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.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Photo Shoot

Working our way down to the occupation zone! (Photo Credit: Austin George)

Hello again! This is Connor and over the past few days my unit went through an exciting and important time in the excavating process. We were continuing to excavate our one by one meter unit down to 50cm when we made some intriguing finds. At this level we expected to break through the plow zone and begin to excavate the occupation zone, so we would see 18th century artifacts lying as they were left over 200 years ago. One of the things that we started to notice was that a bone midden, which is essentially a trash pit, in a unit from last year appears to continue into the unit that Nolan and I had dug ourselves. Not only that, but were also surprised by a large stone that is resting just within the occupation zone and is aligned diagonally across our units with another possible structural stone in the two by one unit to our east. With a little more observation we had begun to see that the frequency of bones in the south of our two units was drastically higher than in the north of them. Similarly the line that the two stones form seems to be correlated with the discrepancy in bone distribution. More bones are found south of the rocks and relatively few to the north of the rocks. This is really exciting for us because our original one by one unit was placed in anticipation of intercepting the south wall of a French colonial home and our working hypothesis is that this may be it and the midden is where refuse from the house was tossed out.
Our plan view in the 1x1m unit. (Photo credit: Austin George)
            With having reached our occupation zone and knowing that we have artifacts that are in their original orientation, we began to prepare the unit to be photographed. This entailed clean scraping the walls and floor of the unit to ensure the soils are clear and easily distinguishable, helping us to document the stratigraphy for future reference. The next step was to place the site and unit information on sign board along with a north facing arrow, with a scale in centimeters, into the unit without obstructing any artifacts and taking several pictures from above. After both color and black and white photos were taken, we began to create a one by one meter map of the unit with all objects in the unit represented to scale. This is a most critical time for excavating the unit, as every object is lying where it was when the fort was occupied and if this information is not recorded then it will be destroyed if we excavate any further. Each layer of soil helps us better understand how artifacts are in relation to each other and that not only helps archaeologists but everyone understand the site better. So with the preliminary documentation of the occupation zone complete and with a bit of luck, Nolan and I may find what we set out looking for.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ma Petit Guimbarde

A modern mouth harp with reed intact
(Photo Credit: Tommy)
         Hey everyone, this is Tommy with a write-up on a quirky little instrument called a mouth harp. Mouth harps, commonly referred to as ‘Jew’s harps’ are small U shaped pieces of brass or iron that have a thin reed, or piece of metal that runs down the length of the instrument. The specimen we recovered from our unit, North 21 West 4, was completely surrounded by rust. Once we had knocked away most of the loose rust we were left with an iron mouth harp measuring 4 cm at its widest and 5 cm at its longest.The mouth harp from our unit is a dead ringer for one of the mouth harps mentioned in Charles Hulse’s thesis. Charles Hulse cataloged the local museum’s collection of artifacts found near the believed site of Fort St Joseph. The mouth harp we found and the one in Hulse’s thesis are both made of iron and measure 4 cm by 5 cm.
The specimen we recovered shortly after
we cleaned it off in lab
(Photo Credit: Tommy)
Our mouth harp next to a 1 to 1 scale
photo of the mouth harp mentioned in
Hulse's Thesis
 (Photo Credit: Tommy)
        Lyle Stone suggests that iron mouth harps were in use at Fort Michilimackinac between 1760 and 1780. Lyle Stone was the first staff archaeologist at Fort Michilimackinac; he wrote his dissertation, Fort Michilimackinac: An Archaeological Perspective on the Revolutionary Frontier, on his findings from the fort. Using this information, we can estimate that the mouth harp recovered from Fort St. Joseph is from a similar time period. An astounding number of mouth harps have been recovered from Fort Michilimackinac when compared to other sites in Michigan. At the time of Hulse’s thesis in 1977, 122 mouth harps had been recovered from Michilimackinac, while only 14 have been found at all other comparative sites in the state. 11 of the 14 mouth harps found at other comparative sites were recovered from Fort St. Joseph. I own a more modern working mouth harp and have included a short video demonstrating what it sounds like. Thanks for reading! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

101 Activities Around a Hearth

Hello, everyone, it’s Drew again! We have found some interesting artifacts in our unit lately! As a refresher, our unit is one cubic meter and located directly south of a house hearth. We know this because the hearth was excavated in 2011 to reveal the large, purposely placed stones and reddened oxidized soil in the ground.

A lot of activities would take place around the fire for the French. Aside from the fact that these houses were the only real shelter away from the elements, there has always been something about the fire that brings people together.

We have found a number of artifacts, which all seem to tell their own story, and together, can tell us even more! Here’s what we have found:
  • A brass tack, which was often used by the French to decorate furniture, but could also decorate a small chest or gunstock. Our particular tack has twelve small dots around a larger convex dot on the top.
  • Glass beads, which were a common import from Italy. Particularly popular were the seed beads, smaller simple beads, which were usually used by the French to trade for furs with the natives nearby. We have found at least one hundred of these beads in our unit alone!
  • Rosary beads, which were common among the French, often used among the Jesuits to count prayers. Often they are made of ivory and made by Europeans. We found two so far in our unit which appear like they might be made of bone, which has not been often found on the site!
  • An iron eye, which is used most often to connect to unjoined pieces of fabric. That could include collars or seams. Eyes are a single piece of iron bent into two eyes. These could easily come loose or break in several activities.
All of these are particularly telling of possible activities that took place around this fireplace. Furniture could have been tarnished and have tacks fallen off, the beads could easily be lost if a knot loosened or too much force was put on the adorned area. Rosary beads are attached on a necklace that could easily be broken as well. For the mission, rosary beads would have had consistent use. For the iron eye, it could be lost as easily as any of the above.
Three iron fragments found in close proximity to our unit. (Photo by author)

Another set of artifacts that we found around the hearth tell of a much simpler story, but a good one nonetheless. Pictured above is a set of iron fragments that we recovered from the occupation zone of our unit. Because of the zone, we can be almost certain that these fragments are in situ, where they were back in the eighteenth century. Near these fragments in elevation were some shards of various glassware, one sherd of creamware, and many calcined and non-calcined bones.

This is dinner. Look at the picture to the below: we have a knife. Particularly a case knife, a straight blade back with a tapered point. A knife like this was useful for carving meat. Based on what we found in the past five centimeters, numerous glassware was broken (though the glass pieces are too small to tell us exactly what) and a plate of some kind cracked but possibly reused since we did not find any other pieces. Of course, the bone tells us that there was plenty of meat to be passed around. Because of the bone size, we can’t say for certain without a faunal expert, but I’m thinking deer! Calcined bone (bone that has been burned) tells us that—as we would imagine—the meat was cooked through.
The three fragments clearly make a knife. (Photo by author)
The French colonists enjoyed the adoption of the native diet, including the animals of which they ate. Especially popular was deer, and we can see the change of diet around the hearth.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Public Outreach at FSJ

Hello all, Liz here! Last summer, I was a student in the field school and through that became very passionate about the archaeology that we do. I took on an independent study under Dr. Nassaney in both the fall and spring semesters and this field season, I am returning as one of the public outreach coordinators. I’m so happy to be back in Niles working with the project for a second year!
While the students are busy working on the floodplain, Genna, who is the other public outreach coordinator, and myself are busy trying to promote our summer events. As mentioned in an earlier blog from DJ, we just kicked off our summer lecture series! Don’t worry if you missed this past week’s lecture because we still have three more amazing speakers coming to the Niles District Library on Wednesday nights at 7pm in the coming weeks. This Wednesday we will have Allison Hoock, a M.A. graduate from WMU, present on Native American and Euro-American Settlements of the St. Joseph River Valley. On August 3rd, Terrance Martin, Curator Emeritus of the Illinois State Museum will be here and to conclude our series on August 10th, Kenneth Sassaman of the University of Florida will review his work of the St. Johns River of Northeast Florida. These lectures are always very informative and there is a question and answer opportunity following the talk. 

Hanging flyers around Main Street! (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
Of course, what we’re all most excited about is our annual Open House on Saturday, August 6th and Sunday, August 7th from 10-4. This year, we will have a variety of activities for the public to be a part of! At the open house, you will experience live period demonstrations at our Living History Village. You will be able to visit our outdoor museum and view recent artifacts from this field season and even some past seasons. The most exciting event taking place at our open house is watching history come to life right in front of you.  You will be able to witness on site excavations and wet screening demonstrations. This is a family friendly event, so feel free to bring your kids to participate in our children’s activities. Our students have been working really hard to make this open house a great experience for all attendees, so come see all their hard work!

Giving a tour to the YMCA Summer My Way campers! (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
I think one of the most exciting parts of my job is getting to engage with so many members from the Niles community. Our first week here, I gave a tour to the YMCA Summer My Way campers of the site and talked to them about the importance of the St. Joseph River from the time of the fort's occupation until today. Genna and I have been attending French Market every Thursday and have loved spreading the word to some of you about our project and our events. We have been so lucky to have been hosted by great people and organizations for community meals, where students get to share stories and memories of the fort with others from around the area. It’s things like this that make us feel so at home during our stay here. I know I love what I’m doing and the students love what they’re doing because you all love what we’re doing. Without the continuous support from community members, none of this would be possible. We can’t thank the community of Niles enough and we hope to see you at the rest of our summer events!
Hanging out at French Market! (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)