Open house allows WMU researchers to showcase Fort St. Joe

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University archaeologists are set to offer the public a look at progress on the Fort St. Joseph archaeological dig in Niles, a sample of some of this summer's findings and a glimpse into the18th century lives of Native Americans and European settlers.

"Seeking Shelter From the Storm: Architecture in 18th-century New France" is the theme of a two-day open house at the site scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 27-28. The free public events will take place at the dig site, located in Niles' South Riverfront Park at the corner of Bond and Fort streets.

About Fort St. Joseph

The Fort St. Joseph mission, garrison and trading post complex was occupied from 1691 to 1781 along the St. Joseph River in what is now the city of Niles. Built by the French, the fort was at times during its 90-year history, controlled by the British and the Spanish. Since 1998, WMU faculty researchers and students have been working to identify, investigate and interpret the physical remains of the fort, one of the most important Colonial outposts in the western Great Lakes.

Throughout the day, faculty and students from WMU's Archaeological Field School will show off the site and demonstrate the wet screens they use to find evidence of the fort's history. This year's discoveries include such items as parts of firearms, a brass bell and a French seal of the crown. Other finds from this and previous years' work will also be on display.

Additional activities during the open house will include lectures and demonstrations; living history re-enactments of military and mission life; blacksmithing, spinning and quill writing; and timber-frame and wigwam construction techniques. Other demonstrations will focus on 18th century music, dance and food. Food will be available for purchase, and rides in a voyageur canoe will be provided by the Sarett Nature Center on both days for $3 per person.

About the field school

WMU has conducted its annual archaeological field school at the site for 11 of the past 13 years, in partnership with the city of Niles, the Fort St. Joseph Museum and Support the Fort, a nonprofit organization focused on preserving the fort's history. Researchers are back in the field this year after taking a hiatus last year to allow Field School Director Dr. Michael Nassaney a sabbatical, to write a book on the archaeology of the North American fur trade (University Press of Florida, September 2015), and to assess the path forward for the project. This year, the WMU Field School participants began their work at the site May 18, and they will remain until June 30.

The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project also sponsors a public education and outreach program. Field school students help instruct and work alongside adult, teacher, and high school student participants in week-long archaeology summer camps.

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