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!

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.
unusual.

           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.