Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bluegill Bounty

      Salutations, I hope this post finds you all as well as I am finding my time in Niles, Michigan. My name is Hannon Clark Hylkema and I am currently enrolled as a student archaeologist in the 2017 Fort St. Joseph Archaeological field school. I have been cultivating anthropological interest for the entirety of my educational experience, but it was only in last winter’s semester that I declared a major in anthropology. I will graduate from Wayne State University in the spring and hope to pursue further studies and vocational opportunities in anthropology, specifically archaeology.
      With that supplemental background information, you as the reader may develop a better appreciation for the experience I would like to share in this blog post. The archaeological work at Fort St. Joseph is fascinating, but I am certain you will have many more opportunities to read about our archaeological endeavors; in this post I would like to recount the events of Sunday, July 23 and the product of Monday, July 24.
      Sunday morning, my teammate Joey and I met with Neil, our floodplain dewatering expert, for a morning of fishing in the village of Edwardsburgh. Neil arrived to pick us up at 7:30 and before we hit the lake we made a few essential stops. First we stopped off at Martin’s grocery on South 11th for a fresh half- dozen donuts, obviously essential to anyone who enjoys Martin’s donuts. The next featured stop was at Walmart to purchase our fishing licenses, ensuring game legality in accordance with the legislation of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The third stop was at Neil’s place to pick up his boat and soon after we arrived at the lake! Pleasant Lake is about 60 acres of fish-filled delight, featuring private residences, in addition to a public access beach and boat launch. Joey, Neil and I were joined at the lake by Lynn, a man of many skills who happens to be Neil’s brother-in-law. To maximize our fish catching opportunities Lynn and I took his vessel out while Joey and Neil took the other. We were fishing for bluegill and according to Neil and Lynn, the best way to catch bluegill is with earthworms. We rigged our lines to bait the worms and got to fishing just before 10am. Neil and Lynn were right as ever; the bluegill were hungry for earthworms. We went for great stretches of time in which every line that was cast reeled up a fish. We must have caught about 100 fish over the course of four hours on the lake, however, we kept 35 select fish for our eating purposes.
      Sunday was the day I learned to descale and filet a fish. I got about five fish prepped (10 filets) in

the time Neil and Lynne prepped the rest (60 filets). We added our filets to a batch Neil had prepared previously in order to feed the Fort St. Joseph field team a Monday night feast. We are a large group; all of our meals have to be feast-sized. The feast was prepared for the group to reward a day’s work of digging, something to really look forward to aside from finding artifacts. The meal was truly a spiritual experience, and one I will not soon forget. Thanks to Neil and Cathy, the bar has been set high for field team dinners. Thanks to their combined efforts we will have the energy to dig again. 
The delicious meal I described is pictured above. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts on a moving lecture...

       Quick introduction, my name is Crystal and I attend Western Michigan University. Last semester I was in search of a worthy educational adventure, and Dr. Nassaney assured me that the Archaeological Field School at Fort St. Joseph was exactly what I needed. Honestly, I was unsure about committing to the project, until Dr. Nassaney gave a lecture on challenging dominant narratives. After Sonya Atalay’s lecture yesterday evening, I was officially invested. She spoke about going to research a Neolithic site in Turkey and shared how she was troubled by the absence of a Native narrative. Then, she discussed how she was moved to involve the community further. 
I took this photo during Sonya's lecture at the Niles District Library.
       I am a person of many colors and I was disinterested in being a part of a project that neglected to acknowledge minorities' importance in history. But, I found by participating in this project we could be a part of a forward-thinking movement. Here and now, we can pressure this project to engage Native communities. We can become a mechanism to mobilize knowledge and correct incomplete histories. My public education taught me about Christopher Columbus and how he has been memorialized as the discoverer of the New World. This dominant narrative effectively ignores that Europeans were catalysts for genocide of indigenous people. Chances are your public education taught you a dishonest or incomplete history through textbooks and curricula compiled by the victors—mostly white men. The pervasiveness of these myths in the public schools and the damage they do gnaws at me constantly. This motivated me to develop three goals for myself this semester. The first is to learn a holistic, scientifically derived narrative. The second is to consistently be thorough, inclusive, and honest in all observations and analysis. Finally, I hope to ensure that this archaeological project is held accountable for what and how they educate the public. 
Sonya Atalay shared how she has fought for decades, on a global and national scale, to ensure archaeological projects were morally inclusive. Testimonies of her battles as a social justice warrior made me sensitive to the complexities of community-based participatory research at Fort St. Joseph. I have expressed my concern about Native American absence in the community involvement regarding our archaeological dig. Dr. Nassaney updates me about his efforts, and I am deeply grateful that he hears and addresses my concerns. It’s clear to me there is no villain—and there shouldn’t be. Sonya said something to the effect of, the hardest part of trouble shooting community-research partnerships is sitting down and communicating. Sonya’s stories about Native peoples fighting against highly respected universities for their ancestors’ remains and “grave goods” enlightened me. Native peoples in America are wary of universities’ research agendas, in my opinion rightfully so. And I hope we can remedy that distrust. I hope we can move forward, combine our systems of knowledge, and spread our collaborative knowledge.    
After reading Dr. Nassaney’s article, “Decolonizing Archaeological Theory at Fort St. Joseph, An Eighteenth-Century Multi-Ethnic Community in the Western Great Lakes Region,” I knew there was a strong scholarly interest in mobilizing a holistically derived narrative. Dr. Nassaney’s article breathes eloquent honesty and effortless inclusion. His work also informed me that scholarly interpretations of Fort St. Joseph acknowledge cultural amalgamation as opposed to the previous dominant narrative of cultural cleansing. 
Currently, we know there is archaeological evidence of Native American culture on the other side of the St. Joseph River. I am itching to uncover more artifacts that express cultural blending and cultural interdependency at Fort St. Joseph. As a result of community based archaeology, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi have veto power, and they have asked us not to disturb their buried culture on the other side of the river. Sonya sharing her complicated relationship with Harvard and the University of Michigan gave us the insider perspective. Traditionally Native epistemologies were not regarded when investigating academically motivated research questions. In Niles, Michigan I see an opportunity to show Native People we genuinely want to share the benefits of knowledge production. 
It’s amazing that here in Niles, Western Michigan University is experimenting with not only the advancement of knowledge—but with the advancement of the production of knowledge. Sonya’s stories are telling of the obstacles this project may face. But, I truly believe braiding knowledge will produce the most holistic scientific discoveries. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Claire's Adventures in Public Outreach and Excavation

Hi! My name is Claire Utrecht and I’m a student of Western Michigan University currently in Niles for my first field season at the Fort St. Joseph site. I’m actually doing something a little different than most of the students here – I alternate between working in the field and doing public outreach activities like passing out flyers around Main Street, organizing things in our living space, and trying to help with things for our upcoming Open House (only 2.5 weeks away!), so I have a mix of things to tell you about.
This is a picture of the small seed bead I mentioned above!
                  Monday was the only day this week I actually got to spend in the field due to receiving a different assignment. But it was a good day, and in fact it was the first day I found something in the unit that I share with my pit partners Joey and Diana. Just a tiny white seed bead – but we were all pretty excited to have found anything, and I was glad I noticed it in the dirt before it accidentally went into backfill. 

Since then, Joey and Diana have found a great variety of other artifacts, including but not limited to, some animal teeth, lead shot, and possibly a ring (to be determined).
I took this photograph of Joey
and Diana excavating our unit!

                  I’ve spent the rest of the week working with another student, Sarah, on two projects for the Open House. We are trying to put together a script for site tours, and also designate which artifacts will be incorporated into the display cases. Putting the script together has proven to be more difficult than I think we both anticipated since there is such an abundance of information about the fort available, and beyond even that, we’d like to include some other points of interest near the site as well. So trying to get everything in order in a way that the public will enjoy has been a challenge for us; but we feel up to the task.

As mentioned previously, we are trying with the help of our fellow students to decide which artifacts will be displayed at the Open House. Yesterday morning since it was raining, we were lucky enough to have everyone gathered and had the opportunity to get their input on what should be displayed for each community group that we’d like to represent as our theme of this year’s Open House is community partnerships. So essentially, we have five different groups from the local community for which we want to find artifacts that are in some way relevant to that group, and arrange them to look professional in a couple of nice cases. Some groups are apparently more difficult to choose artifacts for than others, but with over 300,000 artifacts having already been found at the site throughout the years, I know we’ll find something that everyone can enjoy. Can’t wait to see you all there!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Reaching the Plow Zone

Gary helping a group of students prepare
 their pit for wet screening
Hello everyone, my name is Morgan Powers and I am a senior at Western Michigan University. Tuesday morning I had the pleasure of working with one of our wonderful staff members, Gary Thompson, who taught me how to prepare the floodplain for a day of excavations. We arrived thirty minutes early, which meant thirty whole minutes of peace and quiet in which we were able to start unloading the trailer and make sure the water pump was working properly before the rest of the crew arrived.
Student hard at work searching
for artifacts using the wet screen
              Once they arrived we quickly settled into our routine. My pit partner, Crystal and I were able to finish leveling our one by two meter unit to fifteen centimeters below datum before lunch with enough time left over to start mapping our unit in plan view. Our map included the big roots, dimensions, and soil changes as well as soil types. After mapping our unit my pit partner and I began to descend another five centimeters and then prepared to wet screen. At the Fort St. Joseph floodplain, wet screening does not occur until we reach the plow zone, but because our pit had evidence of human activity near the base of the alluvium, including bone fragments, seed beads, and calcined bone (burnt bone), and a ton of roots, it made it difficult to determine if we were still in the alluvium or the plow zone. Due to this we got the go ahead to begin wet screening which involves dumping a bucket of soil taken out of our unit onto a 1/8th in mesh screen. Once on the mesh screen, the soil is sprayed down with a water hose to remove extra sediment and allow us to see the pebbles, roots, and artifacts more clearly. As we are working we are constantly on the lookout for anything that resembles an artifact. This could include items such as bone fragments, gun flakes, daub (chunks of baked clay), lead shot from muskets, and so much more from the eighteenth century. The purpose of wet screening is to ensure us a better chance of seeing extremely small artifacts that might otherwise be hidden by dirt and accidentally tossed aside.
Once the artifacts have been recovered through wet screening they are set aside to dry and will later be taken to the lab to be cleaned more thoroughly and identified/analyzed. The field procedures as a whole allow students and anyone interested to learn more about life at Fort St. Joseph during the eighteenth century.