Another season of archaeology underway!

The sixty-sixth season of archaeological excavation at Michilimackinac began on May 28. This season will be a continuation of the trader’s house we have been excavating since 2007.

Southeast cellar floorboards and wall planks.

 One of the reasons the project has taken so long is that the house has two cellars. We are nearing the bottom of the east section of the southeast cellar; the west section was completed in 2021. Several of the cellar wall planks and a floorboard were exposed at the beginning of the season, but we are in the process of removing them. Only a few houses at Michilimackinac have two cellars. We believe this is the sign of a successful trader with a lot of merchandise to store.

Blue and white tin-glazed earthenware bowl.

 Our other focus for the summer is excavating the area of the north wall of the house and the porch. Parts of the British-era north wall trench are beginning to appear. If this house follows the pattern of previously excavated units of the Southeast Rowhouse, the French-era north wall trench will be slightly lower and to the south of the British-era trench.

Fragment from a scratch blue stoneware vessel.

 One of the characteristics of this house in previous seasons has been the variety of ceramics recovered. This season has been no exception. So far, we have uncovered a piece of a blue and white tin-glazed earthenware bowl and a base fragment from a scratch blue stoneware vessel.

 The excavation will continue daily, weather permitting, through August 17. The site is located just south of the parade ground within the walls of Colonial Michilimackinac.

A brown-looking bowl that was used as a milk pan. This dates to the 1700s.

Moving Day

Most of us have had the experience of moving from one place to another, deciding what to take and what to discard, packing everything, transporting it, unpacking, and rearranging our belongings in a new setting. In the summer of 1781, the residents of the Southeast Rowhouse at Michilimackinac had that same experience as the garrison and community relocated to Mackinac Island.

 Over the past ten summers archaeologists have been excavating a cellar in the southeast corner of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse as part of the ongoing excavation of the house. It appears that the cellar was filled with objects discarded during the move. These artifacts, especially the ceramics, give us glimpses into daily life in the household.

 We do not know who lived in the house in 1781. The last documented occupant was an “English trader” noted on a 1765 map drawn by Lt. Perkins Magra. Preliminary analysis of material excavated thus far indicates the house was occupied by a wealthy English merchant and his household throughout the British era at the fort.

An off-white plate, dating to the 1700s, that has been reassembled.

Creamware plate reassembled

 One line of evidence used to reach this conclusion is the quality and variety of ceramics found in the house, cellar and yard. The most common ceramic type found in the house is creamware. Creamware was developed in the early 1760s by Josiah Wedgwood when he succeeded in creating earthenware vessels as thin as Chinese porcelain. This plate (left) is the most complete creamware vessel found in the house. The way the sherds were piled when they were found indicates the plate was broken elsewhere and thrown into the cellar.

A Chinese porcelain tea saucer, white with a blue image of trees and plants on it. It dates to the 1700s and has been broken and reassembled, though some pieces no longer exist.

Chinese export porcelain reassembled

 We have also found a nearly intact Chinese export porcelain saucer in the cellar (right). This would have been used for serving tea, an important social ritual for 18th century British people. Expensive tea sets were used to display one’s wealth.

A brown-looking bowl that was used as a milk pan. This dates to the 1700s.

French Canadian terrine

 On the other end of the spectrum, strictly utilitarian wares have been found as well. A French Canadian terrine, or dairy pan (left), is the most intact example. Fresh milk was poured into the terrine and left to sit until the cream rose to the top. Although not intended for display, the terrine demonstrates wealth because it indicates the presence of a dairy animal.

Two white tin-glazed earthenware ointment pots, white. They date to the 1770s and have been broken and reassembled.

Tin-glazed earthenware ointment pots

Over the past few seasons, we have pieced together two plain white tin-glazed earthenware ointment pots (right). These most likely held medicinal salves.

An earthenware bowl, tan in color, with a flared lip.

Earthenware flared cup

 No archaeology project is complete without a mystery or two. We have not yet been able to determine the exact purpose of this flared cup (left). We have only found one piece of a red-edged, white tin-glazed earthenware dish (bottom right). Although this style of ceramic was produced throughout the 18th century, it was most common in the 1730s and ‘40s. Is it a remnant left behind by earlier residents of the house? A family dish brought when moving to Michilimackinac? A cheap old dish bought expressly for a difficult journey to the frontier of the British Empire? We may never know the answer, but it is interesting to ponder these questions.

A portion of a white dish, dating to the 1700s, with a red rim.

Red-edged tin-glazed earthenware dish

 During the 2024 season, programming at Colonial Michilimackinac will highlight the events of 1781 and the relocation to the island. Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the season May 8, 2024. The archaeological excavation will take place daily June 1 – August 17, weather permitting. 

What’s in Store for ’24?

As the calendar flips to 2024, the Mackinac State Historic Parks crew is hard at work constructing new buildings, creating new exhibits, fine-tuning programs, preparing the historic sites, and finalizing special events to share the rich historic and natural treasures of Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City.

 “We are excited to welcome visitors to experience our parks and numerous attractions,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We are hard at work and busy preparing to have everything ready for our spring openings.”

A rendering of the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

A rendering of the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

 The Milliken Nature Center is built to accent the natural beauty of Arch Rock – not dominate it. The exhibit inside, Arch Rock: Unsurpassed in Nature’s Beauty, will celebrate what was known as the “Jewel of the Mackinac National Park” and is still today known as a “Star Attraction of Mackinac Island State Park.” It features dozens of stunning historic images of Arch Rock as well as a timeline on how the arch was formed. In addition, the center will highlight geology on Mackinac Island as a whole, from the formation of the island itself and how stunning features such as Sugarloaf Rock and Skull Cave came to be. A highlight of the center will be an interactive 3D map of the island. Finally, modern new restrooms will also be located at the site.

A rendering of a new exhibit inside the Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

A rendering of the new exhibit, “Arch Rock: Unsurpassed in Nature’s Handiwork,” at the Milliken Nature Center.

 “The Milliken Nature Center will be a welcome and fitting addition to Mackinac Island State Park,” Brisson said. “We look forward to welcoming guests this spring. We’re honored it will feature the name of Governor Milliken, who loved this island, and are appreciative of the support of Governor Whitmer, the state legislature, and Mackinac Associates to see this project come to fruition.”

The Milliken Nature Center and restrooms are slated to open May 3.

Construction in front of a historic building with a construction worker.

Progress on the Southwest Rowhouse addition in mid-December.

 Moving to Mackinaw City, construction is underway on the first new building at Colonial Michilimackinac since 2013. Located on the east end of the Southwest Rowhouse, the building will host a new exhibit, combining archaeological and archival research to help present community life at Michilimackinac in the 1700s: Slavery at the Straits. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, slavery was integral part of the community at Michilimackinac, as well as the rest of Michigan. Enslaved Black and Native American men and women worked in all levels of society, doing everything from domestic work to skilled labor. Already a hub of the Great Lakes fur trade, Michilimackinac also served as the center of the regional trade in enslaved workers as French and British colonists exploited preexisting systems of Native American enslavement to feed a growing demand for enslaved labor.

“This new exhibit explores the lives of these enslaved individuals and how their experiences fit in with the larger story of Michilimackinac, allowing us to present a more complete vision of the site in the 18th century,” Brisson said.

An overview of the archaeological dig and historic buildings in the background.

A new tour highlighting historic architecture adds to the robust schedule at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 Staying at Michilimackinac, the year 1781 will be explored, when local and global forces uprooted the entire community as soldiers and civilians relocated to Mackinac Island. After six decades as a thriving diplomatic and economic hub, Michilimackinac came to an end in 1781. A special daily program will go into detail on the end of Michilimackinac.

 Other programs throughout the day explore the rich history of the site and showcase how it was more than a military outpost. Get an up-close look at the merchandise that passed through Michilimackinac during the height of the fur trade; learn about the different architectural styles found at the fort; explore dining culture at a Merchant’s House; explore the 5,500 square feet of gardens during an engaging tour; have tea at a British Trader’s home and dive into the complexities of British society; find out what civilians and soldiers were up to; and, of course, feel the power of Michilimackinac’s weapons with musket and artillery firings.

 “The gorgeous setting and beautiful reconstruction of the 18th century fur trading village and fort overlooking the Straits of Mackinac are worth a visit for everyone that comes to Mackinaw City,” said LeeAnn Ewer, Curator of Interpretation. “Here you will be able to explore and learn about what the last year of Michilimackinac was like for the soldiers and civilians that disassembled the community and moved to Mackinac Island. Our newest tour will highlight the move to the island, as well as the historic architecture that would have housed the community daily from Michigan weather as well as the occasional war.”

A person holding tweezers looking for artifacts at the Colonial Michilimackinac archaeology dig.

Mackinac State Historic Parks archaeology program will enter its 66th year in 2024.

 The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 66th season in 2024. Work will continue in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. Archaeologists will be out daily (weather permitting) during the summer months. Guests will have the opportunity to see the most recent finds at Colonial Michilimackinac with a “Recent Excavations” display inside the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center.

 Want to get closer than ever to the action at Colonial Michilimackinac? Guests have two opportunities to fire black powder weapons: an opening cannon blast, at 9:30 a.m., or they can fire the full complement of weapons at Guns Across the Straits. Reservations for either program can be made by calling (231) 436-4100. More information can be found here.

 Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include exhilarating “Fire at Night” programs, deep dives into Michilimackinac’s maritime history, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, a look at Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac in August, a moonlit Michilimackinac evening, the ever-popular Fort Fright, and A Colonial Christmas. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the 2024 season May 8.

An oil house added at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse under cloudy skies.

The Oil House added in 2023. A privy, pump, and flagpole will be added in 2024 to complete the restoration of the house to its 1910 appearance.

 Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, across the park from Colonial Michilimackinac, will see the continued restoration of the site to its 1910 appearance. This summer will see small details added to the site, including a privy, pump, and flagpole. A small sidewalk will be added to the privy and pump, and, along with the oil house that was added in 2023, new interpretive signs will be added. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse opens for the season May 9.

 Programs at Historic Mill Creek feature daily demonstrations of a reconstructed 18th century sawmill. With the smell of fresh sawdust in the air, the awesome power of the water never fails to impress as the mill springs to life, fed by the pond and ever-flowing currents of Mill Creek. Log hewing and pitsaw demonstrations will be relocated near the millpond, providing easier access and shaded seating for visitors of all ages. At the workshop historic farming programs highlight what life was like beyond the sawmill more than 200 years ago.

A young raccoon.

Themed weeks, including a Wildlife Week, highlight the Historic Mill Creek schedule in 2024.

 During the summer months, special themed weeks will dig deeper into the story of Historic Mill Creek. From June 23-29, enjoy “Wildlife Week at Historic Mill Creek,” featuring the amazing animals of the North Woods. From July 21-27, enjoy “Hay Cutters & Summer Pasture,” as programs explore historic hay making at the Straits of Mackinac. Finally, August 18-24 will feature “Lost Rocks & Mackinac Millstones,” where guests will earn about the grist mill at Mill Creek, and how the Mill Creek millstones were hewn from “lost rocks” deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago.

 On the wild side, Historic Mill Creek’s 3.5 miles of interpreted hiking trails are always open and available to explore. During the summer months, join a trained naturalist at various times of the day for a guided walk along the trails, looking for blooming wildflowers, fruiting fungi, and singing birds among the trees, as well as for any wildlife along the banks of Mill Creek.

 “We’re excited to enter a year of transition at Historic Mill Creek,” shared Park Naturalist Kyle Bagnall. “This year, special themed weeks will highlight aspects of the site’s amazing history. Guests can join a naturalist for short, guided trail walks. We’ll bask in the summer sun as we listen for the swish of the scythe and tales of historic hay cutters. Finally, we’ll join a hunt for “lost rocks” which traveled hundreds of miles thousands of years ago before landing at Mackinac.”

 Historic Mill Creek will also host two special Snowshoe Strolls, on February 10 and March 3, both from 2:00-3:30 p.m. Bring your snowshoes and explore the snowy North Woods on this guided stroll. This two-mile guided hike will allow you to search for signs of wildlife and other wonders of the natural world. After the walk enjoy treats near a campfire. This event is admission by donation.

 Historic Mill Creek opens for the regular 2024 season May 10.

A person dressed as a historic soldiers leads a group at Fort Mackinac on the Parade Ground.

A new ‘Medicine at Mackinac’ tour will showcase Army Surgeons and military medicine in the 1880s.

 Moving back to Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac opens for the 2024 season on May 3. Guests can discover two new programs: “Medicine at Mackinac,” where interpreters will provide the history of Army Surgeons and how the Army began changing military medicine in the 1880s. In addition, a Guard Mount Program will show guests how soldiers would conduct this complex military ceremony. Other programs at the fort include a walking tour about the changing face of Fort Mackinac, an exploration of the people who lived and worked at the fort, how the Army of the 1880s conducted itself, a look at Mackinac’s time as a national park, a program showcasing the equipment a soldier was issued, and an exploration of what happened at Fort Mackinac after the sun set. In addition, the classic rifle and cannon firing demonstrations will both feature refreshed presentations.

 “2024 will be an exciting year because we are continuing to expand the programs we offer as well as adding greater depth to our classic programs, creating a fun and educational experience for anyone coming to Mackinac Island,” explained Jack Swartzinski, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Interpretation Coordinator.

 The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2024 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. Perhaps the way to make a Fort Mackinac visit most memorable is firing the opening cannon salute, which is available to one guest daily. More information can be found here.

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford 1874

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford (1874).

 The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in Marquette Park in front of Fort Mackinac, will feature Mackinac Rocks!, a juried exhibition in the second floor changing gallery. From looking in wonder at the natural curiosity that is Arch Rock to skipping rocks at Windermere Point, to maybe enjoying some ‘rock’ at a local establishment or the fact that Mackinac Island is itself a large rock, it is safe to say that Mackinac Rocks!

 An art attendant will lead guided tours of the galleries, including a look at Native American art on Mackinac, and the works of photographer William Gardiner. In addition, the attendant will lead two “Kids’ Time” crafts in the lower-level art studio. The sixth nine artists-in-residence will stay on Mackinac Island throughout the summer. Each artist will host a special, free workshop on the second Wednesday of their residency.

 Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, shares the continuing story of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island, with daily interpretive programs and engaging exhibits. The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, located next door to the Biddle House, is a working blacksmith shop that dives into the 1950s and the changing culture of workers on Mackinac Island. The American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum and McGulpin House have both received new exhibits in the past two years. Admission to all of these sites is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

 The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open for the 2024 season on May 10. The McGulpin House and American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum open June 1.

A baseball player getting ready to swing a bat wearing a blue and gray uniform.

The annual ‘Vintage Base Ball’ game is a highlight of the summer season.

 Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include Twilight Turtle Treks on January 13, February 3 and March 2; the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 11; the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 27; special activities for July 4; special history evening programs including a guided tour of Historic Downtown Mackinac as it would have looked in the 1830s and a tour highlighting the creation of the village of Mackinac Island; special nature and birdwatching tours; night sky programs at Fort Holmes and Arch Rock; bike tours looking at Mackinac’s forgotten features and the War of 1812; and much more. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

 Every museum store will feature new items inspired by the site they represent. The Official Mackinac Island State Park Store, inside the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center, will continue to have new items inspired by the historic and natural elements of Mackinac Island.

 Most major projects were funded, in part, by Mackinac Associates. Visit mackinacparks.com for a complete listing of updates and projects at Mackinac State Historic Parks, hours of operation, daily events, special events, and more.

The archaeological pit filled in with a tarp and hay bales.

2023 Archaeology Field Season Wrap-Up

The archaeological pit filled in with a tarp and hay bales.

The site packed for the winter.

The 65th season of archaeological excavation at Michilimackinac wrapped up August 24 and the site is now secured for the winter. This was our 17th season of work on House E of the Southeast Rowhouse.

 The most interesting finds of the second half of the field season were remnants of the house itself. The house was burned when the community relocated to Mackinac Island in 1781. The charred wood of the house was partially preserved in the sandy soil the fort was built on.

The central cellar of House E of the Southwest Rowhouse

The central cellar.

Southeast cellar of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Remnants of the walls and a floorboard in the southeast cellar.

 One of the defining features of this house is its two cellars. Most of the central cellar (except a portion of the northwest corner) is now five and a half feet deep. Remnants of the burned wall posts can be seen along the edges of the gray sand cellar deposit in the center of the image. The eastern half of the central cellar was also better defined. This cellar had plank walls and remnants of the walls and a floorboard were exposed this season.

A trench at the north wall of House E of the Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Humic stains from the north wall of the house (the dark soil at the top of the image. 

View along the north wall of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

View of the north wall with the tree stump at the back. 

 We were able to identify humic stains from the north wall of the house (the dark soil at the top of the image). Unfortunately we also confirmed that the tree stump we have been working around is right in the center of the east end of the wall trench. In the image you can see how the stump is in line with the reconstructed house wall of another unit of the rowhouse and the dark wall trench stain at the bottom of the image. The tree was not there when the house was; it was planted around 1910 shortly after Michilimackinac became Michigan’s second state park. The roots do not seem to have grown around artifacts, rather they displaced artifacts as they grew.

 Stay tuned to the MSHP blog to see what interesting things the archaeologists might discover in the lab this winter as the season’s artifacts are cleaned and better identified.

A picture of a fragment of a clay pipe with a Dutch company makers mark on it.

The Season Continues

A picture of a fragment of a clay pipe with a Dutch company makers mark on it.

Fragment of a white clay smoking pipe stamped with a maker’s mark. 

The first half of the 2023 Michilimackinac archaeological field season has flown by. The cellars continue to yield interesting artifacts. In addition to the gaming die found during our opening week (Our 65th Season Begins! – Mackinac State Historic Parks | Mackinac State Historic Parks (mackinacparks.com), an unusual white clay smoking pipe bowl fragment was recovered from the north edge of the central cellar. White clay pipe fragments are fairly common, but they are usually plain. This one was stamped with a maker’s mark. The motif is a jumping deer. It was used by a series of Dutch pipemakers in Gouda from 1660 to at least 1776. This is a reminder of the worldwide trade networks of which Michilimackinac was a part.

A reconstructed ointment pot.

With pieces recovered this year, archaeologists have been able to reconstruct this ointment pot. 

 In the southeast cellar, the most interesting artifacts have been plain white tin-glazed earthenware ceramic sherds. These were able to be matched with some sherds from last season to form an ointment pot. This is the second ointment pot we have been able to reconstruct from the southeast cellar.

A person holding a King's 8th Button.

Pewter button from the 8th Regiment. 

 We also have been working in the northern section of the excavation. At the beginning of this season, most of this area was in the layer of rubble from the 1781 demolition of the fort. Interesting finds from this area include part of a stone smoking pipe bowl, two gilt sequins and two pewter buttons from the 8th Regiment. These are the soldiers who demolished the fort.

 In some areas all the demolition rubble has been removed, revealing the north wall trench of the building cutting through beach sand. This is easier to see in the west end of the house because a tree was planted in the east of the wall trench in the early twentieth century. While the location of the fort was never forgotten, its interior layout was.

A photo of the north wall, with a dark area showing where trench was.

The dark area in the photo reveals the north wall trench of the building. 

 The 2023 archaeology season continues through August 19. Visitors to Colonial Michilimackinac can watch archaeologists uncover history seven days a week, weather permitting, until then.

 

A Closer Look at the Collections: Cameos

One of the next major projects for Mackinac State Historic Parks will be the reconstruction of a unit on the Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. To prepare, MSHP staff have been going over the archaeological records and artifacts from the 1960s, when the unit was originally excavated. Today, our Curator of Archaeology, Dr. Lynn Evans, is looking at a cameo ring recovered in 1962.

Archaeology in Review: Brass Scale Weights

Weight found in the central cellar.

Among the unusual finds from the 2022 Michilimackinac archaeological field season were two brass scale weights. They were found in the cellars of the trader’s house.

Nested cups found in the vicinity of the church/blacksmith shop in 1959

 The weight from the central cellar was a cup from a set of nesting weights. Of the fourteen brass scale weights ever found at Michilimackinac, all but two are from nesting weights. These are a series of nested cups plus a small solid trapezoidal disc which nests in the smallest cup. The best example of this is three nested cups found in the vicinity of the church/blacksmith shop in 1959. They were fused together in a fire. Over the years four other cup weights have been found. Based on differences in the angle of the sides at least two sets of weights are represented. The recovery of four of the small disc weights indicates a minimum of four sets. The weights are scattered around the fort, with an additional weight from the church, three from the barracks, three from the south southwest rowhouse, one from the southwest rowhouse and one from the Rue de la Babillarde in the southeast quarter of the fort.

 The cup found in 2022 weighs approximately half of an apothecary dram. It fits into a larger cup weight found in the nearby Rue de la Babillarde. Discs from the barracks, southwest rowhouse and south southwest rowhouse fit into it. We initially interpreted the symbol stamped in the cup as a fleur-de-lis, but further investigation reveals that it is more likely the crossed arrow and key of Nuremberg. Nuremberg was a center of scale making in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

 The weight from the southeast cellar is unique so far. It is trapezoidal, but much larger and heavier. It weighs an ounce and is stamped “GR” surmounted by a crown. This is almost certainly a reference to King George and indicates British use.

 The other unique brass scale weight found at Michilimackinac is a small square stamped ½ dram. It was found near the barracks wall in 1959 and is on display in the “Treasures from the Sand” exhibit at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 What were brass scale weights used for? The small weights are commonly referred to as apothecary weights. It is possible that the weights found in 2022, and the one found in the Rue de la Babillarde were used by Surgeon’s Mate David Mitchell who lived in House D of the Southeast Rowhouse. That would not explain the other scale weights found throughout the fort. It is possible that some of the others were used by merchants to weigh coins or other small but valuable items.

 In his December 31, 1778 inventory of his personal possessions, John Askin listed:

a Weighing Beam

a smaller Ditto

a Comn Weighing Beam old at ye Bakers

a Sett of Cast Weights

Baking at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 The first two weighing beams may have been small balances that would use small weights like this. The last one would have been larger in keeping with the larger measures used by bakers.

 You can see a large weighing beam in action during the special Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac weekend August 5-6, 2023. The two scale weights recovered in 2022 will be on display in the “Current Archaeology at Michilimackinac” case in the Visitor’s Center when Colonial Michilimackinac opens May 10, 2023.

Artifacts stored at Mill Creek.

Archaeological Collections Management at MSHP and the IMLS

Mackinac State Historic Parks has been conducting archaeological excavations at its sites for over sixty years. This has resulted in the recovery of over one million artifacts and reams of field notes, maps and other documentation of the excavations. Because excavating a site destroys it, preserving these artifacts and records is a crucial part of MSHP’s stewardship mission.

Field books stored in the Keith Widder Library in the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

Archaeological field records stored in the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

 For many years the artifacts were housed in Lansing, while the records were stored in Mackinaw City. Paper records were microfilmed, with the microfilm stored in a separate location as a physical back-up copy. Today the paper records are scanned instead.

 In the mid-1990s, MSHP purchased a computerized collections database package. We subsequently received a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to enter all the archaeological artifact catalog information into the database. Three data entry clerks were hired for two years to accomplish this task. The biggest gap in the initial data entry project was that the artifacts were still in Lansing, so their exact storage locations could not be entered.

Archaeological artifact cabinet in the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

Archaeological artifact cabinets in the Petersen Center.

 With the completion of the Petersen Center in 2001, the archaeological collections were moved north. The vast majority are housed in the Petersen Center, but building materials, such as chinking and nails, which have less strict climate control requirements, are stored at Mill Creek. Once the collection was moved north, staff attempted to update the database with location information, but the task was too big to complete alongside other duties. In 2010 another IMLS grant was secured to hire three inventory assistants. Over the course of two years, they physically inventoried and updated the database record for all the Michilimackinac archaeological artifacts housed in the Petersen Center.

Artifacts stored at Mill Creek.

Building materials stored at Mill Creek.

 While the Michilimackinac collection makes up the majority of the archaeological collection, major excavations have been carried out at Fort Mackinac and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park as well. Last year MSHP received another IMLS grant to inventory and update records for the Mill Creek artifacts and some of the Fort Mackinac artifacts. This grant will also include inventory and re-housing of a portion of the architectural artifacts stored at Mill Creek. This project began in October 2022 and will continue through August 2025.

Staff member Alex Michnick inventorying items.

Alex Michnick inventorying Mill Creek ceramics.

 These grants have assisted MSHP in fulfilling the preservation aspect of its mission. By making the archaeological collection more accessible to staff and researchers, they also have made presenting the results of our archaeological investigations easier as well. Archaeological artifacts are exhibited to the public at all MSHP sites providing a tangible connection to the lives of the people who lived and worked at the sites in the past.

 

From the Collection: Artifacts of Literacy

One of the next major projects for Mackinac State Historic Parks will be the reconstruction of a unit on the Southwest Rowhouse. To prepare, MSHP staff have been going over the archaeological records and artifacts from the 1960s, when the unit was originally excavated. Today we’re taking a look at various artifacts of literacy, including pencils and a pen knife. Curator of Archaeology Dr. Lynn Evans takes us through this peek at the collection.

Archaeology at Fort Mackinac – Provision Storehouse

The “Store House” is the structure labeled “I” on the west end of the fort on this drawing from 1796. Credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

One of the largest archaeological excavations to take place at Fort Mackinac was at the site of the original provision storehouse. This excavation was carried out during the summers of 1981-82 by University of South Florida field schools directed by Dr. Roger T. Grange Jr. These were part of the commemoration of the bicentennial of Fort Mackinac. Dr. Grange’s final report was published as Number 12 in the Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Archaeological Completion Report Series (Excavations at Fort Mackinac, 1980-1982: The Provision Storehouse – Mackinac State Historic Parks | Mackinac State Historic Parks (mackinacparks.com) and was the basis of this blog post.

 The provision storehouse is an unusual structure because is has been excavated twice, in two different locations. It was originally built by British soldiers just inside the water gate at Michilimackinac (on the south side of the straits) in 1773. Being a relatively new building, it was moved to Mackinac Island when the garrison was relocated in 1781 and appears on early maps of Fort Mackinac.

 The mainland site was excavated in 1959 and the storehouse reconstructed in 1961. Today it houses the orientation film at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Scissors from the early American occupation.

Leather shoe parts from post War of 1812 deposit.

 On the island, the structure served as a storehouse through the first British occupation (1780-1796), the first American occupation (1796-1812) and the second British occupation (1812-1815). After the War of 1812, it was converted into a barracks, with workspace for military tailors and shoemakers, and a hospital. Its use as a hospital (1815-1827) overlapped with the service of Fort Mackinac’s most famous post surgeon, Dr. William Beaumont. A portion of the storehouse appears as a log structure next to the 1827 hospital painted by Mary Nexsen Thompson shortly before it burned down days before completion.

Microscope lens, possibly used by Dr. Beaumont.

Mary Nexsen Thompson painting of 1827 hospital with portion of storehouse. Credit: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

 A completely new hospital building was constructed in 1828, over the middle of the storehouse/1827 hospital, but oriented north-south instead of northeast-southwest like the original. A portion of the west end of the provision storehouse behind the 1828 hospital was the area of the archaeological excavation. No remnants of the provision storehouse are visible today, but you can stand on the original location while touring Fort Mackinac (opens May 4, 2023). You can also visit the reconstruction of the original provision storehouse at Colonial Michilimackinac (opens May 10, 2023) and learn more about Dr. Beaumont’s work at the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum in downtown Mackinac Island (opens June 3, 2023).