Thursday, August 17, 2017

Farewell Fort St. Joseph

Me in my pit before we
Hello, everyone! This is Diana, again, and I have been granted the special task of writing our final blog for the season. Yesterday (Wednesday, August 16) was our final day of the season. Throughout this experience we uncovered two features and many amazing artifacts. For many of us, this was our first experience actually excavating at a real archaeological site. For each student, the experience was a unique and valuable part of not only learning what it means to be a real archaeologist, but also learning about ourselves and where we may wish to go with our future careers. Most people’s blogs will probably speak for themselves, so as someone who has not posted since the very beginning of the season, I will provide my own personal perspective on the season as a whole.
           In my case, I am a transfer student from Kellogg Community College (Battle Creek, MI), and archaeological field school was my first class at Western Michigan University. Since I had not completed the usual listed prerequisite, I was not expecting to do it this summer, but one of the WMU faculty referred me to Dr. Nassaney, and he told me to apply anyhow. I knew it was a major opportunity before I started because I had learned field school is a requirement for various forms of employment, but only once I showed up at orientation and learned that almost half of the thirteen students selected were from other universities did I realize the magnitude of what I was doing. I was in a room full of people who were passionate about anthropology, many of them majors who were considering careers in archaeology or related fields. At that point, I instantly knew that this class, which was almost entirely different from any other course I had ever taken, was the best transition I could have had from one school to another.
Erika and Anne discussing Feature 28 (Alvin)
    For those who do not know, the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Field School is actually a six credit hour class offered through Western Michigan University. Being involved in this field school is probably most similar in overall experience to an internship, and just like an internship, we have to fill out a special application for acceptance. This is an opportunity to learn virtually every task involved in excavating a historical site by doing it, rather than simply studying it in a book or being told how it works in the classroom. We start off the season with two days of orientation, in which the field school staff members instruct us field students on basic skills we will need in the field. During this time we also received a lesson on the background of the project, as well as the goals for the upcoming season. The following week, we moved into our new “home” in Niles, Michigan where we will be stayed Monday through Friday for the next six weeks. During this time we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together as a group from Monday through Friday. Our days were spent working in the field from about 8 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m., we then had lab from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. every night except Friday, when we are dismissed about an hour early to go home for the weekend…or remain in Niles if we should choose to do so. This is the general idea of our schedule, except on rainy days, when we usually have to improvise; for those instances, Dr. Nassaney usually has a menagerie of alternative educational activities we can do as rainy day activities.
Feature 28 (Alvin)
Now we are at the end of the season, and I am amazed at how far we have come. Some of us had no idea before we started how to properly use or even hold a trowel, and now most of us have excavated all the way down to at least 50 centimeters below datum (we usually use the southwest corner of our units as references for depth). For me, the highlights were definitely reviewing notes to propose potential unit locations for this year and having the opportunity to draw maps and theorize where the walls of our house might be. Naturally, I was quite tickled when we discovered what is probably the corner of a house in our pit, because I had, in fact, guessed that we had a corner in our unit! Of course, finding a feature has its pros and cons; I was excited to find it, but not about the extra paperwork…I ended up deciding our feature needed a more interesting name than Feature 28, and started calling it Alvin, like in Simon and the chipmunks. Meghan said that was her name, though, so the jury’s out on whether Feature 28 gets to keep it. What can I say? Unit N24W11 or “Bertha” needs a little brother.

Ring placard I found just in time for
the Open House
As you can tell, field school was very time-consuming. This experience was sort of like an intermission in school and just general life, but it also gave me a chance to give my brain a break from academics. I am ready to go back to regular classes in the fall, as are several of the other students, but likely nothing ever will fully compare to this experience. Working in nature with an amazing number of frogs and butterflies all around, the excitement of a crayfish (Ashley and Hailey named him Archie) appearing in one of the pits, or finding my first unique artifact (for me, it was what we believe to be the placard of a Jesuit ring) are things I will never forget. Farewell from the 2017 Fort St. Joseph archaeology field school, and we look forward to the possibility of some amazing new updates next year!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Our last days of Field School

            Hello readers, Claire again! On my drive to Western's campus this past Monday morning, I reflected back on how perfectly evenly we students had spaced ourselves around the classroom during orientation in early July before we left for Niles. It wasn’t surprising, it’s just what students do at the beginning of a new semester when you don’t know anyone. We went through the motions of awkwardly introducing ourselves with only vague ideas of what was to come, but by the end of orientation, there was a feeling of excitement and anticipation to get to the field.
As you can see we have really opened up since the first
time we all met
Now, six weeks later, I tried to imagine how we would disperse ourselves in the classroom back at Western, almost certain that it wouldn’t be exactly the same as during orientation. I thought surely we would be seated at least a little more densely considering the circumstances we had just endured together: Every meal, every lab, every lecture, day and night.
            Arriving on monday I found that I was right; many of us had shifted closer to the sunny south side of the room where the window is. It wasn’t as quiet as before either, with students filtering in and sharing details of their weekends just like we did when we had returned to Niles every monday morning before heading to the field. I believe many of us were still tired from the final two-week stay that included the Open House and preparing for it, completing our units, and moving out of our temporary home. Nevertheless, we came prepared monday morning to do what needed to be done to say with integrity that we completed this field school.
            So here we are on the very last day, but keeping busy to the last minute. We’re in the lab, we’re cleaning, sorting, taking final notes, and discussing opportunities for what comes next. Even this afternoon I had the chance to see another process of archaeology, working with Dr. Nassaney on taking a full inventory of artifacts found this season. He took notes on his laptop regarding accession numbers and artifact descriptions, and we meticulously counted and weighed every artifact, including every seed bead and individual piece of calcine bone (of which there are hundreds). We worked for three and a half hours, and are not even a quarter of the way through everything we found this year!
Through thick and thin we all made it through the 7 weeks
 in the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project

             Being back on campus for the last three days has felt almost surreal knowing that we’re having the last meals and laughs together as a whole group that we will for the foreseeable future (but probably not forever). Still the finality of this time cannot negate the value of what we’ve experienced in the last six weeks; There has been curiosity and sharing of knowledge, as well as new levels of exhaustion. There has been a great deal of strain and stress  but there has also been beauty, joy, supporting, and bonding. For myself, although I suspect I speak for others as well, I learned lessons not only in archaeology but for life that I may never have otherwise, and that makes field school worth more than the money it cost and the credits we earned.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Back to WMU

          Hello everyone, it's Morgan again! With our work officially done for the season in Niles, Michigan and all of our units back filled, we are back at Western Michigan University. As a result, I am here to tell you all about our first day back on campus after spending almost two months in Niles. Yesterday our activities consisted mostly of lab work and some organizing, trying to square away all of the work we have accomplished.

The archaeology lab at Western.
We started in the morning at 9am trying to organize our lab located on WMU's campus. The organizational process involved taking inventory, sorting binders and pamphlets, and putting supplies in their proper places. Once our work space was cleared we were able to spend the remainder of the morning cleaning and sorting the artifacts that did not get completed in Niles as well as catching up on paperwork.

Having some fun on our
final day in the field.
A quick lunch break in the afternoon was spent working on a puzzle with Erika and we spent the rest of the day catching up on the pile of paperwork completed while excavating our unit. Our paperwork includes maps, soil descriptions, artifact contents, recorded depths, recovery information, techniques used, and any observations we may have noticed. We also included a unit summary at the end of our notes that talked about the unit excavation, basic soil composition, and cultural materials. Unit excavation talked about the techniques we used to excavate- like shovel skimming, wet screening, and troweling. Then basic soil excavation was a summary of the soil found in the alluvium, plow zone, and occupation zone. Lastly, cultural materials talked about any artifacts that we found such as hinges, rosary beads, chains, gun parts, and so many more. Now that we finally have some time on our hands we have the chance to go back through all of our notes and make any changes needed. Those that were already done editing their notes began the process of digitizing the notes so we have copies for the future.

Digitizing field notes!
Throughout the whole process of organizing our notes, we noticed our growth not only as students but also as archaeologists. Our mistakes became fewer over the course of the past two months as we learned from our mistakes and improved. Overall, the experience my fellow archaeology students and I have gained at Fort St. Joseph has by far been the best experience in advancing our college education in archaeology. With only two more days left before we return to our normal routine, we intend to make the best of it and learn as much as we can.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Peek into a French House

           Hello everyone, it's Joey again. Even as the end of a field school draws near, great and exciting finds are often revealed. In fact, one of the greatest finds this year was recovered on the Tuesday before we were supposed to pack up, our second to last day to work in our units. On that day, in the unit North 23 East 9, Diana and I began to uncover strange soil patterns in the south half of our unit as we were trying to level it out at 50 cmbd. We were soon told to excavate around it, and for good reason, as we found that it was lining up nearly perpendicular with another soil formation in the north half and both went nearly as straight as an arrow. Surrounding this strange and unnatural soil formation, we also found large pieces of charcoal and pockets of ash, yet strangely no signs of oxidized (burnt) soil, and the opposite had been encountered in a previous unit to the west. 
            This indeed piqued the interest of our supervisors, who soon declared that we had found feature 28, the corner of a three-hundred-year old French house! Finally, after a month and a half of excavations we had found the architectural remains we were hoping to. We could scarcely contain our excitement. Wasting little time, we soon began taking samples from various areas of the unit, including carbon 14 samples of the two great charcoal chunks in hopes of dating them with fairly accurate precision and to determine what species of trees they came from. After accomplishing that, we attempted to take a float sample from the area that had the greatest concentration of charcoal to try to find other organic remains but were unable to accomplish this as we were pressed for time. To our joy, we found two possible post holes only a half centimeter from this concentration and thus further excavation there was stopped in an attempt to preserve them for further study in future years.
This photograph depicts the feature very well.

            Another interesting part of our feature was that it lined up in a nearly perfect line with a line of B horizon fill (the B horizon soil is usually found below the soil present during the fort’s occupation) in North 20 East 3 that was also being excavated this year. We believed that this showed that there was once a ditch that had been dug here in the 1700’s. The line between feature 28 and this possible ditch only serves to further reinforce this theory.
            Finally, on our very last day of excavations we uncovered a chain of either a necklace or bracelet inside our feature that was still clasped. This was indeed a rare find as no other intact jewelry chain has been recovered at the Fort so far. Now as we wrap up lab work back at WMU, I deeply hope that further work and study is put into this feature in later years.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Finially: A blog about a cool artifact!

           Hello again everyone! My name is Emily Fletcher, and I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about my experiences as a camper. Today, I decided to write about the coolest artifact I found in my unit: a gun finial. If you came to our open house this weekend, you probably saw it in the “Recent Finds” artifact case! But first, I’ll start with the background of my unit.

This is another gun part recovered in our unit.
           My partner Meghan and I wanted to excavate this specific unit because it is surrounded by a previously-excavated fireplace. After consultation with our staff, we learned that they theorize the structure associated with this fireplace to be the blacksmith’s quarters. This is because gun and metal caches were previously excavated in the vicinity. A cache is a hole filled with objects, in this case gun parts and metal pieces. These caches indicate that someone—probably a blacksmith—had stored these parts for future use.

           Finding a gun part in this unit, which is located within a possible blacksmith’s quarters, was an amazing clue! It is especially interesting when considered with the various other metal pieces we recovered, including a door hinge. However, when I first found the gun part, I was actually disappointed.

This is the finial I describe throughout the blog! 
            Our unit was still in the plow zone (the section of soil in which farming combined 18th-century and modern artifacts) when we found the finial. My trowel hit it the wrong way and it popped right out of the ground—not exactly the clean removal an archaeologist strives for, but my troweling techniques have come a long way since then. I picked it up, and attempted to scrub some of the dirt off of it with my grimy fingers. That’s when I became disappointed—it was too flat, too regular, to fit what I thought of as an 18th-century artifact. Angrily, I told my partner “we’re finding more modern trash!” while moving to show it to her. This disappointed me because modern trash means you aren’t close to the good stuff yet. I couldn’t have been more wrong! As I scraped another layer of two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old soil off it with my finger, a small design became clear. That was the exact moment I realized it was something
This is the most similar piece I could find while researching.
The photo depicts a butt plate from a Type C French trade gun in
Hamilton's book.

           We later identified it as a finial (decorative end-piece) of a gun part, made from a copper alloy. After research, I learned that it came from a French “Type C” trade gun. These were made between 1680 and 1750, to be traded with Native Peoples. They could be traded for as many as twenty beaver pelts, especially at such remote locations as Fort St. Joseph. From 1660 to 1760, the French imported 200,000 of these guns to New France. It is likely from the trigger guard or butt plate of a gun. 
The pattern on our finial is a “flaming torch” pattern, but it is unique as it is asymmetrical horizontally—most are symmetrical, and I was not able to find an exact match for ours. Even though we were unable to match it exactly, its existence alone tells us a lot about Fort St. Joseph and the importance of guns to its inhabitants. If the structure associated with my unit really is the blacksmith’s quarters, this finial could be a broken part which the blacksmith was asked to repair or replace. Although one gun part does not tell us for sure that this was the blacksmith’s quarters, it is an intriguing piece of the puzzle which seems to support that hypothesis.
Other Type C "flaming torch" trigger guard
finials from Hamilton.Note the vertical 
symmetry which ours lacks. 

            The finial, even without its context, also reveals the importance of guns to fur traders. We know from records that they were important trade items, but the intricate detail present on this piece shows its personal importance. This finial displays beautiful decoration—even though it likely came from part of a gun which few people would see closely. Additionally, it is possible that it was lost or thrown away while being replaced. The effort employed to decorate such an out of sight part, and to replace it when that decoration broke, demonstrates the pride that owners likely took in their guns.

            Now, two hundred and fifty years later, even though it is broken, rusty, and dirty, I can also take pride in it as the coolest thing I found at field school.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The End is Near

     Hello all, Crystal again. Our field season is coming to an end. The units range from 40 to 55 centimeters below datum. The consensus is we want to keep digging. It seems the deeper we get the more questions are risen. Also, more exciting artifacts are recovered! Just this past Tuesday, an elaborate button, a puzzling long blade, and a fascinating adornment chain was discovered. Though I wish I could answer and uncover everything right now, I know the best I can do for the ongoing research at Fort St. Joseph is be thorough. 
 Extracting the core samples from the
B horizon deposit in our unit.
     Photographs, maps, notes, lab work, cataloging, analysis, and curation all rely on individuals attention to detail and careful recording. Although the digging has stopped, everything I just listed continues to interpret the archaeological record. An additional way we can understand the archaeological record without the traditional excavation is by way of core samples. Doctor Nassaney proposed a core sample at N20 E3(our unit's coordinates at the site) because the occupation zone was suspiciously small and a thick streak of dark yellowish brown soil running through our unit created more questions than answers. With limited time left we opted for a core sample to tell us a sliver of information about the soil residing beneath. 
     After we extracted thin long cylinders of soil from beneath what we once thought was the B horizon(the soil layer before people inhabited the area), we learned the streak was in fact B horizon fill. Meaning, people in the 18th century dug into the B horizon soil and deposited it in the area we are currently studying. This appeared in our core sample as a short layer of yellowish brown soil that transitioned to a brownish grey soil that is characteristic of the occupation zone. What intrigues me further is the streak lines up with Feature 28 in a neighboring unit. This feature being a possible wall fill that suggests the corner of what has previously been identified as Structure 5. The colors are starkly different between Feature 28 and our B horizon fill but two anomalies that line up like these do is worth further inquiry and interpretation. Morgan and I have been diligently recording information for archaeologists in the future. As hard as it is to walk away with so many questions I know I’ll be reading this blog next year thrilled about the new insight each student brings to the Field. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

An Artifact's Journey

The artifact cases on display at this year's Open House.
             Hello Everyone! It’s Sara here, back today to talk about our artifacts. Many of you came by our open house last weekend and were able to experience many awesome things, one of which was the artifacts cases we prepared. Laid out on tables were two display cases with glass windows, which showcased some of our most recent finds as well as artifacts from past seasons that are associated with a few of our community partners. The artifacts neatly sewn into the cases had to go through strict procedures in order to be featured in our display; they will eventually find their way to Western Michigan University for analysis, before they are added to the collection of over 300,000 artifacts already processed.
              The artifacts of course have to come from somewhere. They are most often found while soil is being excavated from our pits or when the soil that is pulled from the pit is screened and artifacts are found and removed. After these pieces dry or are placed in artifact bags, they are taken back to our field lab at the Stables.
Me in the lab (a.k.a. my happy place)
washing artifacts.
               In the field lab, we have procedures for cleaning the artifacts to ensure that they remain intact, are correctly identified, retain their provenience, and get as clean as possible. First we check to make sure that the tag within the artifact bag is complete and matches the tag on the outside of the artifact bag. These tags list information on where the piece came from specifically by listing things like the site name (Fort St. Joseph), the coordinates of the pit it was removed from, and whether the item was located in the South or North half of a 1x2 meter pit.
                Next, we examine the contents of the bag to see what we have. The items are placed carefully on a tray, and the bag is turned inside out to ensure there is nothing left stuck in the bag. When looking at the items, it is important to set aside any iron objects, charcoal and anything else we are unsure of, so that they don’t get wet. When wet, things like iron nails will start bleeding rust, and charcoal will float, then start breaking apart.
               Now that they are separated, it is time to wash the artifacts. We fill a tub with tap water only (no soap!) to clean the items, and grab tools like dental picks, tooth brushes, and cardboard flats to put them in to dry. We then gently clean them with the water, getting into every crevice to ensure the artifact will be clean for storing. After the artifacts are clean, they are placed on cardboard flats or directly onto a drying screen to dry overnight. This is important as the items will be stored in small plastic zip bags and need to be dry to preserve them. 
              From here the items are rough sorted. To do this, we take all of the items that are similar within the accession and catalog number and sort them by type. For instance, all glass pieces for the specific catalog number are combined into a pile, just as things like unburned bone and seed beads will be. After everything is sorted for that catalog number, you place the items in an appropriate sized bag (too big and they can float around and break, too small and they can puncture the bag), and a small slip of acid-free paper with the relevant information on it is placed inside and then sealed. With specific categories like metals, we also place a silica packet into the bag, to absorb any excess moisture and prevent degradation. Other categories with more delicate items (such as hollow bird bones) get vials to protect the item from breakage.
The blown up picture in the new finds case of my
favorite artifact.
                It is from this point that we chose the items from our most recent excavation to go into our display case. My lab partner Claire and I were assigned this task and with some help from the Project’s Lab Coordinator Anne, we were able to curate a case full of new archaeological finds as well as past finds in our community partners themed showcase. It was a challenge but also a lot of fun to choose which items the public would see. For the community case, we chose to represent some of the groups that we collaborate with by displaying artifacts we felt would be of interest to them. An example of this is choosing belt buckles to represent the Living History group (also known as reenactors). The Living History group often tries to replicate the artifacts that we find at the fort in order to be as historically accurate in their representations as possible. We chose a belt buckle that was more utilitarian and also one that was more ornate to show examples of decoration at both ends of financial status at the fort.
               After an item is chosen, the information is recorded separately and a slip with the item’s accession (identification) number is made to accompany the item. The item is then sewn into the fabric base with fishing line (which is used because it’s clear), and a marker with the items accession number is pinned next to it. After all of the items are in the case, the case is secured with screws so that the items inside will not be tampered with.

               The new finds case was exciting to compile because the majority of the artifacts were processed just days before they were added, making most of the items in the case our freshest finds. As soon as some of the items were plucked from the screens they were making their way to our display case. My personal favorite came from the pit I briefly helped excavate with Hannon. He found part of a lead seal that featured the letters “OHN.” From this we were able to interpret that the cloth that was attached to it was from an English origin, as the name was most likely John (which is English), not Jacques, as it would be in French. The cases ended up with an impressive array of artifacts from belt buckles, to crosses, to clay pipes that represent a lot of the items we often find here at Fort St. Joseph.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Big Shebang!

           Hello all, it’s Meghan again! All of us at the archaeological field school are so thankful for your love and support at the Open House. The Open House is truly a culmination of the staff and student’s hard work throughout the semester as we invite the public to visit the site and become immersed in the 18th century. We invited re-enactors, who helped us to display and explain the life of an 18th-century French voyageur, tradesmen, and Jesuit priest among others, as well as the Sarrett Nature Center, who provided voyageur canoe rides along the St. Joseph River. We invited members of Fernwood Nature Center who displayed animal pelts akin to the animals uncovered during our excavations. Next to Fernwood, Dr. Terry Martin displayed and explained different types of animal bones found at the Fort St. Joseph site. My fellow students kept busy providing tours of the entire site, showing kids archaeological techniques, discussing our recent finds at the artifact cases and pit tours, and demonstrating the wet-screen procedure.
            Most of my weekend was spent giving pit tours, working the artifact case, and demonstrating wet screening techniques. My favorite place to be at the Open House was the pit tours. It was wonderful to show the public all the hard work my colleagues had put into their units. I was even more excited to show my own unit to the public, as well as my family and friends who have supported me this summer.
            My unit is N24 W11, alias Bertha, and this unit is a section of house four.
A worm's eye view of Bertha.
Bertha was opened because we were trying to intersect one of the fireplaces within the proposed blacksmiths’ quarters. I loved explaining to the public how the archaeological evidence from this summer and previous summers helps us to determine what an area may have been used for or what an area may have been in the 18th century. Fort St. Joseph does not have blueprints or maps of where the buildings were placed, or even how many buildings were at the fort. Therefore, all of the work the students and staff put into their excavations helps to determine the size of the fort and all of its functionalities.
            I am thankful to be part of an archaeological project that is community-based. I enjoy being able to give the Niles’ community a piece of their history back. At the Open House I had a few people tell me they grew up in the area and were happy to see excavations happening. The support from the community allows the Fort St. Joseph archaeological project to continue with their work. So, thank you to each and every one of you who support our work and for attending the Open House. We would not be able to do it without you.
Field school squad before going on the canoe ride.
The archaeological field school is now in its final stretch. The rest of our week will be spent photographing, mapping, profiling, and backfilling our units. It is bittersweet to see my time at field school come to a close because I have made lifelong friends. I will miss our time spent laughing and learning in the field, as well as the late nights spent in the stable loft playing cards and watching movies. The field school has been the most influential and rewarding class that I have taken at Western.