Friday, July 22, 2016

Resurrecting the Art of Canoe Building

Hello all! It’s DJ again. On Wednesday, July 20, our 2016 field school team attended a lecture by Kevin Finney at the Niles Public Library, titled “Dugout and Bark Canoes.” Kevin gave a comprehensive look at the various canoes that were used by native peoples and early European settlers. He has personally built, using the technology and methods of their respective time, each of the canoes he describes. He divided each category of canoe by era, material, and function and in doing so, revealed the ingenuity of those who first invented them.
Kevin Finney with a Full House!
 (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
The first type of canoe he shed light on was the dugout canoe, spoken by the Potawatomi as mtego jiman.  Although they can be fashioned from many trees, the tulip poplar and white pine trees are most commonly used because they are large and easily carved due to their soft wood. Their name is somewhat misleading since the canoes were not made by digging out the wood to shape a canoe. While Kevin was researching the proper way to create a dugout canoe, he discovered watercolor photos that displayed native peoples using fire to burn out the center of the cut log that would become their canoe, all while floating in the water on the log itself. After testing this method himself, he found out that the canoe he had created matched many of the physical observations he had made on actual canoes constructed during that time period, such as undulating surfaces and being about 1 ½ inches in thickness. After describing how well the canoe worked he began discussing the other type of canoe.
Bark canoes are aptly named after the material they are made of. They are much lighter than the dugout canoes and primarily used to traverse rivers since they can be portaged easily. Two of the main barks used were birch and elm, each with their own beneficial properties. Elm was heavier and sturdier of the two but made portaging the boat more difficult. Birch was lightweight and easily portaged but was more fragile as a result.
He ended the lecture by covering the work he does with children through the Jijak foundation. Each of the canoes he makes is done with the help of students from the area. He also organizes events to keep the heritage of the Gun Lake Band of the Potawatomi Indians intact. 
This was just one of many lectures that will be held in part with the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project at the Niles District Library each Wednesday at 7 p.m. until August 10. I really enjoyed the friendly and energetic atmosphere the Niles locals brought with them to the lecture. I’d highly recommend coming down to anyone who enjoys an interesting listen and good conversation.
Our set up for Third Thursday
(Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
The following day, Thursday, July 21, I spent some time downtown in front of Daysha Fritz’s “Olfactory Hue Bistro” for Third Thursday, a small monthly festival, talking about Fort St. Joseph with people passing by. I had an amazing time with the community members whose genuine interest in the fort and what we were doing furthered my conviction that Niles, MI is a special place. If you are a seeker of hidden wonders, look no further. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Secrets Beneath the Tarp

Hello again,
Paul here.  I am excited to tell you about how our excavation is going.  Our one meter by one meter unit was chosen for its proximity to a previously excavated unit from 2011 which contained a feature we would like to learn more about.   The feature in question is a fire hearth typical of the times and has been designated Feature 20.  This hearth appears in the ground as large stones in a “U” shaped pattern, however more excavation was needed to determine the exact dimensions. 
We opened our own unit and were fairly quickly able to excavate down to 40 centimeters.  We had found many interesting artifacts along the way, but nothing indicating a continuation of the feature.  At this point, after consultation with Dr. Nassaney and Erika, we decided to re-open half of the 2011 excavation which actually contains what is probably the largest portion of the hearth.   I say half the excavation because the 2011 unit was originally one meter by two meterst.  We were assigned the one meter by one meter section directly to the North of the one we were already working in.  After setting in the stakes and line, we carefully removed as much fill as we could with shovels, before switching to trowels and a whisk broom.  We found the plastic that was in place to protect the feature from contamination, and slowly traced out the edges we needed.  Once it was clear of all the old fill dirt and sand, we carefully peeled it back and looked at Feature 20.   What a sight!   
A look at Feature 20! (Photo Credit: By Author)
There was no mistaking the red fire oxidized earth and the huge stones set in their purposeful pattern.  I could just picture a French trader, maybe his wife sitting by the fire and working on something or just soaking in the heat.  After we took a quick picture, and made a mental note of what we were looking for in our own unit, the hearth was carefully covered back up.  Only a few of the students and staff were given the privilege of looking at it first hand before it was recovered.  Some of them will see it for the first time here on the blog just like you!  We are now excavating our unit down to 50 centimeters, and I am hopeful we will find more of the feature soon.  Eventually the hearth will be uncovered and hopefully our own unit will shed a little more light on life at Fort St. Joseph.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Exploring the Sand Bar

Erika and I setting up the Theodolite
 (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)

Hey everyone, I'm Austin George. Gary and I were students in the field school last year. This year, however, Gary is the Field Assistant and I am currently serving as the Lab Supervisor. This morning, I'm here to tell you about an interesting opportunity that we recently took advantage of. That is to say, when we arrived at the site yesterday, we discovered that the St. Joseph River was at an all-time low, or at least low enough for us to investigate an interesting magnetic anomaly that appeared on a geophysical survey conducted over the frozen river a few years ago by the Department of Geosciences at WMU.   
In order to conduct this investigation before the river reclaimed the sandbar, we canoed out onto the sand bar and marked the anomaly's exact location (87 North 37 West) using our electronic surveying equipment (the theodolite). We had Erika, the Teaching Assistant for the field school this year, stand on dry land with the actual theodolite while we took the prism, a pole for the theodolite to pick up on in order to identify the location on the invisible grid of the site, out onto the sandbar. This way she could be at a point on the grid that we have shot from before in order to pick up on our precise location.
While getting out of the canoe, we realized that this sand bar wasn’t really a sand bar because the mud went up past our ankles and we sank into it a little ways. After marking the spot with the prism, Gary and I then, systematically, probed around in the mud with five-foot metal rods until we hit something deep in the ground. We went several meters from our original point in hopes of getting a couple hits. While Gary continued to stick to the system, I decided to start going in bigger circles to try and find something, because we weren't getting any hits. Finally, after almost an hour of probing around, Gary called me over and showed me that he had a couple of strong hits. However, due to the artifact's depth and the muddy conditions, we were unable to determine what was beneath the surface. We concluded that there might be something there, but it was definitely deeper than we could go with either of our rods. Soon after we left the sand bar the river rose back up and reclaimed the area that we had just been probing on.

Gary and I on the sand bar (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
Interestingly, there is a rumor in Niles that a cannon sunk in the river many years ago. They say that kids used to jump off of the cannon into the river, but for now those are just oral stories passed down to us through the locals of Niles. Wouldn't it be nifty if the magnetic anomaly we investigated on the sand bar was actually the legendary cannon? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Religious Find at FSJ!

Hello, this is Maureen posting on the blog again!  I’ve been having a fabulous time this summer and I cannot wait to tell you about what we have found (and found out) so far during our excavations.
In 1686, Jesuit missionaries led by Father Allouez were granted tracts of land along the St. Joseph River to establish a mission.   This mission was also named after St. Joseph, the patron saint of New France.   Followed by a trading post and garrison in 1691, the mission’s influence grew.    Often the Indigenous American wives and mixed children of the French fur traders were baptized by missionaries at Fort St. Joseph and learned to practice Catholicism.  The French often displayed their religious devotion through the wearing of ornate crucifixes and other types of religious adornments.
  Over several seasons of digging on the site we have found many such items, but we were surprised to find such an artifact on only our second day working in the floodplain this summer.    While troweling in our 1x1 meter excavation unit, my partner, DJ, and I suddenly uncovered an interesting piece of metal; when it was turned over we noticed clear, glass jewels embedded in the front of the piece and it was then we realized that we had definitely found something unique.   Initially we were puzzled by this artifact and hypothesized that perhaps it was a fragment of some type of jewelry.  When it was shown to Dr. Nassaney, judging from the shape, he suggested it could possibly be the top part of a crucifix. 
Upon closer examination and also looking among the artifact photos used by Charles Hulse in his 1977 thesis, we have concluded that it is highly likely this item is a crucifix part and Dr. Nassaney was right.  Even though the artifact in Hulse’s work, which was most similar to ours, had green glass, the other characteristics are very comparable.   He describes the central stone being “square cut and faceted” while being “surrounded by round, faceted stones.”    Even when this artifact was placed adjacent to the picture in Hulse’s work, one can easily see it is a close match.

Crucifix with Glass Insets (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
In conclusion, finding this artifacts is relevant to our excavation not only to the collection of physical material, but through continuing our search to know the peoples who lived and worked at Fort St. Joseph and their beliefs.  Stay tuned to read about what else we will find out this summer from the artifacts!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Field Trip Time at Field School

On Thursday, July 14th, our 2016 field school team attended a lecture by Dr. Anna-Lisa Cox at the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center, titled “The First Tillers of the Land: The Fight for Freedom and Equality on the Midwestern Frontier.” Dr. Cox creatively spoke about the various obstacles that the first African American settlers experienced in the Northwest frontier. They struggled financially, and faced racism at its worst, but despite all of this, came by thousands to the area. After her lecture, Dr. Cox mentioned that she finds these stories extremely important because they are otherwise not spoken about. The challenges and successes of these African American heroes often fall into the category of “hidden histories,” and because of this, I find her research on the subject an inspiration to all of those who listen.
The 2016 Field School (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
Educational lectures are extremely beneficial to communities. Similar to the lecture series that Fort St. Joseph invites the public to, speakers provide their audience with intriguing information about their research and experiences. Lectures are among the many ways that a community can bond over education. Many have an interest in history and many more have an interest in the histories that are not known to all. In my opinion, that is the best part of archaeology. At Fort St. Joseph we are recovering artifacts that are allowing us to learn more about the history of Niles, and the history of those that lived in this area before us. As we learn more about the people that lived at the fort, we are better able to teach the community about the stories they previously did not have access to.
            It is very rewarding to be a part of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, and to gain information that the city has been longing for the past several years. We encourage all of you to consider attending our lecture series this summer beginning July 20th, and to attend any others in the area that you find an interest in. “Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching.” 


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Experience in Archaeology

Hello, my name is Connor Frazier. I am a History major at Western Michigan University and am in my senior year. I have found through my academic career that I am very fond of being hands on with history and am absolutely loving this opportunity to conduct archaeological research and gain the knowledge needed to do so efficiently, properly and how to interpret the findings. With the training in archaeology that I will receive along with my bachelor’s degree I hope to gain experience in the field, ideally on Viking settlements and mounds, before attending graduate school.

My partner Nolan and I excavating our 1x1 unit (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
As many of you already know, this week was the first week of our 1x1 meter excavation units which presented us with a new set of challenges and skills to hone. This was our week of familiarizing ourselves with the site and the procedures for data recovery excavations. Unlike the shovel test pits we had dug in the previous week, this method of excavation would prove to be considerably more detail oriented and slower in pace. Our units began as no more than four stakes in the ground and some string, but soon began to emerge full-fledged excavation units. The process started off a little slow as we began to gain our bearings on techniques of shovel skimming, removing small increments of soil evenly on a horizontal plane, and the different uses of a trowel. The data cataloging proved to be similar in its meticulous nature. With each passing day we began to become more familiar and experienced with the tools and techniques of the excavation process. Our eyes become more trained in detail for spotting the tiniest of artifacts, such as the seed beads and as we uncover more and more materials it becomes easier to identify what the items we find are. The trowel has begun to feel as an extension of my hand, knowing when to be excessively precise in soil removal around artifacts and other objects protruding from the walls and floors and when to use a little more force for lowering the depth of the unit. Our pace has picked up quite a bit in comparison to the beginnings of our excavation units as we
continually sharpen our skills in the field. I feel we are getting into a rhythm which is yielding great results for us in learning more about Fort St. Joseph
Wet screening for my first time (Photo Credit: Austin George)

With the digging in full swing and wet screening already revealing countless unique artifacts, it is truly and exciting time as we dig ever closer to the next soil zone. We are well on our way to uncovering new and valuable information on not only the structural layout of the site but on the daily lives of those people who had called Fort St. Joseph home over 200 years ago.