Michilimackinac Archaeology 2021 Wrap-Up

Southeast root cellar. This image shows the cellar shortly before completion. Only a gray circular area of cultural deposit, probably a postmold, and remnants of the south wall remain. 

  The 2021 Michilimackinac field season came to a satisfying end in late August. After seven seasons of excavation, we have finally reached the bottom of the southeast root cellar! The cellar was first tentatively identified in 2015. Since that time remnants of the north, west and south walls have been exposed and excavated along with a wide variety of interesting artifacts. More cellar deposit and the east wall are still present in the east profile and extending into the area of the House D excavation where the cellar was identified, but not excavated.

Central cellar. The dark soil surrounded by lighter sand is the central cellar. Six posts are now visible along the eastern edge of the cellar, two on the south, three on the west, and one on the north.

  The central cellar, on the other hand, became better defined and shows no sign of ending. It continued to yield trade goods, such as hawk bells, and structural artifacts, such as a hinge.

  A second new square was opened in the north row of squares where we eventually expect to find evidence of the north wall of the house. Both squares opened this summer are now down to the rubble layer created by the 1781 demolition of the fort.

  The newest square yielded the most interesting artifact of the second half of the season, a clear, circular intaglio set with Masonic symbols on it. The square and compass surrounding the letter G are easy to see. The surrounding symbols are not as legible but appear to include a trowel on the left. The set is .42” in diameter and could be from a linked button or a ring.

  While the lodge at Mackinac (St. John’s #15) was not established until 1784 on Mackinac Island, many of the soldiers and traders at Michilimackinac were members of lodges in Detroit or further east. Known Masons at Michilimackinac include: Major Robert Rogers, Lt. John Christie, Captain John Vattas, Lt. Robert Brooks, Lt. George Clowes, Surgeon’s Mate David Mitchell, Felix Graham, Benjamin Lyon, Forrest Oakes, David Rankin, and Ezekiel Solomon.

Masonic intaglio from a linked button or ring.

  This list is a starting point for possible owners of the intaglio. It could be a clue to the “British trader” who owned the house or could have been lost by a guest of his. It is particularly interesting to note that three other residents of the southeast rowhouse were Masons, Lt. Clowes (House A/B), Ezekiel Solomon (House C), and David Mitchell (House D).

The site is packed and waiting for spring.

  The 2021 field season was sponsored by Mackinac Associates, and we thank them for their generous support.

Michilimackinac Archaeology 2021 Mid-Season Update

We have reached the halfway point of the 2021 archaeological field season at Michilimackinac and there is progress to report.

Door latch

  The southeast cellar seems to be showing signs of bottoming out. The soil in the southern portion is becoming very sandy with pebbles, like the glacial beach which lies under all of the fort. Some of the wood wall fragments have disappeared. Part of a door latch was found in this area. The northern part of the cellar is becoming somewhat sandier, but the wood planks continue, and it recently yielded a small, plain pewter button and a musket ball.

Pocketknife

  The east wall of the central cellar has become better defined with the burned tops of eight wood posts now exposed. The most interesting artifact of the summer (so far) came from the north edge of this cellar, an intact pocketknife. We hope that future research will help us date it or at least identify it as French or British in order to better understand the construction sequence of the cellars.

  Excavation of 1781 demolition continues further north. We expect to find remnants of the north wall of the house in this area. We have opened the first quad in what we expect to be the final row of squares for this project.

New Quad Opened Up

  The 2021 field season is sponsored by the Mackinac Associates, and we are grateful for their support. Follow MSHP’s social channels and this blog for updates on the rest of the season, or, better yet, come visit the site. We will be excavating every day, weather permitting, through August 21.

Michilimackinac Archaeology 2021 Has Begun

The archaeology crew at work on opening day.

  The 63rd archaeological field season at Michilimackinac got underway on June 1. This will be our 14th season on our current project, the excavation of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. The rowhouse was built in the 1730s, rebuilt in the 1760s, and demolished in 1781 when the community moved to Mackinac Island. The house was always occupied by fur trading households, first the household of French Canadian trader Charles Gonneville, and later the household of an as-yet-unknown English trader.

  Despite not knowing his name, we have learned quite a bit about the English trader through the artifacts we have recovered. He supplemented the fish diet everyone ate with pigs and other domestic animals. He owned up-to-date ceramics, including styles developed in the 1770s. He was a snazzy dresser, with ornate buttons, buckles, and linked button fasteners. His trade goods likely included hawk bells and fishhooks.

  Although only half of the houses at Michilimackinac had a cellar, this house had two. We will excavate both of them this summer. At the very end of last season, we got a glimpse of the north wall trench of the house, and we hope to expose more of it this season.

  This house has had many surprises and we are excited to see what this season has in store. Interesting discoveries will be posted on MSHP’s social channels and this blog. Better yet, come visit us in person. We will be excavating every day through August 21 (weather permitting). This year the archaeological field season is sponsored by Mackinac Associates and we are grateful for their support.

Shifting Sands

Remains of the lighthouse dock in April 2021.

The high water levels of the Great Lakes in recent years have caused significant erosion along the shoreline, exposing many long-buried landscape features. This year, water levels have fallen slightly, revealing previously-buried or submerged pieces of the past. The dock remains currently visible in front of the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse are but one example of how the power of the Great Lakes can alternately hide and reveal reminders of our maritime history.

The dock may have been the first element of the light station to be built, as it would have been necessary to receive materials for the construction of the original fog signal building in 1890. According to the 1894 Annual Report, “the landing crib was carried away by ice.” A replacement was completed the following year. It is depicted on a 1907 map as extending 198 feet out into the straits.

Keeper George Marshall greets a lighthouse inspector on the station dock. 

The dock was gone by 1921, when the District Superintendent explained in letter to the Commissioner of Lighthouses that it was not necessary to construct a new dock because “supplies and fuel can be unloaded at a city dock and transported to the Station.”

The remains of the dock you see today are over one hundred years old and fragile. Please do not disturb them. Archaeological remains such as the dock, whether located on land within Michilimackinac State Park or submerged in the waters of the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve, are protected by state law.

More information about the Old Mackinac Point Light Station can be found in Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse: A History and Pictorial Souvenir by MSHP Director Steve Brisson, available at MSHP museum stores. Visit our website to order a copy, or for more information about visiting Old Mackinac Point.

 

Gun Parts from the South Southwest Rowhouse at Michilimackinac

Between 1998 and 2007 Mackinac State Historic Parks excavated the east end unit of the South Southwest Rowhouse, now the site of Hearthside Museum Store in the reconstructed rowhouse. From its construction in the 1730s through the time of the 1763 attack it was lived in by French Canadian fur traders, mostly members of the Desriviere family. When the British returned with more soldiers in 1764, this was one of the houses they rented for foot soldiers to live in before the barracks was built in 1769. It appears to have reverted to a French Canadian trading household in the 1770s, before being moved to Mackinac Island in 1780.

One of the most interesting categories of artifacts excavated at the house was gun parts. In part this was because of the quantity present. A total of sixty-one were recovered, thirty-one (whole or fragmentary) gun worms and thirty other gun parts. By way of comparison, House D of the Southeast Rowhouse, the Bolon-Mitchell house excavated from 1989 to 1997, yielded thirty-five total gun parts, ten of which were gun worms. We have found eleven gun parts, six gun worms and five other parts, in the first thirteen seasons of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse.

Two-eared gun worm.

Of the sixty-one gun parts from the South Southwest Rowhouse end unit, just over half (thirty-four, twenty-two gun worms and a dozen other parts) came from in and around the cellar, suggesting the parts were stored there.

1st model Long Land buttplate.

Two gun parts from British military weapons came from the cellar. The first was an unusual two-eared gun worm, the only one found during the project. The second was a buttplate from a first model Long Land Service Pattern musket. Both of these could have been used by foot soldiers of the 60th Regiment living in the house in the late 1760s.

Two other parts suggest that one of the traders living in the house was stockpiling gun parts, possibly for sale. The first is an unused wrist escutcheon from a c.1740 Type D fusil fin, a high quality French civilian gun. A wrist escutcheon serves as an anchor for the screw attaching the triggerguard to the stock of the gun. We can tell this one was never used because it was never drilled through. It is currently on display in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit at Colonial Michilimackinac. The second is a buttplate which cannot be further identified because it was deliberately wrapped in birchbark to protect it. It was found near the bottom of the cellar.

Wrist escutcheon from a c.1740.

Buttplate wrapped in birch bark.

Gun parts are just one artifact category that tells us more about what the inhabitants of the South Southwest Rowhouse were doing and where they were doing it. If you are interested in learning more, the final report on the project will be published later in 2021. In the meantime, there is more information on the project in the Archaeology pages of the Explore at Home section of mackinacparks.com.

Getewaaking – “At the Place of the Ancient Ones”

P8310131 – Pottery fragments excavated at Getewaaking.

  Mackinac Island is blessed with a lovely natural harbor. The beach terrace above it has always been a center of activity. Today this area is the business district and Marquette Park. Hundreds of years ago this area was a bustling village. Scattered evidence of this village has been encountered during a number of construction projects over the years. A larger portion of the village was systematically excavated in 2009 during the conversion of the Indian Dormitory/old Mackinac Island Public School building into The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. The excavation was carried out by Andrews Cultural Resources, under the direction of Wesley Andrews, through a contract with Mackinac State Historic Parks. All photos in this post were taken by Andrews Cultural Resources staff.

P8300125 – Copper bead excavated at Getewaaking.

  The village, which Andrews called Getewaaking, meaning “at the place of the ancient ones,” was inhabited seasonally from c.500 A.D. to 1600 A.D. Analysis of the animal bones excavated at the site showed that the villagers were fishing for whitefish and lake trout in the fall and burbot in the winter. They supplemented their diet with moose, caribou, beaver, white-tailed deer, black bear, and domesticated dog.

P8300122 – Copper point excavated at Getewaaking.

  A variety of pottery sherds were found, including some with decorations similar to those on sherds found on nearby Bois Blanc Island. An example is on display in the Mackinac Art Museum. [P8310131] Chert projectile points and scrapers were among the stone tools recovered. [P8300101] Copper beads and tools, including a projectile point, a knife and two awls, were also found. [P8300125] [P8300122] [P8300116]

P8300116 – Copper awl excavated at Getewaaking.

P8300101 – Chert projectile point excavated at Getewaaking.

Archaeology at the Biddle House

This Castle pattern plate was manufactured by James and Ralph Clews of Staffordshire between 1815 and 1834.

  The Mackinac Island Native American Museum at the Biddle House will be one of the exciting new offerings from Mackinac State Historic Parks for the 2021 season. As visitors explore the new galleries a few of the artifacts they will see come from an archaeological excavation that took place on the property nearly fifty years ago.

  In the summer of 1972, Dr. Lyle Stone, then staff archaeologist, brought over a small team from the Michilimackinac project to excavate the site of an old privy. It was discovered while restoring the privy you see on site today, which was built in the mid-nineteenth century. This older privy, five feet west of the existing one, appears to have been in use from the early 1820s into the 1840s, immediately preceding the existing one. The privy was constructed of horizontal log cribbing.

Several styles of wine glass were present in the privy.

  The Biddle House was constructed around 1780 during the move of the community of Michilimackinac from the mainland to the island. Edward and Agatha Biddle purchased it in mid-1820s and moved in around 1830, so the excavated privy dates to the early years of their residence.

  Fragments of two birchbark containers were found, reflective of Agatha’s continued ties to her Anishnaabek heritage. A wide variety of industrially manufactured artifacts made between 1810 and 1840 were recovered as well.  Some of these may have been purchased from the American Fur Company store at the end of Market Street.

Glass tumblers from the privy had a variety of designs on their base.

  At least fifty-seven mendable ceramic vessels were represented. Nineteenth-century ceramic materials, forms and designs changed quickly as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. These changes were well documented and form the basis for dating the privy. Twenty-eight of the vessels were blue transfer-printed earthenware, including twelve plates, eight bowls/saucers, five cups and two pitchers and jugs. Other ceramic types represented are pearlware and annular-decorated creamware.

  Fragments from a wide range of glass vessels were recovered. Recognizable bottle forms included dark green wine bottles, a clear rectangular case bottle, pharmaceutical phials and some indeterminate condiment or medicine bottles. Recognizable tableware forms included at least twenty-three clear tumblers, clear wine glasses, a light green glass pitcher and a small decanter or cruet. Utilitarian glass forms include fragments from two oil lamp bases and a fragment of windowpane.

Ceramics with annular designs around their circumference were popular in the early nineteenth century.

  Other commercially made artifacts included eleven white clay smoking pipe fragments, two milk glass buttons, a drawer handle, a scythe fragment, and an iron trap part. The most unusual finds were forty-two textile fragments, which consisted of fifteen types of fabric, mostly wools, perhaps from socks, coats, or sweaters.

  Food remains included seeds and bones. Raspberry, cherry, grape, and squash/pumpkin seeds were identified. Pig, snowshoe hare and passenger pigeon bones were identified. Many fish bones were present but could not be identified as to species. Two coprolites (fossilized feces) were recovered, neither of which contained any parasites.

  Taken together, the artifacts reflect a fairly high-status household, as we would expect from the Biddle family, successful merchants.

 

Support Mackinac Associates Fall Appeal on Giving Tuesday

  Mackinac Associates’ mission is simple and encompassing:  Friends Preserving and Sharing Mackinac’s Heritage.

  Mackinac Associates is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports programs at Mackinac State Historic Parks through membership dues and other gifts. Mackinac Associates has supported needed projects in every area of museum operation, and make possible interpretive programs, publications, exhibits, natural history education, park improvements and more.

  Unless otherwise designated, donations received on Giving Tuesday will go to support this year’s fall campaign raising funds to ensure we can continue the archaeology field project at Colonial Michilimackinac. With your help, 2021 will be the 63rd consecutive season for the Colonial Michilimackinac archaeology field project. Every summer from mid-June to late August, visitors can watch archaeology in progress at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, the site of a reconstructed 18th-century fort and fur-trading village. An interpreter is on site to answer visitor questions, explain the process and show sample artifacts.

Brass sideplate from a British trade gun.

  Started in 1959, the excavation at Michilimackinac is one of the longest ongoing projects of its kind in North America. Structures there are built on previously excavated areas and interpretation is guided by what was found at the site in addition to available records documenting that time period. Over a million artifacts have been recovered since 1959, providing valuable information regarding diets, trade goods, firearms and recreation, helping identify between French and British, military and civilian. A pause in this program could leave artifacts exposed and cause deterioration at the site. The longer the project takes, the more the integrity of the site is threatened.

  While public support is always valued and appreciated., it is especially critical during these challenging times. By supporting the upcoming season of the archaeology field project, you will help Mackinac State Historic Parks continue to protect, preserve, and present the rich historic resources of the Straits of Mackinac and make history come alive for all of us!

  2020 has been a challenging year for many and Mackinac State Historic Parks is no exception. We hope you will participate in the fall appeal and Giving Tuesday and help us fund the archaeology field project in 2021.

  To donate to Mackinac Associates on Giving Tuesday or any other day, please visit

http://mackinacassociates.com/donate.htm.

#preservemackinac

#givingtuesday

#thisismackinac

The Project Goes On…

In 2004, Mackinac State Historic Parks began a long-term project to restore the original buildings at the Old Mackinac Point Light Station and reconstruct the missing elements. The station is well documented, but archaeology has played a role, too.

 The lighthouse in 1918. The privy can be seen to the right.

   The most recent archaeological effort involved the free-standing privy, originally located about six feet west of the warehouse which now houses the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum. The privy was demolished after the light station was connected to the Mackinaw City sewer system in 1929. The remains of the brick privy foundation were found through test excavations in 2013. At that time, the focus was on locating the privy ruins so they could be avoided during the reconstruction of the warehouse.

   A privy incorporated into the original “barn” was located during test excavations in 2004 prior to the structure being returned to its original location. Those excavations revealed that the privy had been cleaned out and filled with sand after it was abandoned.

Dr. Lynn Evans on site.

   Recent test excavation at the site of the free-standing privy was designed to determine if it had also been cleaned out after it was no longer in use. A 1’ x 1’ square was excavated in the interior of the privy area. The different soils encountered were removed and screened separately. The top three layers (a total of 13.5” deep) were deposited as part of MSHP’s restoration work and dated to the 2014 construction of the warehouse, the 2013 test excavation and landscaping carried out in 2006-07 respectively. Below that were two layers (a total of 6.5” thick) from mid- to late twentieth century parking lots and driveways. Below that was a thick (17”) layer of mottled clay. It has been seen in previous excavations at the light station capping pre-1929 features. Only a few artifacts were found during this test excavation, but most of them, three nails and some coal, came from this layer.

This image shows the soil layers in the testpit. From the top: rocky fill from 2014; gold sand from 2013; brown fill from 2006-07; rocky roadbed from mid-twentieth century; mottled pink and gray sand from 1929.

   What was below the clay layer would answer the question of if the privy had been cleaned out. We expected to find beach sand if it had been cleaned and rich, artifact-bearing soil if it had not. What we found was black sandy loam containing only one fragment of window glass. After only two inches, something very solid was encountered and the testpit was complete. Because the testpit was over three feet deep at this point, it was being excavated with posthole diggers and it was difficult to get a good look at the bottom of the pit.

   We still don’t know for sure that the privy was not cleaned out, but the results of this test indicate that it would be worthwhile to carry out a larger scale excavation. In the meantime, we know that the original foundation and privy deposit are deep enough that the privy can be reconstructed without damaging them. Check our website for further updates, but also consider making a donation to Mackinac Associates, which helps fund our ongoing archaeological programs.

 

 

 

2020 Archaeology Wrap-Up

Lead seal stamed with the mark of the Compagnie des Indes.

The second half of the archaeological field season had similar themes to the first half (see the first half recap here). Again, the most interesting artifact came from the central root cellar. It was a lead seal stamped with the mark of the Compagnie des Indes. The CDI was a French colonial enterprise chartered by the king. The seal would have been attached to a bolt of cloth or other textile imported by the company. It dates to between 1717 and 1769. This, combined with the stratigraphy (layers of soil) surrounding it, indicates that this cellar was in use during the French occupation of the house (mid-1730s to early 1760s) as well as during the later British occupation.

Possible French wall trench.

During the final week of the field season, we saw the first possible evidence of the north wall of the house. It is a strip of gray sand cutting through gold sand. In other units of the southeast rowhouse, the French house is a few feet narrower along the north wall than the British house, but has a porch, which the British house does not. The square the possible trench appeared in is the deepest in its east-west row (the row 210 feet south of the water gate), so it remains to be seen if it extends to the east and west. We do not expect to find the British wall trench and French porch joists until we open the row of squares to the north (the row 205 feet south of the water gate). After the excitement of removing the deep post in the first half of the season, we did not find the bottom of any more squares this summer. We opened the final two squares in the 210 row in the second half of the season. The easternmost is currently at the modern/colonial interface. The westernmost is in the layer of rubble created during the 1781 demolition of the fort. As was the case elsewhere in the house, there were a variety of ceramic sherds present. These included a fragment of a creamware handle, possibly from a pitcher, and a fragment of a polychrome tin-glazed earthenware teacup, similar to one found late last season.

Site packed for the winter.

We have now packed the site for winter and returned to the lab. Watch for a blog post in late winter to see what we learn as we clean and research this season’s finds.