Thursday, July 25, 2013

18th Century Swag!

Our third week working at Fort St. Joseph comes to an end, and although this is only our first whole week working at the Fort St. Joseph site since we were previously working at the Lyne site, we are already making some great discoveries.  Digging progressively becomes more and more fun especially since we are all confident in our knowledge of what we are doing at this point.  In our units we are using excavation techniques such as shovel skimming, troweling, and water screening.
I am working in unit N23W9 with my pit partner, Alexis.  There was a hearth found nearby, and with the French colonial house dimensions in mind, we are hoping to find a structural wall in our unit.  Many hearths have been found at Fort St. Joseph, so this year we are hoping to find the walls of many of the houses that used or contained these hearths.

Che and I working in our units with a camper!
Currently in our unit, we hit the beginning of occupation between thirty five and forty centimeters below datum, meaning we reached the level where the colonists lived that is undisturbed soil, which is also known as in situ.  Getting to that level we have found a variety of artifacts through troweling and water screening such as lots of animal bone, pipe stems, lead shot, a musket ball, a chain, a tinkling cone, faience, seed beads in an assortment of colors, stones with mortar on them, iron nails, some unknown metal, and possibly a piece of a gun.
I’m in the orange wet screening with one of the campers this week, Lucas.
There was more than one item of adornment found in our unit. The type of clothing and adornments that people wore were an expression of class, occupation, and gender identity (Wise, 2001).  One of the odd items we discovered, well actually that my pit partner discovered, was a metal chain.  We believe that it was a chain that linked jewelry for some kind of adornment.  The chain resembles a similar chain found at Fort Michilimackinac that was a gilt brass hinged object, which they identified as a possible earing (Stone, 1974).  A chain like this one has never been found at Fort St. Joseph before, but that was not the only item of adornment found in our unit.
While wet screening our dirt, an intern, James, and I found a tinkling cone.  This artifact is made of copper that is rolled into a conical shape.  They served as ornamental pieces that were attached to clothing or hair  and were worn by Europeans and Indians (Hulse, 1977).  Hair would be threaded through the tinkling cone and knotted on the inside so it can be attached to clothing or accessories such as bags, moccasins, purses, and earrings.  Tinkling cones from French colonial sites are seen all over the western Great Lakes, Illinois, and Louisiana areas.  Tinkling cones were found at Native American sites as well and some modern Native Americans today still wear tinkling cones on their clothes or accessories.  There was little variation between tinkling cones, which suggests diffusion or trading between different sites; although, there were slight crafting differences between Native Americans and Europeans (Giordano, 2005).

Today these items of adornment can tell us about the culture of those who lived at the Fort.  As archaeologists, it is our job to not only uncover the artifacts but then to interpret them based on what is previously known about other similar artifacts, knowledge of the site, and time period.  Artifacts can possibly change previous perceptions about a site or suggest new discernments.
--Katie Collier
Giordano, Brock A. Crafting Culture at Fort St. Joseph: An Archaeological Investigation   of Labor Organization on the Colonial Frontier.  Masters thesis, Department of          Anthropology, Western Michigan University: Kalamazoo, Michigan, 2005.
Hulse, Charles. An Archaeological Evaluation of Fort St. Joseph: An Eighteenth Century            Military Post and Settlement in Berrien County, Michigan. Masters thesis,     Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University: Lansing, Michigan, 1977.
Stone, Lyle M. Fort Michilimackinac 1715-1781: An Archaeological Perspective on the   Revolutionary Frontier.  East Lansing: Museum, Michigan State University, 1974. Print.
Wise, Stacy L. An Examination of Social Identity and Material Culture in French colonial             North America. Masters Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Western Michigan             University: Kalamazoo, Michigan, 2001.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Choppin Roots, Like a BOSS!

Some of the artifacts recovered from FSJ today!
Howdy! I hope you have been having a splendid day in this wonderfully cool weather we've been having; it sure does make it a wee bit easier to work. Even if it makes wet screening a terror, between the water and the wind your fingers turn into icicles. Frozen fingers or not, we still had a very successful day at the screens and found multiple gun flints, musket balls and as always a staggering amount of bone fragments. Just look for yourself!

Sadly I have not  experienced the wonderful insight of the middle school campers we have entertained this week but I have heard so very much about them and am simply bursting with jealousy. If we could kidnap one and keep them at the stable, we promise to feed it and love it dearly, donations accepted. My unit partner and I have not had the luxury of having a middle schoolers because we are wild crazy hatchet swing maniacs, just kidding but really. See following picture to understand…

Our unit prior to root hacking.
Above is a picture of our unit at 30cm below datum. You are looking at a tree root that sprawled across our entire unit. After hours of hacking, slashing and chipping with every wood working instrument on hand we managed to reduce the root.  Something Dr. Nassaney says last years field school wouldn't be able to cut it (get it?!?).  After several more hours of chopping, cutting, and slicing we managed to dig 5 more centimeters, which is pictured below.

It took forever and a remarkable amount of effort but our unit is a masterpiece of wood work. Every one of you should come out and see this work of art Friday at 2pm, sharp. It is at this time that we will be hosting pit tours at the Fort St. Joseph site and I’ll most likely be continuing to chiseling away at our roots.
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 -Hayden McKee

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Tales a Sherd Could Tell

We are in the thick of excavating our 1x2 meter units at the Fort Saint Joseph site. We are currently at the top of the plow zone, or the level of soil which has been churned by farmers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. My unit hit the plow zone at 35 centimeters and my pit-partner, Steven, and I suspect that we will excavate well past 60 centimeters in this unit. We have encountered four large stones, which are probably associated with a wall feature that was excavated just northeast of our unit in 2012. In essence, our pit and the pit immediately south of us are being dug in order to intersect the west side of what we believe to be the foundations of an 18th-century house. It is a very exciting to be assigned this unit, as it is yielding contemporary household items and objects. The items and objects we are uncovering, such as ceramics, beads, and even animal bone, can be indicative of social factors, especially in multicultural settings such as Fort Saint Joseph. I will elaborate on material culture using an example from our own growing artifact collection: red earthenware ceramics, or redware.

Redware recovered at Fort St. Joseph
There are many types of ceramics based on their raw material, form, function and style. Many of the ceramics found at the site were produced in Western Europe, China, or even in the New World. Clues to the locations and dates of ceramic manufacture can be ascertained by their physical and chemical traits, observable makers’ marks, and records of their production and distribution. These traits make ceramics identifiable, and their ability to preserve makes them a near-constant feature of archaeological investigation. Therefore, we can use ceramics to assist us in classifying dates of occupation, identify the individuals occupying cultural sites, and understand the contemporary sociocultural setting of the site. As I said, we discovered a 2 x 2 centimeter sherd of redware, which was glazed on both sides, and had a reddish-brown hue overall. So what can we learn from this sherd?

First off, redware was manufactured in Britain, France, and North America, though most published sources point to British potters, or American colonists making redware in the British fashion. Secondly, redware is commonly associated with everyday household use, as opposed to being used in formal and social settings, such as a formal dinner. For formal dinners, the more delicate and artful white ceramic or porcelain was brought out for guests. Informal kitchen use and food ways, however, were reserved for the more durable and less expensive redware bowls, plates, cups and containers.

It is also believed that redware and similar ceramics were usually owned by people with lower socioeconomic standing, such as low-ranking military members. Further supporting the use of high-class ceramics within high-ranking households, is the belief that even if low-ranking soldiers or laborers for trading posts could afford the more expensive ceramics, they would not be expected to own or use them within their social station. Redware at Fort Saint Joseph, however, is not as common of a ceramic type as it is at Fort Michilimackinac. What are the implications of these observations?

It would seem that there is socioeconomic diversity at Fort Saint Joseph, perhaps it is also apparent in to the range of ceramic types, and by implication their value and utilitarian forms. The users could be middle to high class in standing, but preferred the more durable redware for everyday use, and therefore owned and used it on a regular basis. Perhaps the French or British inhabitants became separated from their respective cultural norms, and reverted to a mixed set of cultural norms for displaying socioeconomic standing. In other words, a small contingent of soldiers and traders, left to their own devices and far from the strict eyes of the military and the judgmental eyes of French or English society may have used redware on a more regular basis. Of course, these interpretations must be supported by other lines of evidence. What other objects would be consistent with these ideas? Let us know and we will keep you posted on future discoveries!


Monday, July 22, 2013

A Closer Look at Seed Beads

Down at the Fort St. Joseph site we are beginning to find this season’s first traces of 18th-century artifacts. Some units have found artifacts like bone, slag and clinker, a fragment of a clay tobacco pipe stem, and numerous seed beads. Currently my unit has yielded the largest number of seed beads with over ten (white and blue beads) found so far. Seed beads are a common artifact at the Fort and this blog is dedicated to give you a little more background on something you’ll be hearing a lot more about in future posts.

A few of the seed beads found at my unit
Made by the Europeans and then transported to the New World, the seed beads were specifically designed to be mass-produced to facilitate trade. Most glass beads, especially in the 17th century, were produced by stretching out a long hollow tube of glass, letting it cool then slicing the hardened glass into individual beads. Seed beads get their name from their size; they are only a few millimeters in diameter and resemble small seeds. Because of their size they were embroidered onto clothing as adornment and decoration instead of being used as necklaces.  Larger beads are also found on site but only one has been recovered thus far. These trade beads where produced in large quantities by the 17th and 18th century and were frequently exchanged with Native Americans.

Such a high demand for these beads was created by the cross-cultural contact between the French and the Native Americans. Along with beads, Native Americans also traded for European fabrics, cutting it into the style of their traditional dress. Pre-bead decoration in Native communities was defined by what resources they had naturally like feathers, shell and bone. These traditional patterns were maintained after the introduction of beads.

Bead color was important. European traders learned which beads were more likely to sell based on which colors the Natives consistently bought. Colors like white, red and black were popular for their symbolic meanings. White stood for light, life, mind and knowledge. Red for fire (or for heat and light), life, blood and berries. Black symbolized darkness, death, mourning and an overall absence of well-being.

New glass technology was being pioneered at this time in Europe, arriving just in time to fill the demand for different colored beads. This allowed a wider range of colors to be produced. Different chemicals were used to create different colors in the glass. For example, the seed beads we have found so far have been blue and white. In order to make that blue color on the bead the glass maker would have used cobalt oxide, or some sort of copper compound. To make the beads white they would have added either tin compounds or antimony oxides.  

Seed beads are a common trade item for sites in North America where Native Americans traded with Europeans. We can find seed beads in many of the places where the two cultures were in contact. Patterns of seed beads similar to Fort St. Joseph’s bead assemblage can be found at other Great Lakes sites such as Fort Michilimackinac and Rock Island. The beads themselves took on different functions but one thing that is clear is that the beads represent an important part of the cross-cultural interaction between the French traders and the Native Americans who incorporated them into their own culture.



Malischke, Lisa Marie. “The Excavated Bead Collection At Fort St. Joseph (20BE23) and Its Implications For Understanding Adornment Ideology Cultural Exchange and Identity”. Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, MI. 2009

Miller, Christopher L., and George R. Hamell. “A New Perspective on Indian-white Contact: Cultural Symbols and Colonial Trade.” Journal of American History 73 (2): 311-328. 1986

Geoscience News and Information. Elements of color in stained and colored, 2013.