Friday, July 14, 2017

Lecture: Dr. Larry Zimmerman

Digging at Fort St. Joseph!
Hello all! My name is Meghan Williams and I am a senior at Western Michigan University. I love archaeology and history, so I am stoked to be a part of the Archaeological Field School. Archaeology interprets materials left behind and the knowledge gained from those materials can help reinterpret history. The historical knowledge that archaeology holds is the reason I became interested in archaeology. I encountered archaeology when I was in the seventh-grade while on family vacation at Fort Michilimackinac. An excavation unit had been placed near one of the museums and I was immediately fascinated. It was incredible to watch the archaeologists uncover the past and continue to add knowledge to Fort Michilimackinac’s rich history.
On the other hand, Fort St. Joseph also has an incredible and rich history. I am so excited to uncover more of Fort St. Joseph’s past. However, excavations on the flood plain began only a few days ago, so it will be a little longer before I can add my interpretations. The field school does more than excavate the site though. Yesterday we had the opportunity to attend an exhibit and lecture at The Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in St. Joseph.
The “Evidence Found: Explorations in Archaeology” exhibit was created in part by Dr. Michael Nassaney and portrays the importance of archaeology and how archaeological sites are not only in exotic places. When I first thought about archaeology I imagined archaeologists working in exotic places scattered across the world. I could never really imagine that archaeology took place so close to home. “Evidence Found” showcases archaeological sites in Southwest Michigan that are ongoing or completed. One of the archaeological sites is Ramptown, located in Vandalia, Michigan, that was a part of the Underground Railroad. The display of Ramptown discusses freedom-seekers and how people in Southwest Michigan were assisting previously enslaved individuals. I was absolutely unaware that such an incredible place was located so close to home.  Archaeology is astonishing because it uncovers the unknown, which helps to tell a more accurate history.
The Heritage Museum reminding
us that history is the prologue
to our future.
The lecture at The Heritage Museum by Dr. Larry Zimmerman, focused around the idea of accuracy and how archaeology brings accurate representation to the table. Dr. Zimmerman is a world-renowned scholar and archaeologist. During his lecture, Dr. Zimmerman discussed how people believe in weird things, such as myths or folklore, and how these beliefs can be disproved by archaeology. One myth is the Mound-builder myth, which surrounds the Mounds State Park. The myth goes that giants, the lost tribes of Israel, or any other group other than Native Americans built the mounds. Many could not believe that Native Americans could build such huge structures, and used this belief to justify claiming Native land. The myth became so huge that Congress asked Cyrus Thomas to determine who the Mound-builders were. Thomas, after using archaeological techniques, proved that Native Americans truly built the mounds. Both the exhibit and lecture by Dr. Larry Zimmerman show how archaeology can tell us about the lifeways of the past and demystify certain points of history. 
I hope to add knowledge to Fort St. Joseph soon! The Archaeological Field School will keep you updated!


Anonymous said...

I hope you all have fun and cherish this summer!!

-Member of 2012 Field School

Larry J Zimmerman said...

Thanks for the nod in your post. I really enjoyed having all of you at the talk and being able to spend some time with you after it. The Mound Builder Myth was an extraordinary era at the beginnings of archaeology in America that says a great deal about what America was at the time, the erroneous understandings and unfortunate attitudes toward the contributions of Native peoples, and, because of the many survivals of the myth, what America still is today. Pick up Robert Silverberg's book The Mound Builder Myth for an engaging history of the period and David Hurst Thomas's book Skull Wars for a professional archaeologist's view. For a broader discussion of the Wild Side, see Kenneth Feder's Frauds, Myths and Mysteries. It's a surefire good read if you have interest in the topic! Enjoy the rest of the field school and learn lots!
Larry Z