The past leaves clues around us or, in the case of the UM-Dearborn Archeology course, right under our feet.
The Battle of the 1812 War is just a few miles from campus, and Associate Professor John Chenoweth brought his students there to learn more about the Native American and French people who lived on the land more than 200 years ago and what happened during the Raisin River conflicts.
Chenoweth, who teaches in an anthropology program, said most of those who lived here were illiterate, many spoke little English, and they weren’t among the rich and powerful whom history often focuses on. “Our job as archaeologists is to recover the things they left behind so we can tell their story.”
Students from UM-Dearborn and UM-Ann Arbor focused on the 18th century Raisin River settlement that was the site of the Battle of Raisin River in January 1813. Chenoweth says the settlement was rebuilt across the river as Monroe after the war left a “time capsule” preserved for scholars Archaeology.
To learn more about the people and what happened there, students ANT 410: Archaeological Field School and Laboratory Methods collected trowels, storage bags, line levels and more to excavate the site, identify artifacts, and make records of their field work. UM-Dearborn is working with the City of Monroe and with River Raisin National Battlefield Park to help preserve and explain the site to the public.
Field school classes are often expensive and require travel. To make the experience even easier, Chenoweth has created a course that offers field school experiences as part of an ongoing fall semester where students go to the site once a week. “This makes it possible for more people to experience archaeological excavation, see what we’re doing, and get a sense of how scientific research really works.”
Anthropologist Will Smith said he and course partner Mohan Karanth enjoyed their first field study experience. They found a tube stem, ceramic fragments, and a rifle ball likely from the War of 1812 period during excavations in the chapter. “We mapped and packed whatever looked interesting,” said Smith, a senior. “We joked that we were playing: is this an artifact or is it a rock?”
Smith said the gun ball looked like a stone the size of a marble at first. But when they picked it up, it was heavy and they knew it could matter. They confirmed what it was after labeling their find and bringing it to a campus lab, where they used X-ray spectrometry to analyze its components.
Chenoweth said the discovery, along with another shotgun ball found at the site, adds a layer to what is known about the conflicts in the Raisen River. “We recovered a ball of rifle that was likely only fired by the American Kentucky Militia and visibly hit something. Its location indicates that they were engaged in close-range combat, not a long-range duel with British forces as the historical record confirms.”
Smith said he started out as an engineering major, but turned to anthropology after learning the many ways that scientific research intersects in the field to better understand people and their motivations. He said the field study—finding shards of dishes, game pieces, artillery, and more—is a reminder that people from the past were just like us.
“It’s easy to write off people from 200 years ago as different from us. But they were just like us – they had ideas, goals, families. And it’s a reminder that these people were once here and they violently died. I’m not trying to be geek, but the artifacts present situations as they were and don’t glorify them.” , “He said. “With the data collected, it would be interesting to put together an accurate account of what happened, without bias, and see how things were before the conflicts occurred. There are lessons from the past that can help us today and in the future.”
The student, Dalia Rabah, agrees. Rabah does not study anthropology or archeology, but she took the class because it sounded interesting. As an environmental science major, she learned how the lessons were applicable in a variety of fields.
For example, listening to someone’s culture helps you understand people and points of view better. Doing detailed stratigraphic mapping is useful for geological studies, urban planning and architecture development. For Rabah, knowing how to use GIS maps will help her become a successful environmental climate researcher.
“At the same time as we were learning about GIS mapping through our field study, I was in two classes talking about it. In chemistry, we had a guest speaker who is an environmental chemist who uses GIS. And in the weather and climate course, it was also done Discuss GIS Mapping. The techniques we used have wide applications and my classroom experience will help me in the future.”
Rabah said the research they had to do to locate the artifacts was also extensive. She said it bypassed a Google search. They used laboratories, technology, and some unconventional sources.
“I found a lot of round clay items. I wasn’t sure what exactly they were, but I did find a marble collector who offered to identify things with pictures. He told me they were dolls or game pieces from the early 1800s until the 1930s. He told me there were a lot of pottery workshops and toy companies in Northeast Ohio at the time when this hand recycled, dried, and mass-manufactured these things,” Rabah said. “I didn’t tell him where we found the artifacts or the time period in which I suspected them, but what he told me fits with other research we’ve done that has included peer-reviewed sources.”
Chenoweth said it’s important for students to find artifacts that show the past and how people live. Another focus of the project, he said, goes beyond the events of the battle – as it is only one moment in time – and takes into account the multi-ethnic community of farmers and traders who lived on the site from the 1780s until the settlement was largely destroyed thereafter. The battle in January 1813. He said they also found many artifacts made of flaked stone, likely a by-product of stone tool making, indicative of the extent of Native American settlement at the site.
“The first settlers of European descent were given permission to settle here not by the United States, the British or the French, but by the Potawatomi, and they were—along with the Odawa, Ojibwa and Wyandot—important and large communities here during the war of 1812 and onwards,” said Chenoweth. : “Their grandchildren are still here.”
Smith said that the anthropology major on campus gives insight into the lives of people from yesterday and today, as well as a variety of scientific skills. With the cultural and research aspects of the major, Smith – who would like to become an archaeologist – said the subject and this chapter in particular struck the deal that this was the right career field for him.
“This is a course that gives you something new to learn when it comes to history, science, culture, conservation and much more,” he said. “The best advice I’ve ever received is that you don’t know you like something until you try it. Well, I’ve spent 10 weeks digging in the dirt for six hours straight and I’m looking forward to it when I do it again.”
Chenoweth will continue fieldwork at ANT 410 in the fall of 2022. It will be open to UM-Dearborn, UM-Ann Arbor, and UM-Flint students, as well as the public wishing to register as alumni, retirees, or guest guests.