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.