Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Deluge of Difficulties

FSJ Friends,
            I hope you are all staying dry! Throughout the last week, most of the nation has been getting a lot of rain. While there has not been as much rain here in Niles, we are having a few water issues on the Fort St. Joseph floodplain. As you can see in the photos, it is a little wet! Because of this, we have shifted our focus back up to the Lyne Site on the terrace. We began our 2015 excavations at the Lyne Site and identified some eighteenth-century material. While we are slightly disappointed that we cannot currently work in the floodplain, we are at the same time excited to open new excavations on the terrace. This year’s students have been doing a great job and have truly enjoyed the outreach activities that they have participated in. 
Archaeology at the floodplain is going "swimmingly" (photo by Aaron Howard)
             Other exciting news includes the identification of an architectural feature in the floodplain. This feature requires more investigation which will take place once the river recedes or in a future field season. Despite these difficulties the Open House is moving along nicely and we cannot wait to see everyone there!
             Please keep dry weather in your thoughts!

-Erika Loveland

Of Rain and Pipes

Hello all, Jesse Westendorp again. We’ve had a bit of an exciting time lately, as I’m sure you’re all aware. The rain has made our task...interesting to say the least. However, in between the increasingly hard to ignore sense of impending doom, there was a bright spot in the day that served to distract a few of us from Mother Nature’s increasingly desperate attempts to bog our work down. Yesterday a very particular piece of Native American, or rather, native-French culture was unearthed at the Fort St. Joseph site. It was so precisely cut that at first thought it was simply a machined device of modern make, despite the fact it came from what we term the occupational zone. The occupational zone, for those who don’t know, is a region of soil beneath the disturbed soils in the Fort St. Joseph area. It is, in theory, basically untouched by modern hands.
Hopefully that tidbit of information, and the resulting unlikelihood of the artifact being from the modern era, should indicate to you just how precise the cuts were. As it turned out, the artifact was not a tool of modern times, but was actually a piece of a device called a Micmac pipe. This pipe was, as indicated above, something of a cross-cultural phenomenon. It was used by both the French and the Native Americans for quite some time. The primary features of a Micmac pipe are an inverted acorn shaped bowl, short constricted bowl stem and a triangular base. The pipe worked in a fairly simple way, a hollow reed was into a hole along the bottom of the triangular base, and at times decorations were hung along this reed, depending on the tastes of the soon-to-be user. There may also be a small hole near the “tip” of the pipe to release the smoke as the user partakes in the primary function of the device.
Micmac pipe uncovered this week.  (photo by Aaron Howard)
Now, to get such a wonderfully precise cut on the Micmac pipes, one needs to use a selection from a certain set of materials. The materials in question could be anything from Siltstone, soapstone, shale, limestone or linite. These pipes have been reported in a rather large area, indicate a large degree of cultural diffusion, perhaps aided by French traders. The area in question stretches from Labrador in Canada to Georgia in the United States. This range is impressive to say the least, and could be taken as a testament to the quality of the manufacturing process and the resulting product. A low-quality process would not, with European pipes and the like available from European traders and other native American pipe designs available in addition to the European pipes-have spread quite so far. The pipes are also found in a variety of environments, indicating that they may well have been hardy in addition to being high-quality. Another pipe of the Micmac variety was discovered in an area of rolling hills and bordered by an evergreen forest, the soil was by and large a yellowish sand and the site as a whole was bordered by what could accurately be described as a bog.
Considering our situation at the dig site, I cannot help but feel a stab sympathy to the poor men and women who had to work so close to that concentration of water. In addition, two other pipes were found within the same general area. This area being the Prince Albert area of Saskatchewan.  All three specimens recovered showed signs of professional craftsmanship, and one in particular, crafted from gray limestone, was specifically noted as having been of extra-local origin, indicating that the trade in Micmac had quite the reach indeed.
It’s quite fascinating, and dare I say exciting, to have had a part in unearthing a portion of such an interesting family of artifacts. Several people whom the artifact was shown to noted that the precision of the holes carved into the pipe was something they would attribute to a modern drill piece, rather than the work of long-dead craftsmen. I had not even known that such levels of precision had been reached amongst the natives of the America’s at that time period, so the whole experience regarding the pipe has proven to be very educational, and as I said before, exciting, as finding something out that one did not expect tends to be. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Display of Wealth

Gun parts found this week.
(photo by Austin George)
Digging is getting much easier for my partner and I the lower we go in our unit. We have finally reached the occupation zone, which is where we find undisturbed artifacts. Hopefully this will give us helpful information for uncovering a part of the fort. We have had some trouble with water filling our units, but it is not as bad as when the whole site flooded. Now the pace of our excavations are picking up.  We are low enough now that we can find structural stones from buildings and other features. My partner, Rebecca, and I may have found a ditch and hopefully it proves to be helpful. It could be a drainage ditch or a ditch for garbage. We are looking at maps from past years to draw more information to help us figure out why it’s there. During our lab time at night we are given time to look though past field notes and maps to lay out what we may find near our own units. Last week, we began our camper program with our life-long learners, so it was neat to work with others that have the same interest and excitement that we have about archaeology. We worked with them not only on excavation techniques but also at wet screening. We got to teach the campers what we know, which helped show us how much we have already learned. Throughout the week we found several unique artifacts like a knife blade, a gun flint, a gun part, and the neatest one was a green glass cuff link.

Metal alloy cuff link adorned with green glass.  (photo by John Cardinal)

Last week I began wet screening and started to find artifacts right away. I saw something in the screen that looked like green glass, which was pretty exciting, but when I pulled it out I realized it was a cuff link. Cuff links are usually found in areas where the French would have occupied and where they were trading. The presence of glass sleeve buttons related Fort St. Joseph to Quebec, Montreal, and most French cites. Cuff links were worn exclusively by males and were usually a sign of wealth and would show that the person was trading very ornate objects. There were many things that could have showed wealth back then like clothing type, clothing detail complexity, jewelry, and other things. So if someone had a very colorful or large cuff link it would have signified that they were trading more expensive items than someone with plain cuff links. Cuff links have two characteristics when you make an attempt to identify them. The first characteristic you can look for is whether the metal attachment has an oval or octagonal shape. Secondly, you look at the glass to see how it’s shaped. The glass is mounted to the metal and it is cut to reflect the most light it can. There have been about eight cufflinks found so far at the fort, which would make sense because very few are found in locations that the British also occupied.


A Little Jingle At Fort St. Joseph

As my fellow students have shown in previous blog entries, we have found (and found out) so many interesting things while working at the Fort St. Joseph site. My unit, N29 E12, is no exception! Last week, while I was wet screening a bucket of our dirt from 30-35cm below datum, one inconspicuous clump of mud melted away to reveal what looked like a squished, rusty, hollow metal ball about 1.75 cm in diameter. At first I thought it was a button, because there was a small loop on one side of the artifact. The chipped underside was more telling, however: There, the metal was very thin, and one half was bent inward toward the center, along a slot. Upon closer inspection and consultation with the field staff, we concluded this artifact was not a button, but a metal alloy bell!
Powell JW. 1894. Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Back of the recently excavated hawk bell.
(photo by Aaron Howard)
Artifacts like this one are referred to as hawk bells. They are made of brass, and when complete are made up of four elements: the crown, back, eye, and clanker or clapper (Charles Hulse, Fort St. Joseph Artifacts, 1977). The crown and back make up the main shell of the bell – the back is the top, while the crown is the bottom and has a slit across it (Lyle Stone, Fort Michilimackinac 1715-1781, 1974). The eye is a small loop on the back.  Finally, the clanker is a small loose piece of either iron or lead that is put inside the shell to produce that familiar jingle when the bell is rattled. When the crown and back are joined together, there is often a seam or raised lip around the middle of the bell (Hulse 1977). This holds true for a number of other bells that have been found at the Fort St. Joseph site in previous years – including this bell. Even more interesting is the fact that this bell is missing its clanker. This is likely due to the fact that half of its crown was broken off either before it was disposed of or while it slept beneath the soil. Even if this were not the case and this bell was otherwise complete, the clanker might still be missing, rusted away considerably more than the brass shell, especially if the clanker was iron (Jim Maus, Indian Brass Hawk Bells, 2013). Missing element aside, the most remarkable feature of this particular bell is its unique, squat, almost oblong shape – not unlike a few specimens uncovered at Fort Michilimackinac!
The fact that hawk bells like this one have been found at other French forts gives us an important hint about their origins. Made in Europe, these bells were brought over to the Americas to trade with the indigenous peoples (Maus 2013). The Native Americans then wore them like jewelry, or affixed them to clothes. To this day, similar bells are incorporated in some of our regalia, alongside other small items that our ancestors once traded for, like glass beads. In fact, such personal adornments were among the first goods traded with the Native Americans as far back as 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed near San Salvador (Maus 2013). Beads and bells did not make it further inland until the Europeans began to explore the interior of the continent.
I got a fever and the only prescription is more hawk bell.
(photo by Aaron Howard)
So, why are these artifacts called hawk bells? The term comes from their original uses in falconry. Starting in about the 13th century AD, Europeans put these small bells on their hunting birds so they were easier to find (Maus 2013). Hawk bells are essentially cat collars, but for raptors! However, because falconry was restricted to all but the social elite in France and England, it seems unlikely Fort St. Joseph’s non-indigenous inhabitants brought along their own birds of prey. Even so, hawk bells definitely played a part in the functions of Fort St. Joseph, serving as yet another medium of exchange. And who knows? Perhaps the Europeans at the fort picked up on the bell-wearing trend, too!

-Amelia Harp

It Only Takes A Spark

Hi Everyone,
      This is Gary, again, here to update everyone on my latest field school experiences. Since I last blogged, my fellow students and I have relocated to a new site along the St. Joseph River, which we all refer to as “the floodplain.”
About to apply some underwater archaeology techniques.
(photo by John Cardinal)
      At this new location, Amelia, my new pit partner, and I first opened up a new 1x2 meter unit within about six feet of the river. We had a great view and joked with our fellow classmates about it, telling them that we had the best real estate in town. The joke was on us, however, because the river rose and filled our perfectly excavated unit with water. Sadly, my partner and I felt a little displaced after being swamped out of our new unit; we wondered around for a few days helping others with their units, but both of us just wanted to return to our precious river front location. Its funny how attached we’d become to this excavation unit. Unfortunately, the water never completely receded, so Amelia and I opened up a new unit, which we “insightfully” placed farther away from the river’s edge.

      Yesterday, while excavating our newly placed unit, I was using a technique we call shovel skimming, a method of removing a thin layer of dirt with a long handled, razor sharp, flat bladed shovel. And, as I was skimming the dirt, I felt a small vibration run up the handle of my shovel. Upon closer inspection, I realized that I’d unearthed a gun flint—the first one I’ve ever found.
Chert gun flint. (photo by John Cardinal

    For those unfamiliar with gun flints, they are small precision shaped rocks used to ignite the gun powder in muskets, and, because of this ignition system, these guns are also referred to as flintlocks. Gun flint classification is surprisingly complex, but they are basically classified according to their, raw material (chert vs flint), method of manufacture (core vs blade), function (long gun vs pistol), shape (physical dimensions), and color (determined by the source of the raw material used). The particular gun flint that I unearthed is made from chert, honey in color, and technically referred to as a French gun spall.