Recent Archaeology on Mackinac Island

Recent Archaeology on Mackinac Island

One of the construction projects Mackinac State Historic Parks is currently undertaking on Mackinac Island is a new public restroom shelter located behind Fort Mackinac across Huron Road from the Scout Barracks. The trenches for the building footing, and electrical, water and sewer services were excavated last fall. Because there were buildings associated with the fort in this area in the mid-nineteenth century, archaeological monitoring of these excavations took place.

Plan of Fort Mackinac in 1890

View of structures east of the fort, from left to right: Coal house and shed, Carpenter shop, Morgue; then rear: Post Hospital; center, left to right: Privies, East Blockhouse; front: Bakery

Fort Mackinac was in a constant state of construction and repair throughout its existence. The military complex included many buildings located outside the fortification walls. Some of these, such as the officers’ quarters, post hospital, and barn are still standing today. Two buildings were in the vicinity of the project area, the carpenter shop, and the coal house and shed, which were one structure. The carpenter shop was constructed around the time of the Civil War. The coal house and shed were constructed around 1879. All were demolished in 1913. (more…)

Winter in the Lab

Winter in the Lab

The long winter has given the archaeology staff plenty of time in the lab to process and catalog the artifacts from the over 500 separate contexts excavated at Michilimackinac during the 2018 field season. A context is a single soil type in a tenth of a foot level in a 5’ x 5’ square. (more…)

Ice Fishing at Michilimackinac

Ice Fishing at Michilimackinac

Archaeologists excavated this nearly-completed whitefish skeleton from a trash pit in the southwest corner of the fort. It is now on display in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit.

Right now, it’s cold at the Straits of Mackinac. The straits are almost completely iced over, apart from slim shipping tracks kept open by Coast Guard icebreakers. While today those of us who live here can drive our cars to the store for food regardless of the ice conditions in the straits, the 18th century residents of Michilimackinac were much more limited in their choices of food. For the most part, during the winter they relied upon foods that had been shipped in and stockpiled before snow and ice closed trade routes on the lakes and rivers of the Great Lakes watershed. Fortunately, there remained a ready supply of fresh food just under the ice covering the Straits of Mackinac: fish. (more…)

Wild Game at French Michilimackinac

Wild Game at French Michilimackinac

Photo courtesy LeeAnn Ewer.

Hunters across the state will take to the woods for opening day of Michigan’s firearm deer season today. Some will bring home the big buck and venison to add variety to mealtimes. It’s easy to imagine the 18th century French Canadian residents of Michilimackinac doing much the same thing, relying upon hunting and fishing to load their tables with a wealth of wild game. However, like many so many other things, Michilimackinac’s historic food culture is considerably more complex. (more…)

A New Season

A New Season

Site almost ready to begin excavation for the season

The end of May brings rain, flowers, insects, and archaeology. While next year will be the 60th anniversary of archaeology at Michilimackinac, this year is the 60th season. We will be back for our eleventh season of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. Over the past eleven summers we have excavated the south wall, a root cellar, and chimney collapse, and found thousands of artifacts used by the fur traders who lived here. Highlights can be seen in previous blog posts, and include many types of ceramics, personal adornment items such as cufflinks, buttons and rings, an intact rosary, an intact pocket knife, and two shutter hinges. This summer we plan to excavate deeper in the cellar and expose more of the interior wall exposed last summer.

Nail, straight pin, and window glass recovered from slump

Over the past week, we have removed the straw and plastic that protected the site over the winter, re-established the grid strings we use to map the site, and cleaned up dirt that slumped from the wall of the excavation pit during the winter. Excavation will be taking place seven days a week, weather permitting, from June 5 through August 25. Admission to Colonial Michilimackinac includes the opportunity to watch history being discovered.

Jaw Harps

Jaw Harps

Jaw harps excavated at Michilimackinac

Some of the more interesting artifacts excavated semi-regularly by archaeologists at Michilimackinac are jaw harps. These small musical instruments, also known as a mouth harp or Jew’s harp (although they have no particular relation to Jewish people or Judaism), were common trade items at Michilimackinac in the 18th century. (more…)

Archaeology Update: Winter Finds

Archaeology Update: Winter Finds

Artifacts drying on trays in lab

Although excavation ended at Michilimackinac in August, archaeological research continues year-‘round. All of the artifacts recovered during the field season must be washed, labeled with a number identifying the context from which they came, identified, counted or weighed, and stored in the Petersen Center. All of the catalog information is entered into the ARGUS collections database. These steps all take time. Washing and labeling, which begins on rainy days in the summer, was completed in October.  Cataloging and data entry were completed in February, and storage in March. (more…)

Outside the Walls: The “Subarbs” of Michilimackinac

Outside the Walls: The “Subarbs” of Michilimackinac

In the 18th century, the summer population of Michilimackinac could swell into the thousands as voyageurs, clerks, merchants, and other French-Canadian, British, and Native American participants in the fur trade descended on the post for the annual trading season. Given the relatively small size of the town inside the fort’s walls, where did all of these people live? By the 1760s, a growing collection of homes sprang up east of the fort, creating the suburbs of Michilimackinac.  (more…)