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Open house set for Fort St. Joseph Project in Niles

June 11, 2007

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University archaeologists have been getting the dirt on residents of an 18th-century trading post, and members of the public are invited to see and learn about what they've dug up.

The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project has set an open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 23-24, to highlight the history and archaeology of Fort St. Joseph, a mission and French fur trading post in Niles, Mich.

In addition, Michigan history teachers are invited to gain hands-on archaeology experience by enrolling in a weeklong class being held at the excavation site from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, June 18-22.

The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project was initiated in 1998 to identify, investigate and interpret the physical remains of Fort St. Joseph, one of the most important Colonial outposts in the western Great Lakes. WMU has conducted its annual archaeological field school at the site since 2002 in partnership with the city of Niles, Fort St. Joseph Museum and Support the Fort, a nonprofit organization focused on preserving the fort's history.

"The project continues to exceed our expectations, and we welcome the public to learn about the different aspects of archaeological research that our project is engaged in," says Dr. Michael Nassaney, principal investigator and WMU professor of anthropology. "This is history at the tip of the trowel!"

The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project has netted more than 100,000 artifacts and animal bones associated with the French and English occupations of the fort that once was located along the St. Joseph River. Its strategic location near the St. Joseph-Kankakee river portage allowed the French (1691-1761) and later the British (1761-1781) to control southern Lake Michigan.

This mission-garrison-trading post served as a hub of commercial, military and religious activity for local native populations and European powers for nearly a century during a critical period in the colonization of North America.

The open house will take place in South Riverfront Park on Bond Street, and extend to the public boat launch area near Fort Street. The event will feature an outdoor museum as well as a living history village and caps off the 32nd WMU field school, which began May 7 and runs through June 27.

At the outdoor museum, attendees will be able to witness ongoing archaeological investigations and view fort artifacts. Field school archaeologists will be on hand to lead tours, explain archaeology and recount the history of Fort St. Joseph.

The artifacts that will be on display will include items recovered in recent excavations, as well as items from the Fort St. Joseph Museum collection that have not previously been displayed and discoveries made during this year's WMU field school.

The living history village will offer demonstrations of 18th-century life, a keynote address at
4 p.m. Saturday, and lectures by Nassaney; Dr. Jose Brandao, WMU associate professor of history; and others. Living history re-enactors dressed in period outfits will be demonstrating ceramic making, music, blacksmithing, clothing manufacture, canoe trading, cooking, and the life of French and British soldiers as well as their native American allies.

Schoolteachers wishing to participate in the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project may sign up for a class that is a joint offering by WMU and the Fort St. Joseph Museum. Doing Archaeology is the name of the class, and the cost is $125. The class will meet at Fort St. Joseph. Those wishing to earn academic credit for taking the class may do so by registering for ANTH 6900 through WMU's Extended University Programs and paying additional tuition and fees. To register, visit www.eup.wmich.edu or contact Michael Nassaney at michael.nassaney@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3981.

During the class, students will learn how to conduct a site survey, excavation, data recovery, site recondition, artifact analysis, and historical reconstruction in a field setting. Two other sections of the course, one for adults and one for high school students, already are filled.

For more information about the open house or class, contact Carol Bainbridge, Fort St. Joseph Museum director, at (269) 683-4702 or visit the city of Niles Web site. More information about the Fort St. Joseph Project is available online.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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