Fort St. Joseph archaeological site focus of summer programs for all ages

contact: Deanne Puca
| WMU News
Photo of a Fort St. Joseph archaeological project sign.

The fort's location was pinpointed in 1998.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, sponsored by Western Michigan University and the city of Niles, is beginning its intensive summer program schedule, with registration underway for its summer camps and dates set for its lecture series, open house and traditional field school.

The schedule begins with the 41st annual WMU Archaeological Field School, a long-running tradition and one of the oldest archaeological field schools in the U.S., from June 30 to Aug. 19. The program offers graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to discover history as they search for evidence of past activities at Fort St. Joseph. Students gain hands-on experience in proper archaeological techniques, including excavation, site survey, wet screening, record keeping and mapping.

Summer programs at Fort St. Joseph

The field school is highlighted though several other programs at the fort this summer.

Summer camp programs

The Summer Camp Program for youth and lifelong learners, alike, provides an opportunity for the public to engage in history and search for evidence at the Fort St. Joseph archeology site. Led by WMU Public Education Instructor Tim Bober, participants spend a week discovering the extensive history of Fort St. Joseph and participate in onsite excavation with opportunities to wet screen, map and analyze recovered artifacts.

An approved continuing education program, the Lifelong Learner Camps offer students three WMU graduate credits, nine State Board Continuing Education Units in Michigan, credits for recertification in Illinois, and/or credits applicable toward the Professional Growth Plan in Indiana. To apply, visit Camp dates and target audiences are:

  • July 15-22, lifelong learners.
  • July 25-30, teachers and graduate students.
  • Aug. 1-5, middle school students in grades six to nine.

Lecture series

A Summer Lecture Series invites the public to engage in several interactive and educational programs that focus on this year's theme: "Flowing Through Time: Rivers in Historical and Archaeological Perspective." The annual four-part lecture series begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 20, at the Niles District Library. Other lectures will be held at the same time and location and feature these topics and presenters:

  • July 20, "Bark Canoes and Dugouts: Early Transportation on West Michigan Rivers," Kevin Finney, executive director, Jijak Foundation, Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi Indians.
  • July 27, "Native American and Euro-American Settlements of the St. Joseph River Valley," Allison Hoock, WMU graduate student.
  • Aug. 3, "A Plentitude of All Things: Resources of la Riviere St. Joseph," Terrance J. Martin, curator emeritus, Illinois State Museum.
  • Aug. 10, "A History Runs Through It: Nine Millennia of Human Experience Along the St. Johns River of Northeast Florida," Kenneth E. Sassaman, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida.

Annual open house

Fort St. Joseph also hosts its free open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, and Sunday, Aug. 7, at the corner of Fort and Bond Streets in Niles. Attendees can meet WMU archaeologists working at the archaeological site, observe period demonstrations at the Living History Village, explore the active site, participate in children’s activities and crafts, view recently uncovered artifacts, listen to period music and participate in period dance, and learn more about the importance of the St. Joseph River past and present.

About Fort St. Joseph

WMU's Department of Anthropology pinpointed the fort's location during an initial survey in 1998. Excavations began in earnest there in 2002, when WMU began conducting its annual archaeological field school at the fort site.

Since then, faculty researchers and students at the University have continued working to uncover and interpret the fort's physical remains.

First established as a mission in the 1680s by French Jesuits, the fort was one of the earliest European settlements in the western Great Lakes region. It was an important part of a chain of settlements that facilitated the fur trade between Native Americans and the French, and took on the roles of garrison and trading post during the first half of the 18th century.

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