There’s more to archaeology than Indiana JonesPublished 1:14am Saturday, August 29, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC – Chris Foldesi expected to spend this summer playing Indiana Jones along the banks of the St. Joseph River in Niles.
In his mind’s eye Foldesi the “caped crusader” brandished Harrison Ford’s bull whip.
Foldesi, a Rotary college mentoring student sponsored by the Parchment club, has moved to East Lansing from Kalamazoo Valley Community College to attend Michigan State University this fall.
This summer the history major completed a six-week internship in archaeology through Western Michigan University at Fort St. Joseph.
“It was nothing like I thought it would be,” he told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889. “I honestly thought you started digging with a shovel until you start hitting stuff. I really honestly thought we were going to find the fort. That’s a total misconception everyone has.
“As we educated people at our open house, we don’t know where the fort is. It was interesting to me that there’s more science behind archaeology than what a lot of people think. People think of science as chemistry and physics, but archaeology tries to understand the stratigraphy of soil changes along with the relationships between the artifacts. It’s really important for everyone to understand archaeology because we’re all consumed by the media representation of Indiana Jones, but that’s not really how it works. And it’s not necessarily paleontology, either – digging up bones. We find a lot of animal bones, but burnt remains or broken remains that people used as possibly tools – it’s not full skeletons. I didn’t really understand before the placement of actual artifacts and the law of association. If this item is placed with another, they are from the same time period. You can understand by having these objects close to one another that they are cultural deposits from the same time frame.”
“Since I’d never taken an archaeology class, I didn’t know what to expect,” Foldesi said, nor did he “understand the reality of archaeology. (Dowagiac Rotarian Doug) Stickney helped me get my foot in the door with Fort St. Joseph. I actually switched my major to have a dual major with anthropology, which is part of archaeology. Archaeology is one of the narrow scopes of anthropology. Mr. Stickney suggested to me doing something with Fort St. Joseph, since it’s relatively close to Kalamazoo compared to Fort Michilimackinac” at the Straits of Mackinac separating Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas.
“I had a history of Michigan class this past semester which helped me understand Fort St. Joseph and how important it was to the southwest Great Lakes community,” Foldesi said. “I contacted the museum in Niles,” which led to Dr. Michael Nassaney, who heads the WMU Department of Archaeology as well as being the chief investigator for the annual field schools which dig along the St. Joseph River fort site.
Nassaney spoke to Rotary May 7.
All the sorting, bagging and washing of little musket balls and ceramic shards could be “annoying” to the would-be swashbuckler Indiana Jones.
For six weeks to reach a depth of 60 centimeters, Chris crouched over a space the size of a bathtub.
“It’s quite a tedious process for the amount of work that actually gets done,” he said. “I know you guys have a couple CM (college mentoring) students you sponsor. It’s really important for you to be educated on the program. You’re paying for our future with these networks and meetings in a businesslike atmosphere. You’re getting us set up for life. What you guys are doing is awesome. What I understood from this summer internship is that archaeology tries to really understand you’re not Indiana Jones. It’s nothing like the media represent. It reaffirmed I enjoy history more, but history includes anthropology and many subject areas. I met a lot of new people I hope to keep in contact with.”
He showed a picture of his “new family” of 25 people all clad in blue shirts.
“We became really close in six weeks,” Chris said. “The college mentoring program gives students the opportunity to explore their major. It really helps you to narrow down where you’d like to study because you get first-hand experience to understand what you like and don’t like. I don’t think I would have done this internship without Mr. Stickney’s help and connections. It’s really important that you guys help us students get these internships. I’m really proud to be part of this program and the amazing network that’s been set up by Rotary. I can’t reiterate enough that investing in us the youth invests in the future,” Foldesi concluded.
As a companion to his presentation, the club’s own Sonja Smith reported on her one-week participation in an adult camp.
There were also camps for middle schoolers and people seeking degrees.
“Archaeology is so precise,” she said. “Fort St. Joseph is a very important place in our area. University of Michigan went looking for it, Michigan State went looking for it, Notre Dame went looking for it. None of them found it. Western Michigan found the site. Archaeology worked hand in hand with history. Our group had nine members” instructed by graduate student Andy Beaupre, who addressed the Dowagiac club July 16 about stratigraphy.
Smith said the three females included herself and two high school girls.
Six males included two high school boys.
Mornings they met at the Fort St. Joseph Museum in Niles to verse themselves in Michigan history.
The fort was founded in 1691. The French influenced the Great Lakes while the English controlled the seaboard.
The fort was a commercial center rather than a military outpost, particularly for the fur trade. There were also Jesuit missionaries who were instrumental in its development.
By 1781, Britain took over from the French.
The Spanish flag flying for one day gave birth to Niles as the “City of Four Flags.”
After history, they tackled archaeological concepts and procedures.
“In the afternoons we did our digs,” said Smith, who also took part in field school a few years ago.
Dig areas are determined by transom, a device which looks like a yellow movie camera mounted on a tripod.
Pinned to her shirt is a badge indicative of the precision given to the whole operation.
A 23 refers to the site of Fort St. Joseph; 20, Michigan; BE, Berrien County.
Another site in Niles is on the bluff, which was first suspected to be the fort site.
Referring to the soil layering described by stratigraphy, Smith said the alluvial layer is brought in by the river. Below that is the “plow zone” remaining from the century from 1830 to 1930 when the site was farmed.
“Part of the reason none of the other universities could find Fort St. Joseph is that it was underwater. At the time it was a fort, the river was eight feet lower. But there’s (French Paper) mill up the river that dammed it up and raised the water level. It’s flooded every spring and has to be dewatered. They just changed from noisy, stinky diesel to electricity the City of Niles installed.
“Where you really get filthy dirty is wet screening” artifacts which go initially to the WMU lab for cataloguing and analysis, but will eventually return to Niles.
Soil samples and seeds are also analyzed.
Southern peach pits have been recovered in Niles.
Smith said, “People want to get artifacts and resell them on the open market. One good thing about our site is that we close it up and stop dewatering it so it becomes a swamp again. Because we have GPS coordinates, we kind of hide it and nobody else can find it, which protects it.”