Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Tour of the Sumnerville Mounds

Dr. Nassaney explaining how to excavate a trench properly

Today we started to excavate in depth at the Lyne site. We already had our area where we were going to be working plotted yesterday, but we were unable to do much if any excavations due to the heavy rain we experienced that afternoon. Today we got to work fairly quickly since everything was already laid out. All the one by one meter trenches needed to be level before we could dig down. We put all the soil that was dug up through one-eighth inch metal screens to make sure we did not miss anything.

Looking for artifacts
 Today we did not reach the level where eighteenth century artifacts were found before in the area, but we were able to find other artifacts. We uncovered various amounts of broken glass which can be grouped into three main categories: clear, green, and amber. We were also able to uncover three rather large iron nails along with a rather large iron artifact with a loop at one end which is unidentifiable at this time. Other groups have turned up flint flakes used to make stone tools, more broken glass, some lead shot, and some more iron artifacts.

For dinner we were able to go and visit Barb Cook who, as a member of the Support the Fort Foundation, has been very supportive of the project. After dinner she showed us the ‘Sumnerville Mounds’ which consist of nine Native American burial mounds dating from the first through the fourth century C.E. of which two are right near the historic marker. I was surprised to hear that two of the mounds were not disturbed during the nineteenth century, since that was a fad of that era.
The group in front of the historic marker

Overall it was a pretty good day, with great weather in the afternoon, and a great meal in the evening. I personally cannot wait to get back into the field tomorrow to excavate some more.

A Rainy Day at Lyne

The group clearing the Fort site
The second day at the Fort ended up being a little soggy, but I think it was a good start.  We made it to the Fort a little after 8 am and spent the majority of the day clearing but right before we grabbed lunch at noon I had the opportunity to try my hand at surveying.  The clearing was, not surprisingly, a test to my endurance and arm muscles. Even though it was a lot of hard work some parts ended up being pretty fun, including my first time using a machete!

My first time surveying!
The surveying was fascinating because, even though I am a student with an interest in anthropology and archaeology, it is not every day that one gets the opportunity to use surveying technology.

We cleared at Fort St. Joseph in preparation to excavate later on this summer and surveyed the Lyne site which we will begin excavating tomorrow.  Lunch was a relaxing break, where we were surprised with yummy cookies from Mary Ellen.

Before we put in units at Lyne, Seth, a fellow classmate who is Ojibwa, informed us about a tobacco giving.  As archaeologists we often take from the land to learn, and we were able to give back to the land in a spiritual way that is new to us as students of archaeology through giving tobacco.  He taught us that tobacco, or semaa in his Native American language, is given to the land to say miigwech, which means thank you.  We all grabbed a pinch of semaa, sprinkled it across the land wherever we liked, and said miigwech in return for the knowledge and artifacts that are taken.  Afterwards, as we all were assigned pits and began measuring them out, a decent amount of rain hit us and we all scrambled to the cars. 

It slowed and we decided to go back to the Lyne site.  Anna and I were able to finish measuring our pits, staking in the correct points, stringing our pit, and began to set up our screening area to look for artifacts.
Hayden and Alexis measuring their unit with the help of James

At that point, a hard downpour began and we all ran for our lives, but even so, we ended up like wet puppies.  We headed over to the local YMCA, trying not to track mud everywhere, and were able to take an amazing shower thanks to their hospitality.  The last excitement of the night was a group dinner of stir-fry that was a ton of fun and much needed after our first full day of work.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Our First Day in Niles!

Our first group photo!
 Hello from Fort St. Joseph's 2013 field school members! Today we left from WMU's campus at 8:45 AM to spend the day in Niles for the first time.  After unloading our personal gear at our new home and organizing our dig equipment at the field, we came together as a group to talk about our initial feelings toward this experience.  Many people (including myself) were nervous – even though we've had a four day orientation at WMU, I still felt unprepared for actually being in the field.  But everyone expressed excitement about doing real archaeology, most of us for the first time.  After our discussion, we met our wonderful host Stephanie and her family, who have generously offered us their home, the Stables, for the group to stay in for the next six weeks.  She gave us a tour, and then we began to prepare for actually working in the field.
            It had been raining throughout the day, and we had to tramp through the mud to get to the flooded Fort St. Joseph site.  We talked about some of the difficulties of the area – from the 1930's to the 1960's it was a landfill, so today some parts are impossible to excavate without digging through six feet of twentieth century trash first.  Also, as the area is a floodplain, we will need to drain the area of water first, a process which has been started by our staff member, Alex, as well as an extremely helpful volunteer, Neil.  We will also need to clear the area of vegetation before we can dig.
Admiring the massive boulder
            After seeing the floodplain, we quickly stopped at the recently re-dedicated Boulder.  It was placed in 1913 to commemorate Fort St. Joseph, although how (or why!) they moved a 65 ton boulder is beyond me.
            Next, we went to the terrace to see where we will begin digging.  Pits have been dug here by previous field schools, but there is still a blank area on our map which we want to learn more about.  We spent an hour or so clearing the site with machetes, grass whips, and rakes, and kept an eye out for spiders and tick bites after swapping scary bug stories earlier in the day.  It was hard work, but we managed to do okay for a first time – Dr. Nassaney gave us a B+.
Aaron and James getting acquainted
            Finally, we came back to the Stables for a dinner hosted by Stephanie, her family, and her friends.  It was overwhelming to me how much everyone in this community I've met really does care about the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.  Dr. Nassaney had told us that the community was supportive, but after the delicious dinner and friendly new faces I am starting to understand how right he is.  I was nervous before coming, but now that I have met people interested in what we are doing and gotten to know my fellow students better, I already feel comfortable and excited to continue.  Our first day was long, but I have a feeling that this whole thing will be finished all too soon.