Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My Archaeology Senior Project

Hello, my name is Garrett Mohney, and I am a senior at Mattawan High School. As a senior, I was tasked with finding a field of interest, and completing a project on it. One of the requirements included meeting with a mentor in the field for around 10 hours, where I can learn and experience the subject first hand. Now I found myself with a challenging dilemma: what on earth could I do a project on? After years of intense love for history, an enjoyment of the beautiful Michigan wilderness, and endlessly watching everyone's favorite whip brandishing collector of rare artifacts on the TV, I knew that archaeology would be the perfect fit for a senior project.
One of the artifact bags I helped sort during inventory
with Dr. Nassaney and Kaylee
                  I was very interested in finding out what real Archaeologists do, contrary to running through South American temples. In meeting with my mentor, Dr. Michael Nassaney of Western Michigan University and the Fort St. Joseph Archeology Project, and working with other great students of archaeology, I found that archaeology exists as much in the library and lab as in the field. One of the first things I learned from my project is the concept of careful artifact inventory and preservation. The careful process of identifying calcined bones, lead shot, and trade beads and carefully bagging them with proper labels soon came natural.
                  Additionally, I wanted to know more about what we can learn from archaeology. Through excavation and inventory, we can learn where people lived, how they lived, and what their lives consisted of. Finding a plethora of nails and tools might indicate a blacksmith was around. Finding pieces of building materials, a door hinge, and a foundation feature can indicate a possible location for a house. Other times, archaeology leads to more questions than answers. For instance, finding little to no fishing supplies from a riverside trading post, while another post just north is full of fishing items, leads to confusion and more research.
Lead shot, calcined and unburned
 bone that were sorted and bagged
                  Archaeology is a fun, educational, and thought provoking field that can really benefit all aspects of our lives today. We learn how to be careful, how to think critically, and most importantly, we learn how to better our future by considering the past. Archaeology isn’t just about studying the past, it’s about learning from it. Even as I continue my education beyond high school, the information that I have learned from archaeology has certainly helped shape my interests for the future. After all, who doesn’t want to be Indiana Jones?
 - Garrett

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Digitizing Notes: Another Way to Analyze Archaeology

Hi there, it’s Meghan. I am a graduating senior at Western and I hope to be attending graduate school in the near future! I am one of this past summer’s field school students, and as Kaylee mentioned I am currently working in the lab digitizing field school notes. The process of digitizing notes is not as thrilling as working in the field, but the work is necessary and important.
Keeping detailed notes in the field
The field notes taken for each unit are a way to analyze not only the work completed during the season, but a way to determine the work that will need to be done in future excavations. During one of the first weeks of the field school we had a rainy day and since archaeologists never take a day off work, the field school students were tasked with identifying new units to open during this past summer. We all rushed to the binders full of field notes from previous years, because the binders held information on which units were previously excavated, but more importantly what was excavated from those units and past student’s recommendations. The field notes provided us with a way to examine and identify which units we thought would be viable to open or even re-open.
Transferring paper notes to digitized
notes in the lab
The digitized notes create a new way to access the field notes that can be more easily read. When we are out in the field we all try our hardest to keep our field notes safe and clean. For example, whenever it would rain, our field notes would be the first item my partner and I would grab. However, we are not perfect, so our notes may be illegible or dirt-smeared. Another reason to have a digitized copy of the field notes is that they are a copy, so if something ever happened to the notes, there is a back-up version. Field notes are important in either form, paper or digitized, because they provide a link to the past, so that future archaeologists can continue to work forward.

Once I complete digitizing the field notes I will be helping Kaylee create our newest brochure! I am excited to determine the Project’s recent outcomes and go through all of the photos taken this past summer. The next big event coming up for me is Michigan Archaeology Day, which is October 28th this year at the Michigan History Museum in Lansing, MI. I attended last year and it was absolutely incredible to see so many people excited about archaeology from all over the state and the country! I hope to see all of you there! 
Meghan

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fall 2017: Activities Beyond Excavation

Hello everyone! 
This is Kaylee Hagemann, you may remember me from the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Field School of 2017. Right now, I am starting my third year at Western Michigan University. This semester, I am hoping to finish up the classes I need for my Anthropology Major and I am now taking classes for my Religion minor. I also took on the independent study for the field school to continue further research for Fort St. Joseph.
For our field school, we spent the summer digging at the Fort St. Joseph site (20BE23). Once summer is over, we pack everything up and fill our units, that we spent weeks in, with dirt (I miss my unit very much). But, our research does not end once the season turns to Fall. Field students have the opportunity to enroll in an Independent Study to continue researching Fort St. Joseph. Hailey Maurer, Meghan Williams, Genevieve Perry, and I are working with Dr. Michael Nassaney to
continue research and analysis for the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project (FSJAP).
The view of the Archaeology Lab from Moore Hall's entrance
During the Fall semester, we spend most of our independent study time in the lab that is located at Moore Hall on Western Michigan University’s (WMU) campus. Moore Hall is the building of Anthropology, it is where most Anthropology classes and Anthropology professor’s offices are held.
For our independent study, we have a whole list of tasks to complete by the end of the fall semester. We must do inventory on our 2017 field season artifacts, bag the artifacts, digitize our field notes (transferring the information to an online form), create a new brochure,th - 15th), Midwest Archaeology Conference (Oct 19th - 21st), Michigan Archaeology Day (Oct. 28th), and Portage Lake Center Elementary S.T.E.M Night (Nov 30th).
work on blogs, social media, and photographs, mail T-Shirts, and create the Annual Report. We also have a list of events that we intend to attend to represent the FSJAP: Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference (Oct. 13
Boxes of artifacts from Summer
2017 excavation to be inventoried
We are all assigned to complete some of these tasks. I was to do the first blog, create ideas for a new brochure, and work with Dr. Nassaney on the inventory of the artifacts. I did inventory on Tuesday morning of this week. During the summer, the artifacts were separated by object and put in small bags, then those small bags were put in bigger bags that represented artifacts found within that level of a particular unit. Then these bags were put into boxes in order to keep the levels of each unit all together. When doing inventory, we take out a box and pull out one unit level bag at a time, empty out it’s contents, record the information on the tags in an inventory, weigh the artifacts using grams, and make sure the tags are correct and the artifacts are indeed what the tags say they are. So far we have completed inventory on one box and still have several boxes to go. I am finding that I am enjoying doing inventory. I get to see exactly how many artifacts we found (one unit bag had over 500 unburned bones!) and recall all the excitement of discovering an artifact in the field and now being able to study them further and determine what the material is, how it was made, and what it’s function was.
For this independent study, I really look forward to learning more about identifying artifacts and being able to go to the archaeology events.

For all our followers, I wanted to say thank you for staying with us, we appreciate you so much! Have a great day!
- Kaylee

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Farewell Fort St. Joseph

         
Me in my pit before we
backfilled
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!