Monday, August 12, 2013

The Light and Dark Side of Archaeology

Michigan is one of those places; people don’t think of it as a place to vacation, they don’t even really think about it. This is because Michigan is not an easy place, she does not give up her gems to the unworthy. She will test you, bend you and break you before she reveals her mysteries. This summer we have been tested, bent and broken in numerous ways. We’ve been forced to hack through roots, wait out storms and survive the elements.  We’ve proven worthy and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what she holds. This summer we have gathered a vast amount of data from Fort St. Joseph, we have compiled a million theories and the only thing to do is to pack up, go back to campus and barricade ourselves in the lab. Looking back this summer has been crazy.

I tore through a root, it was dirty sweat breaking hard work but I stuck with it. I hardly ever turn down a challenge and I hacked and troweled and still came up with nothing I would get excited and have the hope torn away by a cold analytical eye that looked logically at the unit and saw that nothing was there. The time dragged by and I found nothing, I came up with nothing. When I found a wooden beam, today when we backfilled in on that beam without taking a sample (other than the previously taken) I felt a part of me cry out in horror knowing that once the matrix around the beam was disturbed it would never survive. Organic matter is very particular thing to preserve which makes it very hard, very expensive and very time consuming. If it was extracted and not preserved it would turn to dust in a box but left in the ground disturbed as it was it will do the same thing and in a year may not even be there. Though I will hope for the best and that Michigan will preserve the jewel she let us unearth this summer and made this experience well worth it.  

Archeology is wonderful and horrible study; we actively destroy everything we touch as we excavate. Yes we come out with amazing artifact that look gorgeous in a display case but those artifacts themselves cannot tell us what we want to know. Those artifacts cannot tell us what would it have looked like to the European settlers coming to this wild and untamed beautiful land? What did they see that we will never understand? In the past few weeks we have made astounding steps to revealing the life of these settlers through the association of artifacts. We’ve found their shoe buckles, their homes, their hearths but what did they see that they didn’t bother to write down?  Fort St. Joseph is not well document; we don’t know what it looks like, where things were or really who lived there. What would this place have looked like? We don’t know, we have complied a picture in our minds of a series of structures possibly homes lined up along the river. We’ve found the hearths we found two walls and a wooden beam but we still have a lot to do.

The voyager of Fort St. Joseph
See you 2015, ready and rearing to discover more of Michigan’s Jewel.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Media Day and Open House: A Great Ending to a Memorable Experience

A view of the site from the entrance

Wow, what a fast, but fun weekend! On Media Day we had the opportunity to show off our progress to the local news services in the morning, attending eight speakers, each of which gave short but heartfelt speeches. I was fortunate enough to be chosen as this year’s Media Day student speaker so I joined in the fun of speaking in front of the crowd of about 50 people. Because I am a Native American of the Ojibwa people, I gave my speech from the Native American perspective of Fort Saint Joseph, its history, and the results of the archeological work done at Fort Saint Joseph. To paraphrase, the Fort and its inhabitants were unique in that they shared French culture with the local Native Americans. The cultural mixing of religious beliefs, art, clothing, food ways, medicines, etc…, was done in such a way that the Fort becomes an inspiration for those who wish to see present and future generations not only tolerate each other’s cultures, but share them as well. The media and attending officials took all of the speeches to heart, and it was a great way to advertise and begin the Open House.
18th-centrury food being cooked and provided by TartTown
Saturday and Sunday were both very busy, with about 1,500 excited and curious visitors attending, as well as plenty of re-enactors of 18th century life on the frontier of New France. Each morning was spent in preparation and set up for the event, as well as wrapping up some work in our respective excavation units. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. we manned stations showcasing our work for the public to circulate between, including: an artifacts table displaying this and previous year’s finds, a zoo-archeological table with Dr. Terry Martin describing the significance of animal bones, and a children’s station where kids could play with wooden muskets, walk on stilts, put sherds together to make a complete ceramic plate, and even sift through a “unit” of dirt and find interesting “artifacts” related to the site, such as ceramics, bones, or seeds. We also stood near the excavations and wet screens, explaining the processes of excavation, wet-screening, artifact preservation, and interpretation of artifacts and features. Every station held its own excitement, due to the curiosity and engagement of the public.
I once again had the opportunity to speak to the public on Saturday, this time on the subject of Native American Food Ways. Rather than speak from the podium, however, I decided to lead a guided discussion on the subject, inviting the participants to engage my knowledge of the dig site and the history and culture of Fort Saint Joseph, while bringing our thought process back to Food Ways. Interesting topics of discussion were the location of bones in relation to living spaces, the types of bones and the significance of large amounts of deer bone, and Native agricultural methods, such as the “three sisters” system of farming.
Che explaining the interpretation of a few units
While the purpose of the Open House itself was to invite the public to see our work and explain the importance of archaeological study at Fort Saint Joseph, I always believe that the end goal of any study of human activity, whether it be historical, cultural, or a mixture of both, should be for the good of the public and the public’s education. It is quite obvious that visitors grasped the importance of Fort Saint Joseph as a site of cultural and historical significance, where the French and Native Americans were able to form a unique community from people of different social, economic, cultural, and linguistic and subsistence backgrounds. The research, in the end, informed the public as to the realities for French and Native American, as well as later inhabitants of the region. In short—there was a lot of learning going on, and not all of it from the public.
The participation of the public and their appreciation for the work at Fort Saint Joseph was amazing. We are all truly grateful for a public that values the importance of discovering our past, especially when we can use our knowledge to inspire a better future. They truly embody the mantra of the Field School:



New Technology at Fort St. Joseph

Here at Fort St. Joseph our program extends beyond a typical field school experience, into extensive interaction with the public, but also into exploring new possibilities provided by technology.  Over the last few weeks here in Niles, I’ve been experimenting with digital recording of the fort site.   Every archaeological site documents excavations by taking photographs of the walls and floors of units.   By implementing a series of 50-70 photographs taken from various angles, we are able to compile a 3D image of some of the open units at the site. 
            The possibilities provided by this technology are endless.  Not only does it provide a more complete record than a regular illustration or drawing, but also allows for a completely different look at the artifacts and features within.  After the season has ended and the excavation units are backfilled, there is a lasting image of layout and provenience of rocks and artifacts at a certain level. 
            In order to compile these images I’ve been using a freeware program called 123D Catch.  This program is able to produce realistic models taken from an ordinary DSLR camera.  Even better they have a mobile app that produces a similar file.  All the images are uploaded to the programs cloud and processed into a 3D model.  The model can then be edited and painted.  The following videos are examples of our currently open units.

The uses of digital technology and 3D modeling of an archaeological site provide great potential for research, as well as community and public engagement.  I hope to further explore the applications of utilizing 3D technology in the field of archaeology and at Fort St. Joseph in the future.