Students who like digging in the dirt, are “digging” the Department of Anthropology’s Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.
The project began in 1998 when a local history group called Support the Fort contacted Western Michigan University (WMU) in hopes of finding Fort St. Joseph. In partnership with the City of Niles and the Fort St. Joseph Museum, the search resulted in direct evidence of the fort’s location just south of present-day downtown Niles.
Annual excavations began in 2006 and WMU students enrolled in the archaeological field school are still investigating the site. In addition to the field school, each year, week-long summer camps are offered giving middle and high school students, lifelong learners, and educators the opportunity to “dig in the trenches” alongside the archaeologists as they uncover the history of Fort St. Joseph. More than 125 people have participated since the program’s inception.
Recent Project Outcomes from the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project include:
• hosted the third annual lecture series in cooperation with the Niles District Library;
• 35 participants in the 2011 summer camps;
• a weekly blog for archaeologists to share their experiences (http://fortstjosepharchaeology.blogspot.com);
• winning the Archaeological Institute of America’s Online Excavation Outreach Contest, defeating similar public programs in the Mediterranean, South America, and the United States. See the story at: http://www.archaeological.org/news/aianews/4006;
• a feature in “American Archaeology,” a magazine published by the Archaeological Conservancy;
• nearly 2,000 people at its annual Open House; and
• a new booklet on the fur trade is currently being prepared with the support of the Michigan Humanities Council and will be distributed later this year.
The annual open house is held over a weekend in early August. The event gives the community the chance to learn from scholars, interact with historical re-enactors portraying life during the time of the fort’s occupation, see newly uncovered artifacts in the outdoor museum, and experience the history of the fort.
- The 2012 Open House will be August 11-12 (Theme: The military at Fort St. Joseph)