Fort St. Joseph archaeological lectures available online

Contact: Cheryl Roland
Photo of WMU students at Fort St Joseph.

Free virtual lectures focus on 18th-century French fort in Niles, Mich.

KALAMAZOO--Want a sample of what it's like to take part in groundbreaking archaeological research without getting any dirt under the nails?

Western Michigan University's Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project is offering free virtual lectures designed to take classes of curious school students or groups of armchair archaeologists behind the scenes of an ongoing WMU effort to uncover a major Michigan historical site.

Virtual lectures using the popular and free communication tool called Skype focus on the progress and history of excavation of an 18th-century French fort located in Niles, Mich. Fort St. Joseph was one of the earliest European settlements in the western Great Lakes. It has been the site of an annual WMU field school and dig since 2002.

Those wishing to tap into the lectures must download Skype and create an account. They also must have access to a webcam, the Internet and a projection area where the lecture may be viewed.

The virtual lectures will include PowerPoint presentations, images of authentic artifacts, and face-to-face discussion between participants and students, allowing the public to "enter" the lab where post-fieldwork analysis takes place on a weekly basis.

This virtual lecture program is offered free of charge and can take place in any classroom with the technical capabilities to receive the information. It's a virtual field trip without the need for buses or permission slips.

The program is specifically designed to educate students, from grades 3 through 12, about what archaeology is, the history of the French fur trade in the Midwest, and the methods involved in recovering, identifying, and analyzing artifacts and other cultural materials. Program coordinators will also consider requests from adult groups interested in learning more about Fort St. Joseph and its importance to Michigan's heritage. The lectures will be offered on a first come, first served basis, with a variety of time slots and dates available. Each lecture lasts approximately 30 minutes.

About Fort St. Joseph

Fort St. Joseph was a military installation and trading post that was one of the first European settlements in the western Great Lakes region. It was occupied for nearly a century--from 1691 to 1781--by the French, British, Spanish and Native Americans. Located on the banks of the St. Joseph River, the fort and its remnants gradually disappeared, and only vague information about its exact location existed.

In 1998, WMU's Dr. Michael Nassaney, professor of anthropology conducted a preliminary survey, eventually locating the site of the fort in Niles, which is known as the City of Four Flags.

After a decade of excavation led by Nassaney, the archaeological project is expanding its public outreach efforts to future archaeologists through new technologies and software.

The Fort St. Joseph Project is a collaborative partnership involving Western Michigan University, the city of Niles, the Fort St. Joseph Museum, Support the Fort, and numerous individuals and community groups.

The project offers a variety of public education and outreach opportunities, including popular summer archaeology camp programs for adults, students, and educators, where participants can excavate at the fort site under the supervision of archaeologists for a whole week.

Each season the fieldwork culminates in an annual open house that during the past five years has attracted more than 10,000 visitors to view ongoing investigations, hear informational panels, see artifact exhibits, and watch living history re-enactors who make the 18th century fort come alive. Excavation is set to continue in 2012.

For more information on the project or virtual lectures, contact Dr. Michael Nassaney at or visit the project website at