For more a decade, Western Michigan University's archeology program has been working at what’s thought to be the Fort Saint Joesph trading post site along the Saint Joseph River. After years of hard work, answers are finally surfacing.
This century, the scene looks more like youngsters playing in the dirt than the first European settlement in the area more than 350 years ago.
In the summer of 2010, WMU students found the first evidence of a building on the archeological site. This summer they've found a few buildings. What it does is set straight some controversy over the location of the historic fur-trading post.
Lance Meister, a senior archeology student, is working at the spot where students are working to uncover one of the buildings. He explains, “You’re looking at the hearth and fireplace feature.” It's one of five fireplaces students have found.
Kelley Walter, who's helping supervise the dig for WMU explains the significance of those findings.“Finding those buildings really allows us to put our foot down and say this is the fort site. This is what we’re going to look into a little bit more.”
Walter says this summer they want to take the proof one step further and start piecing together an entire map of the settlement site. “We may know the fort is here from artifacts and foundational findings, but we really don’t have an idea of what the fort looked like," she says.
If they know what it looked like they can dig deeper.
They hope to answer more questions about how the fir-trade in the Upper-Midwest worked hundreds of years ago and what life was like here for Niles’ first European residents.
Meister says he's learning a lot about the site. “These buildings can tell us a lot about what was going on in this time period," he says.
He hopes students in Niles can learn as much as he is about the place they live. He says, “As a Niles school student, they get to see the history that’s underneath their feet.”
Research from this dig has already been published in the American Archeology Magazine.
You can see what they’re doing too! They’re holding an open this weekend, August 13th and 14th at the site on Fort and Bond street from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.