Voices from the Field: Interning at Grand Portage National Monument

By Danielle Kiesow

This summer I’m the archaeology intern at the Grand Portage National Monument in the most northern tip of Minnesota along the shores of Lake Superior and it’s been a great experience! Grand Portage National Monument is unique in that it’s located within the Grand Portage Reservation (home of the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, also known as the Ojibwe or Anishinaabe) so I have the chance to work alongside the locals and together we can learn more about their past.

I’m accompanied by the Chief of Resources at the Park, Bill Clayton, and Jammi Ladwig, a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. We’re doing a lot of different things during my summer here including monitoring sites for any looting, helping out with some excavations at Isle Royale National Park just a few miles away in Lake Superior, participating in cultural resource management (CRM) work, archival research, working on my thesis, and even chainsaw training. Definitely the most challenging part of my internship is finding time to do everything!

NWC Depot

The reconstructed Great Hall in the North West Company Depot overlooking Lake Superior.

Grand Portage is known for its importance in the fur trade, and in fact it’s named after the 8.3-mile portage from Lake Superior to the Pigeon River that divides Minnesota from Ontario. Through previous archaeology from the 1930s and into the 1970s, Grand Portage National Monument has been able to reconstruct the stockade and some of the buildings of the North West Company’s depot that existed from 1731-1803.

Montreal Canoe

What better way to learn a little bit about the lives of the voyageurs than paddling in a replica Montreal canoe?

Even though the fur trade is the focus of the park here, my thesis work is all about what happened after the fur trade: when the English packed up their things (including a few of the buildings) and moved across the newly designated border to establish Fort William (today Thunder Bay, Ontario). The Hungry Years, as they’re still called by the descendants on the reservation, followed the end of the fur trade and lasted into the beginning of the reservation era, when the U.S. government wrote the Treaty of 1854 that established the Grand Portage Reservation. My thesis is looking at the land use and gardening or farming practices on the reservation from 1854 until 1930 to analyze the relationship between the Ojibwe at Grand Portage and the Indian Agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). This time period has, until recently, been largely ignored by the National Monument and much of the descendent community that can remember what life was like during this period have passed. It’s important for all of us – the National Park Service, the descendent community, and everyone else – to understand the suffering that resulted out of racism and to celebrate the strength and perseverance of the Grand Portage Ojibwe. Knowing that my thesis is one of the first research projects about the Ojibwe perspective during the transition into living on the reservation is definitely the best part of my internship.

I have been conducting research at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul and the National Archives in Chicago for more background into the BIA-Grand Portage relations before I excavate the yard of a former BIA building in August. The most important thing I’ve learned during my research is the resiliency and resourcefulness of the Grand Portage Ojibwe throughout the years. Instances like creating tolls and selling items along the Grand Portage to earn money from the voyageurs, petitioning the Indian Agency and making their voices heard during a time where Indian Agents called them the sons and daughters of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (and treated them as such), and never leaving their land or their fishing economy even though they were without electricity until the 1950s and without plumbing until 1976.

BIA Combined

Before and after: a ca. 1920 photograph of the BIA building (top of the photo) with surrounding yard and outbuildings, looking northeast. The foundations of the building are seen in the next photo taken this summer, looking southwest.


By Lara Homsey-Messer

From May 16 to June 17th, 10 students from IUP and 2 students from Clarion University ventured to the Squirrel Hill site in New Florence, PA, to learn archaeological field techniques, including excavation methods, shovel testing, and using high-tech equipment such as a total station and ground penetrating radar.

SquirrelHill1bClockwise from upper left, students practicing test unit excavation,
ground penetrating radar survey, using a compass, and using a total station.

Perhaps the most humorous aspect of this site is the feeling that you are on the set of LOST and that something might come crashing out of the bamboo jungle at any minute…well, technically it is Japanese Knotwood, but it sure looks like bamboo and is clearly where the phrase “grows like weeds” comes from. These hardy students braved not only the bamboo (as we lovingly called it), but also a six-day work week (yep, Monday through Saturday folks), a gypsy moth caterpillar infestation (it’s hard to keep a unit floor clean with these buggers falling in every other second), more than one drenching storm (being dry and clean is totally overrated…), and all sorts of critters running amuck in our test units (we miss our resident mouse in Test Unit 2).

SquirrelHill2Representative pics of the “bamboo” (top), an impending mid-afternoon storm,
and our cute resident mouse.

Seriously, though, these students learned a lot about not just archaeology over these five weeks, but also the Monongahela folks who lived in this village over five centuries ago. Squirrel Hill has been known to archaeologists since the 1950s, and has been heavily collected by local residents for decades. The site is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the land it sits on is now owned by the Archaeological Conservancy. The site is believed to be a Johnston-phase Monongahela village (ca. 1450-1590). Very little systematic study has been conducted at the site, so many questions remain to be answered, including its occupation and cultural affiliations; location & extent of site boundaries; the internal arrangement of houses, plaza, and stockades; and its relationship with neighboring communities such as the Johnston Site, the location of previous IUP field schools.

This summer we opened 10, 1 x1 meter, test units in areas that previous geophysical survey identified as “hotspots.” We also conducted additional ground penetrating radar survey and shovel-tested around the Conservancy’s property line. We found pottery, lithic flakes, a LOT of fire-cracked rock, and over 80 features (such as post molds and storage pits). Perhaps most intriguing, we now suspect that there may be more than the one, Johnston-phase, occupation at the site. Many of the post molds intersect and intrude other features, minimally suggesting some rebuilding. Interestingly, we discovered several features (including a large rock cluster), nearly a meter below the surface. Fortunately, we were able to collect charcoal from them for radiocarbon dating; it will be very interesting to see if these enigmatic features are contemporaneous with, or pre-date, the Mon occupation. We hope to have these dates before the end of the calendar year, so check back if you want to find out the results…

SquirrelHill3Rock cluster feature nearly a meter below surface (left)
and two possible egg-shaped, post-enclosed storage pits (right).

Many thanks to the folks who visited us this summer and offered their expertise, volunteer labor, support, and enthusiasm. Special thanks to Bill Johnson for sharing his knowledge of Mon ceramics, Sarah Neusius and Bev Chiarulli for expertise on Mon culture, and Dr. and Mrs. Driscoll for their support of IUP Archaeology. Your visits made our day!

SquirrelHill4From left to right: Dr. Bill Johnson giving an impromptu lesson on Mon ceramics, Dr. Sarah Neusius giving students excavation tips, and Dr. and Mrs. Driscoll chatting with students.

Underwater Archaeology and the Pennsylvania Archaeology Shipwreck Survey Team

IUP is pretty well landlocked, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take our archaeology underwater. Last weekend I taught an underwater archaeological wreck survey course at Erie, PA. The course was organized through the Pennsylvania Archaeology Shipwreck Survey Team (PASST) and sponsored by the Regional Science Consortium, Pennsylvania Sea Grant, Divers World dive shop, and Erie Maritime Museum.

wreck-erie-1Shipwreck off of Presque Isle, Erie, PA (Courtesy of PASST)


From Friday night through Sunday afternoon, 15 students learned the basics of underwater archaeological recording. We started Friday evening with a lecture on maritime archaeology, archaeological ethics, and how to accurately record an archaeological site underwater (lots of trilateration!). Saturday morning we met at the Erie Maritime Museum to practice these skills using items from their collections. Teams of four recorded a lifeboat, the deadwood of a large vessel, and two mock debris fields. In the afternoon we took these skills to the pool. Working with the same teams, the class recorded PVC structures, ladders, and other items on the pool bottom. The materials were not archaeological but the skills were. Everyone learned that pulling a tape and communicating locations and measurements got a lot harder without gravity and the ability to speak. On Sunday morning we travelled to Dinardo’s in Grove City to take the training to the real world. This time the teams did two dives to record two intentionally sunk vessels and a motorcycle while dealing with limited visibility, a silty bottom, and the bulky suits and gloves that come with diving in chilly water. Everyone did an excellent job throughout the weekend! The importance of preplanning and communication became increasingly apparent as did the slow and meticulous nature of archaeology – dreams of recording a shipwreck in one dive disappeared like bubbles from a regulator. Everyone also gained an appreciation for what can be learned by studying a shipwreck and it caused them to think more carefully about sites that they have dived dozens of times.

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Practicing at the Erie Maritime Museum and in the pool. Nice plumb bob work in the bottom left image.

Having completed the course all of the participants now have the privilege of diving on PASST projects. PASST was founded in 2013 by representatives of the Regional Science Consortium, Flagship Niagara League, Indiana University of PA, PA DCNR, PA DEP, PA Historical Museum Commission, PA Sea Grant, S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie, and the local diving community with the goal of preserving and promoting the maritime heritage of Pennsylvania’s portion of Lake Erie. Drawing on educators, historians, divers, and archaeologists PASST is dedicated to the documentation, scientific study, and educational promotion of Pennsylvania’s underwater archeological resources. As part of this mission, PASST organizes divers to document shipwrecks in Lake Erie. PASST-trained divers have the skills ethical orientation to participate in those efforts.

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Divers entering Dinardo’s Quarry for the open water portion of the course. The water was a balmy 65 degrees above the thermocline.

These dives will be happening throughout the summer, and next, and the one after that… there are a lot of shipwrecks to record. Another underwater archaeological wreck survey course is planned for next summer. This is not strictly an IUP course, but it is open to IUP students who have an Advanced diving certification and an interest in archaeology. The class is also a way foPASST-final-logor us to engage the general public in recording and preserving the history of the Commonwealth.

Thanks to Matt Dickey, Jeanette Schnars, David Boughton, and Joe Lengieza for making the class a success.

On Tour with the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology

by Dr. Sarah Neusius

Next to excavation one of the most fun things for an archaeologist to do is go visit someone else’ site and look at their artifacts. Between June 2 and 5, Dr. Phil and I got to do just that when I co-led the 2016 Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) field trip with Dr. John Nass of California University of Pennsylvania. This year we went to see the archaeology going on in Virginia at places like Mt Vernon, Montpelier, and Monticello with a group of 20 professional and avocational archaeologists.

We started in Bedford, PA where we had evening orientation which covered the estates we would be visiting and cool facts about the four early US Presidents’ who had homes in Virginia: Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Then we loaded into vans and headed south to Virginia early Friday morning.

On Friday we battled DC traffic to get to Mount Vernon where we had a tour of the house and then a tour by Dr. Luke Pecoraro, Director of Archaeology. He took us around the grounds and included visits to the locations of several excavations as well as to the archaeology laboratory. One interesting thing is that grave locations at the current excavation of the slave cemetery are being exposed but not excavated, and regardless, the prehistoric artifacts that have been recovered indicate that there is a Late Archaic site at this same spot. We also learned that there are lots of student and volunteer opportunities to get involved with Mt. Vernon archaeology that we can share with IUP students.

Later Friday afternoon we visited Washington’s boyhood home where archaeologists with the George Washington Foundation including Dr. Dave Muraca and Laura Galke gave us tours of the site and the lab. Unfortunately we got caught in a downpour while viewing the excavations and the foundations for the house now being reconstructed. However, the staff was very nice to let us drip into the lab anyway and look at some of the many artifacts (men’s wig curlers, a masonic pipe and much more!), which they have recovered because of their thorough excavations.

In the evening we had a lecture by Dr. Doug Owsley from the Smithsonian Institution who talked about his forensic studies of early burials found at St. Mary’s City and Jamestown. Though a century earlier than the rest of this field trip’s explorations, Dr. Owsley’s recent work on these burials is fascinating and cutting edge!

Sarah middenGaulke

Friday pictures: Here I am on tour at Mt Vernon; Dr. Pecararo explaining findings at Mount Vernon’s South midden; Laura Galke discussing the many men’s wig curlers found at Ferry Farm.

On Saturday we had another packed day visiting Madison’s Montpelier before going to Jefferson’s home at Monticello, both of which are historic sites near Charlottesville. Madison may be less well known than other presidents, but our fourth President was a complicated man responsible for the division of our government into three branches, our leader in the War of 1812, and of course, husband to Dolley Madison. Together they may have been our nation’s first “power couple”! The archaeology at Montpelier, which we learned about from Stephanie Hallinan, Director of Public Archaeology, is also interesting. At the moment, Montpelier archaeologists are focusing on homes of the enslaved population, especially the domestic slaves and skilled craftsmen who were housed close to the Montpelier mansion.

We had so much fun at Montpelier that we were late getting to Monticello and had to switch our house tour to the end of the afternoon. This meant that Dr. Fraser Neiman, Director of Archaeology, took us on our landscape archaeology tour first. During this tour we hiked the hill at Monticello learning how the use of the land changed when the plantation switched from tobacco production to wheat farming and how this apparently affected the social relationships of everyone living there from owners to overseers to slaves. When it came time to tour the house, the guides actually made us take off our shoes, which were encrusted with Monticello’s red clay from our hike through the woods! So I can say I have been in Thomas Jefferson’s home barefoot!

Saturday evening we heard a lecture by Kyle Edwards, UVA Ph.D. student who is doing his dissertation on Monroe’s home at Highland, which is also near Charlotte. The most recent development is that new archaeological work there shows Monroe did have a substantial house at Highland. Even though the interpretation for many years has been that he only had a small, cabin-sized house, that structure is now believed to have been a guest house. Archaeology has debunked another historical myth!

Hallinan Montpellier Neiman

Saturday pictures: Stephanie Hallinan explaining the excavations and slave cabin reconstructions underway at Montpelier; Our group approaching the house at Montpelier; Dr. Neiman (far right) explaining the excavations Monticello Archaeology has been doing in the woods downslope from the house at Monticello.

Sunday was our last day, but we drove south again so as not to miss Jefferson’s retreat at Poplar Forest. One of the interesting things about Poplar Forest is that the reconstruction, which has been heavily driven by archaeology, is still underway so one can really see how the staff is working to reconstruct this place accurately. The house tour was full of stories about people like the master craftsman, a slave, who made the friezes and other trim to Jefferson’s specifications. Then, Dr. Jack Gary, Director of Archaeology led us on a tour explaining how they are reconstructing the landscape using archaeology to find details like the spacing of ornamental trees. I hadn’t thought the reconstructing a landscape could be so fascinating, but it was another testament to what we can learn from modern archaeology. Beside that Poplar Forest is a special place, still remote and relatively unknown, which everyone interested in archaeology, historic preservation, and/or Jefferson should visit.

After Poplar Forest we had a long ride back to Bedford before dispersing in the evening for our various homes, but this gave us lots of time to debrief and talk about our experiences. It was another great SPA field trip! Keep in mind that the SPA will be doing similar trips early each June and you might like to join us on one. You might even consider joining the SPA in order to take advantage of this and other member benefits which include the Pennsylvania Archaeologist, one of the longest running state archaeology journals in the country. At just $18 for students and $25 for non-students or $30 for families, membership is a great bargain. For details on joining see www.pennsylvaniaarchaeology.com). Then stay tuned for word on plans for another memorable trip next June!

Gary Lab Poplar Forrest

Sunday pictures: Dr. Gary giving the archaeology tour to our group including Dr. Phil with original Jefferson era trees in the background; Our group in the lab at Poplar Forest; View of the octagonal house, sometimes considered Jefferson’s masterpiece, during the SPA tour.

Whole Lotta Archaeology Goin’ On

Summer 2016 is a busy time for IUP Archaeology! We have at least 10 active field projects involving more than 25 students, as well as several laboratory projects running throughout the summer. These projects offer students unparalleled opportunities to learn archaeological skills in a wide variety of contexts, and in some cases to make a little money. These are also ‘real’ projects in that they are designed to contribute to our understanding of past humans’ lives and are part of faculty and graduate student research programs.

IMG_7093Throughout the summer we will highlight some of the projects taking place at IUP. We’ll try to have a new blog post once a week all summer so check back regularly.



IMG_4565A taste of what’s to come:

Initial results from the IUP Archaeology Field School at the Late Prehistoric Squirrel Hill site

Reports from National Park Service funded work at Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Underwater archaeology training in Lake Erie

Updates from the Pennsylvania Highway Archaeology Survey Team (PHAST)

Stories from the Johnston Site, Historic Hanna’s Town, and the NSF Faunal Analysis Working Group

Check back soon!