Michigan University who will graduate this December.  My main interest archaeologically speaking is the archaeology of gender, I love learning the stories of women from the past.  This is my first summer working on the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project and I have had an exciting start to my new adventure!
Our first day, after moving and getting settled in, we headed to the Lyne site to clear the area and do some surveying.  As mentioned in previous posts, we started a new locus this year (locus 4) that is located on an island which the team had to cross a log to reach.   Unfortunately, I lost my footing on the way back and ended up going home with one soaking boot.  This of course did not squelch my appetite for archaeology though!  Later in the evening we visited the Sumnerville Mounds where Dr. Nassaney explained to us the significance of that site.
The second day began pretty rainy, so instead of starting our morning in the field we watched videos of previous summer excavators and learned about French colonial architecture from Dr. Nassaney.  Next, we traveled into town to see the Niles Museum and had a tour of the Chapin Mansion.  I was awed by all the ornate details that were put into every part of the Chapin’s home!  After lunch, we drove to the Lyne site and before beginning digging we took part in a cleansing ritual which consisted of a smudging and scattering tobacco on the site with the help of our good friend Seth Allard to show our respect for the indigenous peoples who habituated the area in the past.  Digging began smoothly after that, and all the groups had finished or almost finished their first STP (shovel test pit) by the time we went home.
Working on my first STP! (Photo credit: Genna Perry)
On Thursday, our third day, we continued digging and many groups went to their second and third STP.   Groups found pottery, flakes (even a large cortical flake near the river), FCR (fire cracked rock) and many more signs that there was definitely evidence of prehistoric and historic human activity in the area. As mentioned in a previous post we were aided in search for history by Dr. William Sauck, a geophysist who used a magnetometer and carefully measured grid lines to survey the area for any geophysical anomalies which indicate places that should be explored later.  When we came back from the site in the evening, all the students participated in the lab to clean off the artifacts we had found.

Primary flake found at the Lyne Site last week! (Photo credit: Genna Perry)
The final day for us this week, Friday, we headed out across that log knowing our time on the island was coming to a close.  We started and finished more STPs, finding plenty of other artifacts, including a large sherd of cord-marked pottery, a chert core produced from flaking, an unknown decorative concrete feature, and the leather sole of a child’s shoe.  
In conclusion, we definitely have evidence of historical human activity on locus 4, but our time with STPs on locus 4 in now done for the 2016 season.   The team is moving our search to the Fort St. Joseph site where we will begin to open up 1x1 meter pits and add on to past excavations of that area.  I think I can say for all of us that it was an amazing first week, an incredible learning opportunity and I can’t wait for what we will find out next through our digging!