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!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lecture: Dr. Jonathan Bush

My Pit Partner Hailey and I
beginning excavation of our unit
(Photo Cred: Mallory Moore)
           Hello everyone! My name is Ashley Barry and I am a senior anthropology student participating in this season’s excavations at Fort St. Joseph! Yesterday was quite an exciting day for us at the flood plain. We were each assigned our pit partners and coordinates for our units, which will serve as a home base for us in the field every day for the rest of the season. We finished setting up our units and were lucky enough to break ground before the rain moved in! We were all a little disappointed about packing up and moving out early, but that left us with some time to participate in a lab session before dinner. During lab, we each examined a previously discovered artifact and performed our own research utilizing several resources to determine four primary characteristics about our artifact. These characteristics include what the artifact is made of (raw material), the way in which it was made, its function, and its style.  
Erika Loveland and Dr. Nassaney
at the book signing
(Photo Cred: Ashley Barry)
In more exciting news, today marked the first lecture of a four-part Lecture Series this summer. We had the great honor of hosting Dr. Jonathan Bush, Professor of English at Western Michigan University, and his wife, Mrs. Erin Bush, for dinner. Fortunately, we had the privilege of speaking with him in an open forum at our living quarters about the importance of establishing community partnerships and community based service-learning. This was a great opportunity for us as students, as we were able to engage in a stimulating discussion with Dr. Bush about the benefits and challenges of establishing community partnerships between Western Michigan University and the city of Niles, as well as challenging the dominant narrative within a community. This was extremely beneficial, as a primary focus of this season’s field school is building lasting community based partnerships.   
Following dinner, we piled into our vans and drove down to the Niles District Library to engage in a more formal lecture by Dr. Bush. It was inspiring to see the community support for both the Project and for Dr. Bush’s public lecture! Prior to the lecture, a book signing was held by our very own Erika Loveland, field director, and Dr. Nassaney, lead investigator, who co-authored “Sheltering New France”, the third booklet in a series of Fort St. Joseph booklets.

Dr. Bush giving his presentation
(Photo Cred: Erika Loveland)
Dr. Bush’s lecture, titled “Building and Sustaining Meaningful University – Community Partnerships in Context”, was very intriguing and informative. Aside from being a Professor of English at Western Michigan University, Dr. Bush also serves as a service learning fellow. During his lecture, Dr. Bush laid out some of the long-term objectives and goals of his program, which include establishing relationships and connections between Western Michigan University and the city of Niles in the hopes of maintaining a beneficial relationship for all parties involved. One of the most impressive projects he is currently working on is taking place at the Niles District Library, which aims to establish a social work internship to serve the needs of both Western Michigan University students as well as the community of Niles. The primary focus of Dr. Bush’s lecture and project is respecting communities and engaging in mutually beneficial partnerships, which resonated strongly with all of us at Fort St. Joseph. Our project wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the strong support and bonds we have formed with the surrounding community! We here at Fort St. Joseph extend our sincerest gratitude to Dr. Bush for taking the time to speak with us, as well as the community of Niles.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

New Ventures

Our group meeting to discuss possible
excavation unit locations.
         Good evening, all!  My name is Diana Campbell, and I hope everyone is having an awesome summer!  We are now at the end of another long day in the field and we are getting ready to move onto the next phase of the project. Last Friday, we all met with our pit partners to nominate possible unit locations to excavate and as of today, we have selected and staked out those areas in preparation to break ground tomorrow.  These new excavation units will serve to further our explorations of the site we have previously identified as containing structures from Fort Saint Joseph. We hope to soon have updates on new finds to share with everyone!
Crystal working on completing our
shovel test pit.
Meanwhile, we finished our shovel test pits at the new site we have been exploring and have determined it is worth further investigation in future seasons.  Many of us are hyped up about the finds we have already uncovered and are super excited about moving on to the floodplain; as we understand, we are sure to discover quite a bit more down there!  Nevertheless, the product of the past few days of digging has not been too shabby…my pit partner, Crystal, and I found quite a few artifacts in our first shovel test pit, and possible further signs of human activity in our second. Several other teams made similar discoveries to our own, and we hope future students will find many more!
        Crystal and I are particularly stoked, having been both delighted and surprised to have encountered the first artifact: a piece of clinker, which is an impurity left behind from burning coal.  This is a good sign of activity from the 1800’s, which means the other items we found were significantly older, since they were in much deeper levels.  We also found a ball of lead shot, which likely could have come from one of the inhabitants of Fort Saint Joseph, as well as flakes from stone tools. We believe that most of our other finds were most likely left behind by Native American peoples, such as the flakes we uncovered, that may have came from someone who stopped to sharpen a stone tool.  Both Crystal and I are very hopeful that this new area will provide clues about the interaction between the native and colonial peoples in the future, as well.
Here I am helping to set up the tetrapods for wet screening.
         Although we have been delayed twice by rain over the past week, there is no doubt the entire group has made excellent progress, not only on the site, but toward developing as a team as well!  Our discoveries aren’t just in artifacts, after all…we also are learning where our strengths and weaknesses in the process of getting to know each other.  Anybody who stops by the site now can see the tetrapods set up for wet screening, but not how the work has contributed to forming friendships and teaching us how to work and live with others we never knew before starting field school. Archaeology isn’t just about cool finds; it’s also about working together, and we look forward not only to working with each other, but also to sharing our love of archaeology with the community in the weeks ahead!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Our first weekend in Niles

        Hi everyone! My name is Joey Lemelin and I am a student archaeologist participating in this season’s excavations at Fort St. Joseph! In my opinion, the weekends at the Fort Saint Joseph field school are much slower and quieter then the rest of the week, well this past weekend was anyways. On Friday night, most of the students and staff returned to Kalamazoo and only a small number of us were left behind in Niles to hold down the fort. That is not to say that the weekends are just made up of those of us who can’t leave sitting around and twiddling our thumbs for two and a half days. Instead, we chose to explore the city of Niles and do important behind the scenes work at the fort site.
After a very rain-filled day, we finished our lab work around three on Friday. At which point, most of the students loaded into vans until only Hannon, Mallory, and I remained at the stables that we call our home during this field season. After shopping for this weekend’s food, we settled into a night of relaxation and rest. This was a much-needed break after an exhausting three days in the field clearing away brush and vegetation to cut paths through the dense forest. After a few rounds of ping pong, a wonderful dinner, and a finished book, I made my way to bed and the others wouldn’t stay up for much longer.
The following morning I rose long before anyone else and decided to go for an early morning run through the beautiful surrounding countryside. That is, of course, until I found that I seriously underestimated the distance of my proposed run and made my way back to the stables. Once back to the stables though, to my misfortune, I found that the door had locked behind me. A quick phone call or an unwelcome alarm to Mallory soon fixed that thankfully and I went on with my day as usual.
Later that day after we were all showered and prepared, we made our way to the Niles library in order to type and print our weekly journal and reflection. Upon arrival to the library however, we found that on this day at least, it was not the quiet sanctuary of study we imagined. Saturday happened to be the day of the annual Niles nerd-fest, a small ComiCon of sorts complete with cosplay, movie viewings, and even fencing in the atrium.  However interesting this may have been, it was not exactly conducive to writing the papers that Hannon and I needed. Nevertheless, after patience and perseverance, we both finished writing great journal entries and then made our way back to the stables.
Jack enjoying some relaxing time in the grass while we
worked on clearing and dewatering the field.
Soon after we returned, a new furry friend greeted us! Gary, one of the project’s staff members, had brought his dog Jack back to Niles with him! That evening we all drove to downtown Niles and ate a fine dinner of pizza in the riverside park as kids ran around in the nearby play structure, boaters went down the Saint Joseph River, and Jack went for a little swim. Upon finishing our dinner, we made our way to one of the local ice cream shops and all enjoyed a frozen treat.
Yours Truly as I worked to help clear
and dewater the floodplain.
On Sunday morning Hannon, Gary, and I woke early and prepared to head to the site of the fort. That was the day that we installed the great pumps to assist in “dewatering” the site. This process makes our excavations on the floodplain possible because if we did not dewater the area, the encountering of the water table would halt our excavations. After breakfast at a local diner accompanied by two local gentlemen named Lynn and Neil, we worked to first clear paths through the mud and reeds until we were ready to install the pumps. Lynn had brought a scythe with him to help clear the reeds, which for those of you who might not know, is the large tool generally associated with being carried by the Grim Reaper. Gary took a quick liking to this new instrument and got slightly overzealous with reed clearing.  After everything was installed it was nearly four so we had a late lunch and spent the rest of the evening preparing for the second week. I went to bed that night filled with excitement for the week to come.