Thursday, May 21, 2015

Grandpa History and Beads

Hello everyone,
            My name is Carmell Dennis, and I am one of the undergraduate students from Western Michigan University working on the Fort St. Joseph archeological site in Niles Michigan. This field school is my first field experience and so far it has been great! Next year I will be a senior majoring in both history and anthropology. My mix of interests in anthropology and history first started from listening to my grandpa who used to be a professor himself at Purdue University. My grandpa would always be calling me into his study to talk and teach me random things, whether it be in the car, kitchen, in the middle of a movie, living room, restaurant, or wherever we were and tell me stories from past events in history. He would try explaining to me why these things happened and how they possibly could have been prevented. He would also challenge my thinking in other ways giving me “what if” scenarios about the past such as when things were invented and ask me what effects these things would have in the future which sparked my interest in history and anthropology even more. Finally when I was able to attend Western Michigan University and had taken a few courses I signed up for Dr. Nassaney's Introduction to Archaeology class and Professor Tim Bober's First Americans class. After taking these two classes they both really opened up my eyes to anthropology and I have been hooked ever since.
Seed bead found by Carmell and Rebecca
(photo by Carmell Dennis)
            We have now been at the Lyne site for four days which have been colder than expected but everyone including myself was very eager to start digging and see what we could find. My unit partner Rebecca Stoddard and I started digging in our 1x1 meter unit on Tuesday and we started off great but we were not finding very much. Finally on Wednesday between fifteen to twenty centimeters below datum we had found our first culturally significant artifact a glass seed bead which we were so happy about! The seed bead was actually a common item in the Fort St. Joseph area during the 18th century especially since the site was a trade site. The bead also was our first culturally significant find because it showed that some type of human activity had gone on in the area that we were searching. Seed beads being made mostly in Europe had played a significant role between interactions with Europeans and Native Americans because they were used mostly for trade. They also were an item of high value for Native Americans because Native American made their beads out of bone, animal horn, deer hooves, turtle shells, and clam shells as opposed to glass.  Seed beads were sometimes used as diplomacy trade good items between Europeans and Native Americans. Seed beads got their name for looking very small like a seed are different than other beads like necklace beads which were strictly worn around the neck.
Some of the 2015 crew cleaning up units
(photo by Carmell Dennis)
Finding the seed bead makes me often think about what my grandpa and I talked about the "what if" in history. What if Europeans didn't trade glass beads and other items to establish a friendly diplomatic relationship with Native Americans? As I continue through the next six weeks of the field school I will continue to think about what my grandpa has said and as I find more artifacts continue research information about them.


My Passion

A school group visits the site (photo by John Cardinal)
Hey folks,
      I’m Gary Thompson, one of the fifteen college students presently working on the Fort St. Joseph archaeological site in Niles, Michigan. More specifically, I’m a non-traditional anthropology major at WMU with a particular interest in past Native American cultures and their initial interactions with Europeans along the St. Joseph River. As a young man growing up in south-west Michigan, my father and I would sometimes find arrowheads resting on the surface of my grandfather’s farm fields.  When this occurred, my father would always stimulate my imagination by postulating the possible histories of these objects­, “if only they could talk,” he would say to me. So not surprisingly, I grew up daydreaming about history and possibly becoming an archaeologist.  Well, I’m not a kid anymore, and I’ve finally gotten around to becoming an archaeologist; it’s my passion, you see.
Luke and I screening our soil. (photo by John Cardinal)
      So, like I mentioned, we are currently doing excavations in Niles, Michigan. As a group, we started out on Monday by setting up our equipment in a beautiful wooded area overlooking the St. Joseph River, a great habitation area by any standards. Everything went smoothly setting up the site, so by Tuesday morning my pit partner Luke and I were finally scraping and screening soil about fifteen meters away from the water’s edge. After all these years of college, I finally had a trowel in my hand, I reflected. Within a couple hours of work, Luke and I had our 1x1 meter unit several centimeters below grade level. We were encountering a mix of broken glass, 22 caliber shell casings, and small flakes of chert, not to mention a never ending supply of tree roots. Things were going great, and both Luke and I were grinning like two little kids on a field trip. It doesn’t get any better than this; I called to Luke, who smilingly agreed while screening dirt under our tetrapod. This turned out to be an ironic statement, however, because in the very next bucket of dirt we screened out a small arrowhead. For me, this was totally unexpected and somewhat surreal.  In fact, it evoked a nostalgic feeling of being a kid on my grandfather’s farm, finding an arrow head, and wondering what it would tell me if it could talk. That’s the thing you see, I want to give voice to the artifacts we uncover; I want to help tell their/the story. This is my passion.


A madison point found in our first level! (photo by John Cardinal)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Connecting to the Past

               Hello all! My name is Amelia Harp, and I am a first year graduate student majoring in Anthropology down at Georgia State University. This field school marks my fourth archaeological field experience, and my second dig at Fort St. Joseph. I participated in a week-long summer camp at the site back in 2011, and ever since, I haven’t been able to get the fort out of my mind! What most interests me about the site is its history of interconnectedness. Hundreds of years ago, the French and Native American peoples in the area intermingled in this unique community, exchanging things both tangible and intangible: furs as well as different ideas, traditions, worldviews, and so much more. Such collaboration at Fort St. Joseph continues to this day, in more ways than you would expect!
               Today was a chilly one compared to yesterday, but despite this, we accomplished quite a bit at the Lyne site! This morning, we finished laying out our 1-by-1-meter units. All of the stakes were in, and once we finished tying up string to outline each unit, we measured the starting elevations in the center and each of the four corners. This was done to establish a “starting point” for our excavation. By measuring how far above or below the ground level was in relation to our datum point (the southwest corner of a unit), we were able to determine how deep we needed to dig in order to form flat, uniform, 5-centimeter levels.
               Before any of our trowels or shovels broke ground, however, we stopped to observe a short, but very important ceremony. Seth Allard, of Ojibwe descent, smudged each and every one of us with the smoke of smoldering sage. Then, he came around and had us each take a pinch of tobacco, and instructed us to go to any point in the site for a private moment in which we dropped our tobacco. These rituals were done to purify us for our task at hand, and to acknowledge and give thanks for what we will be taking from the earth during our excavations. I am familiar with this ceremony, as I learned about and previously experienced them among my tribe, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. It would be an understatement to say I was pleasantly surprised to see those same rituals included in the beginnings of our field work! It makes me all the more proud to be involved with this project, knowing that we (Native Americans) are as very much a part of this site today as we were centuries ago.
Seth Allard prepares sage for a pre-excavation smudging.
                 The second time I came face-to-face with the Native reality of this area came much later in the day. After some excavation (with some interesting finds!) and dinner, Dr. Nassaney took us all out to visit a site of interest just down the road. Among houses and churches, there was a grassy lot on a street corner with a couple big trees, a historic marker, and a few unusual little hills. These were the Sumnerville Mounds, dating back to the Hopewellian culture of the first few centuries A.D. To be sure, they are nowhere near as marked as the Etowah Indian Mounds back in Georgia – in fact, as this corner of the city was being built up by early Niles founders and residents, other mounds in the area were destroyed! Fortunately, those mounds we saw at that grassy little corner have been preserved, with minimal archaeological disturbance, for future generations to visit and learn about.
                As an anthropologist and a Potawatomi woman, I cannot describe how happy it makes me to see Native perspectives and traditions being taken into such careful consideration when working with sites like Fort St. Joseph. It makes me proud to be involved with this project, and I cannot wait to see what more we can learn about the Native Americans that called Fort St. Joseph and the surrounding area their home.


Monday, May 18, 2015

First Day of the 2015 Field Season

                Hi there, my name is Genevieve Perry and I am going into my second year of college at Western Michigan University. I am majoring in Anthropology and have found a special interest in learning about archaeology and the science behind the field. I chose to apply to be a part of the Fort St. Joseph project because my first archaeology class with archaeology professor and head of the project, Dr. Nassaney, opened my eyes to the truth behind archaeology in that the point is not to find artifacts and exploit them or become Indiana Jones, but to learn from the things that are found in order to unravel the past and learn from people that lived hundreds or even thousands of years before us. Can you imagine the life lead by those who walked the earth that long ago? Because of archaeology, we no longer have to guess. The project, although still new in its season, has proven to be a success in my eyes already. Just in the first week of the course I’ve learned more about French and Native interactions and the process of the fur trade that took place in Niles, MI than I ever thought possible and I’m sure I have a great deal more to learn.
WMU students taking their skills into the field.  (photo by John Cardinal)
                We arrived in Niles today, bright and early, to be welcomed with smiling face and open arms from Fort St. Joseph Museum Director Carol Bainbridge. She helped us while we got our equipment for the field and packed up our trailers to get started on this long adventure. It is an honor that our team of Western students and staff has such great support from the community and the leadership of the city of Niles. Shortly after parting from Mrs. Bainbridge, our team headed out to the Lyne site, an archaeology site up on a terrace a short distance from Fort St. Joseph that has shown integrity due to past 18th century finds in the area. In our first week of excavation we will be working at the Lyne site in hopes to find more evidence of past activity. After our first week, we will move our crew down to the flood plain and continue our search for the architecture of Fort St. Joseph.
Special thanks to Alex Brand for stopping by and helping with site logistics.  (photo John Cardinal
                Today our Western team prepared for excavation at the Lyne site. Contrary to my inexperienced archaeologist brain, there is a lot of work to be done before we are able to break ground. I know our whole group was bubbling with anticipation to start exploring history.  We took our equipment and cleared the area of the Lyne site after a long two years of overgrowth. We even managed to clear a path down to the flood plain and feast our eyes on the natural beauty of the St. Joseph River and the undisturbed land. The river flows gorgeously along the site; I can’t imagine being any luckier to have a more breathtaking scene in front of us as we journey on. It’s a wonder that there are so many fascinating things to be learned beneath this soil. Choosing just one area in which each group is to examine and excavate is a difficult task put upon the more knowledgeable staff, but I am confident that our team is the very best. This week will be filled with new discoveries along with the excitement of making mistakes and knowing how to become the best archaeologists we can.
               After our long day in the sun, we headed to the Morris Farm which will be our living quarters for the duration of our excavation in Niles. Our generous host Stephanie Layman opens her home to Western students each year in her support of the Fort St. Joseph Project. Stephanie’s farm is a masterpiece with acres of grass and an unbelievable view of the lands that Niles has to offer. After taking in this wonderful view, we set up in our rooms and focused our minds on the benefits and challenges we may face while living in this learning community. I think I can speak for the entire Western archaeology team when I say that we are ready and excited to help the community of Niles learn more about its past. Again, the archaeology students and staff are beyond fortunate to have had and continue to have the support that we do from every aspect of the Niles community. I am sending a big ‘thank you’ from WMU to all Niles residents and supporters because we couldn’t have made any of this happen without you!