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Collier Lodge dig wraps up for summer


By Amy Lavalley

Post-Tribune correspondent

Last Modified: Jul 22, 2011 02:00AM

KOUTS ó The heat may have cut short some of the dig time at Collier Lodge, but it certainly didnít wilt enthusiasm for the project.

Students from Indiana University-South Bend and the University of Notre Dame, as well as several volunteers, started the annual archaeological dig at the lodge July 5. They wrapped up the brunt of their work by lunchtime Thursday, stopping their efforts early because of soaring temperatures.

"I gained a lot of excavation experience," said Barb Roman, 21, a senior at St. Xavier University in Chicago who took part in the dig through Notre Dame.

Much of what she uncovered was prehistoric, from 800 years ago or so, and included pottery and knife points. Roman, who is from Rockford, Ill., is working on a minor in anthropology and hopes to go on to graduate school; the dig, she said, will definitely help.

The dig, along the Kankakee River and the former site of Eatonís Ferry, is in its ninth year. Itís sponsored by the Kankakee Valley Historical Society and is spearheaded by Mark Schurr, an associate dean at Notre Dame.

He and Joshua Wells, an assistant professor at IUSB, said this yearís dig has gone well. Finds included prehistoric roasting pits. While they donít produce much in artifacts, Schurr said the charcoal from the pits could be sent to a botanist, who can identify the kind of wood that was used and the types of vegetables that were roasted. The charcoal also can be carbon dated.

Wells, whose students participated in the dig for the first time, said the site, which offers both historic and prehistoric artifacts, was "a valuable educational experience."

"Theyíve gotten to see artifacts from several different prehistoric cultures," as well as items from the 19th century, he said, "all concentrated on this site."

John Hodson, president of the historical society, was concentrating on his theory that another building, in addition to the lodge and ferry, might have been on the site. Based on coins from the late 1800s, and research heís done into similar sites elsewhere, Hodson thinks a store also may have been on the bank of the river.

He called it "my own little quack theory" and admitted heíd come up with a conclusion before he really had any evidence, which is "not the way science works."



Volunteers, students finishing up project at Collier Lodge

By Mallory Jindra Times Correspondent | Posted: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 8:00 pm

KOUTS | Volunteers and students battled Tuesday's sweltering heat and humidity in the last week of Kankakee Valley Historical Society's archaeological dig at Collier Lodge.

While the work was slower due to the heat, people kept hydrated during one of the final days of the annual dig.

This year's dig expanded from past years to include two different field schools, with students from four colleges participating. Notre Dame Associate Professor of Anthropology Mark Schurr said the change has allowed the volunteers to open more excavation units than in previous years.

Many of the units contained what used to be sections of Upper Mississippian roasting pits, where prehistoric Indians would roast things like edible plants up to 500 years ago.

"You can tell what was done in the area by measuring the different colors of the sand," Schurr said.

After mapping out the areas with charcoal coloring, volunteers continue to dig around them according to the levels of colored sand.

Pottery, sewing pins and nails have all been found this year during the dig, but those things will be difficult to date. However, recovered coins are easily dated. A three-cent piece from 1853 and a half-dime from 1847 were discovered by diggers this year.

"It's exciting to know the exact date of something you find because it rarely ever happens," Indiana University South Bend graduate and Brandeis University student Rebecca Gibson said.

First-time digger Jan Nass, from Mokena, Ill., said she volunteered because she has always had an interest in archeology but never had the chance to experience it. While dry screening part of the ground, Nass found charcoal remains, fire rock and flint.

The Collier Lodge dig was also a first for Indiana University Northwest anthropology senior Harriett Demetrakis.

"We found this burned log and some pottery pieces," Demetrakis said. "It's just amazing to hold something that old. You get to hold it before the museum gets it."


Collier Lodge dig finds include coins, pottery

By Amy Lavalley

Post-Tribune correspondent

Last Modified: Jul 13, 2011 10:26AM

KOUTS Ė More than a week into a three-week archaeological dig at Collier Lodge, the 30 or so students and volunteers at the site are already uncovering a steady stream of interesting finds.

"Weíve come up with a lot of really neat stuff," including historic and pre-historic finds, said John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, which has sponsored the dig for the past several years.

Volunteers, as well as students and professors from Notre Dame and Indiana University-South Bend, are pitching in with the effort, which takes place Tuesday through Friday, through July 22.

Finds so far on this yearís dig, which started July 5, include an 1853 3-cent piece, in keeping with coins from 1847 and 1848 also found at the site along the Kankakee River. The area used to house Eatonís Ferry.

"Weíve got a real, solid time frame in there," Hodson said.

The oldest item found so far was an arrow point from around 2000 B.C. Also among the finds was an assortment of items from the Upper Mississippian period, around 1300 A.D.

In a spot that is maybe a foot in diameter, Hodson said volunteers found a knife blade, a hammer stone, pottery pieces, and mussel and other shells.

"To me, itís like somebody had a bag and dropped it," he said. "Itís all in one spot. Thatís what was neat."

For pictures, links to a blog and more information on this yearís archaeological dig at Collier Lodge, go to www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org/.


Students bone up on local archeology

By Heather Augustyn Times Correspondent |

 Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 6:30 pm

KOUTS | Boxes of shovels and wood-framed screens stood around the grounds outside of Collier Lodge in Kouts as students and volunteers sifted, dug, and sweated underneath canopies erected over archeological sites.

It was another dig conducted by the Kankakee Valley Historical Society in conjunction with Notre Dame's Mark Schurr, professor of anthropology, as well as numerous other local college and university programs.

The dig, which aims to uncover artifacts from settlers of the area, both historic and prehistoric, is a way to not only find the history of the culture-rich land in South Porter County on the Kankakee River, but also to educate students of anthropology and archeology.

"So what's your next step?" asks Schurr of a group of students as they present their findings from their morning's dig.

"We start filling out the form for level two," answers Annie Jordan, a student of anthropology at Ohio State University.

"Most of these students have never been on an archeological dig, so they have the chance to learn procedure regarding the artifacts we find and how to record them," Schurr said.

Wednesday's dig involved investigating prehistoric roasting pits found on the site, which contained bones of small animals, and the cellar of a structure, perhaps a cabin once erected on the site.

Josh Wells, assistant professor of anthropology at Indiana University South Bend, said the dig provides an opportunity to work together with local groups, and to educate the 10 students he brought with him.

Some students of the dig were just observers but perhaps will become more hands-on when they are older, such as Teresa Lansdowne, a 10-year-old from Valparaiso, who came to the site with her grandfather, Mark Johnson, of Valparaiso.

"I'm really interested in stuff from a long time ago," said Lansdowne, who said she hopes to see the students uncover an arrowhead.

The dig continues today with ground penetrating radar and resistivity testing, as well as more manual digging and sifting through July


Students join annual archaeological treasure hunt


By Amy Lavalley

Post-Tribune correspondent

Last Modified: Jul 6, 2011 09:17AM

KOUTS ó More than 30 students and volunteers gathered Tuesday at Collier Lodge for an annual ritual of discovery.

Four days a week through July 22, the group will sift through the layers of soil to find hidden treasures left by riverside residents of long ago.

This is the ninth year for the project, which is sponsored by the Kankakee Valley Historical Society and is spearheaded by Mark Schurr, an associate dean at Notre Dame.

Joining him on-site this year for the first time is also a contingent from Indiana University-South Bend, a group that includes a couple of students from Indiana University Northwest.

Schurr said he first became involved when the historical society acquired the site, and members wanted to know if anything was there as they came up with plans for the land along the Kankakee River. The area was an archaeological site in the 1930s.

Schurr came down for a couple of days to check out the land. Several years later, heís still coming down, with a growing number of participants.

"It turned into a combination field school and volunteer project," he said. "Thereís a lot of artifacts and thereís a lot of really deep deposits."

Past finds at the site include a cellar and fireplace from a building that was probably the first one there, though it doesnít exist in any records. Diggers also have found pre-historic pottery and tools in 600-year-old trash pits.

Tuesday, the group was just getting started, marking off the six plots where the dig will take place and removing grass. Joshua Wells, an assistant professor at IUSB, has known Schurr professionally for several years and looked forward to working with him again.

"This site is a really great educational opportunity for the students. Itís within an easy distance of all the campuses, and it has historical components," he said.

For IUN students Mollie Morris, a sophomore from Hebron, and Harriett Demetrakis, a senior from Merrillville, the dig offers the chance to learn more about the regionís history, especially since neither was familiar with the site.

Morris, 20, said she didnít know about the site, and said it was "weird" that other folks donít know about it, either.

"Itís in our own back yard and nobody is talking about it," said Demetrakis, 55, a teaching assistant in the Merrillville schools.

Volunteers ready for Collier dig


By Amy Lavalley

Post-Tribune correspondent

Last Modified: Jun 19, 2011 02:00AM

KOUTS ó Janet Landato retired from teaching at a college in the Chicago suburbs five years ago and moved to North Judson to be closer to her family.

Ever since, sheís wanted to spend part of each summer helping with the archaeological dig at Collier Lodge, along the Kankakee River. This, she decided, would be the year she did it.

"Iíve always wanted to do something like this, so this is my Ďsummer vacationí from housekeeping responsibilities," said Landato, who taught astronomy, physics and earth sciences, adding she doesnít have to travel across the globe to take part in the dig.

Saturday, Landato and other volunteers helped clean up a trailer at the Collier Lodge site in preparation for this yearís dig, which will be held Tuesdays through Fridays, July 5 to 22.

The digs started in 2003, not long after John Hodson purchased the land and started doing research into the lodge, on the site of a ferry crossing during the 1830s. He and his wife, Mary, who live in Kouts, founded the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, and he serves as the societyís president.

Budding and experienced archaeologists have found artifacts dating back 10,000 years, and are bound to find something during the three weeks volunteers are at the site each summer.

"We come up with roughly 10,000 artifacts each year," he said. About 57,000 artifacts have been found over the years.

Mark Schurr, associate professor and chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Notre Dame, oversees the work, and graduate and undergraduate students can obtain credit for the dig through a Notre Dame summer session program.

Indiana University-South Bend students also are helping out this year, Hodson said, as the school develops its archaeology department.

With the exception of a septic tank on the site, which has since been removed, Hodson said much of the site by the lodge has been left alone over time.

"It was never plowed. It was never a farm, so it was undisturbed," he said.

Kankakee Valley Historical Society seeks amateur archaeologists

By Heather Augustyn Times Correspondent | Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2011 12:00 am

KOUTS | For the past 10 years, scholars, volunteers and members of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society and associated universities have been conducting archaeological digs along the Kankakee River near Kouts.

Discovering ancient artifacts such as pottery shards and stone tools, along with foundation remains from settlements hundreds of years old, is part of everyday excavation at the land around Collier Lodge off Baums Bridge Road. But it's always been tough to find supervisors to lead those digs.

"For each archaeological unit we have to have a unit supervisor, and it's been difficult to find trained people to do the work," said John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society. "So this year we decided to really get the word out and seek people who have any experience at all."

Hodson said the group is looking for people who can commit to a three-week dig from July 5 through 22. But volunteers also need a little experience or education.

"Applicants could have some school training, such as a minor in anthropology, or even just a high school education but have worked other digs. It's not like a degree is a requirement. Because everything has to be documented, we need someone who is detail-oriented and follows instructions well," Hodson said.

The Kankakee Valley Historical Society has set up the Collier Lodge archaeological dig presentation April 19 at Valparaiso University in room 112 at Christopher Hall. The program, which is jointly hosted by VU's Department of Geography and Meteorology, will begin at 6:30 p.m. with the showing of the Collier Lodge National Register nomination video, followed by a PowerPoint presentation by Mark Schurr, associate professor at Notre Dame, who leads the digs.

For more information, visit kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org.

Collier Lodge dig volunteers needed


By Charles M. Bartholomew

Post-Tribune correspondent

The Kankakee Valley Historical Society is looking for diggers ó and not just the kind with shovels in their garages.

The society is inviting anyone interested in archaeology and history to a meeting to kick off a recruiting drive for workers at what has become a unique summer activity in south Porter County, the annual three-week summer excavation project at the Baums Bridge southwest of Kouts.

Society president John Hodson says planning is under way with Notre Dame anthropologist Mark Schurr to resume field work at the Collier Lodge, the last of the early 20th-century hunting clubs still standing in what used to be the Grand Kankakee Marsh.

"One of the biggest problems weíve had is getting unit supervisors. Weíve always had plenty of people to do the digging, but we only have so many who have been with us long enough to oversee the opening of new units. We hope to get some new people who have anthropology backgrounds or experience," Hodson said.

Hodson and Schurr will host a presentation for signing up prospective field workers for the amateur dig at Valparaiso University in room 112 of Kallay-Christopher Hall at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19.

"Dr. Schurr will show the video that we prepared for our application to place the dig on the National Register of Historic Places, and then we will have a question-and-answer session," Hodson said.

He said Schurr will also talk with candidates, who are encouraged to bring a resume or other evidence of their interest and experience. 

A degree is not required, but previous archaeological work is a plus. The dig has thrived for seven summers with over a hundred talented amateurs of all ages each year who need only to pay the societyís annual membership fee and sign a release.

Artifacts dating back up to 8,000 years ago have been unearthed, but with excavations concentrating on the historical period from the 1830s to the present in the past two years, the ability to dig into research for facts is just as important, Hodson said.

Last summerís work filled in gaps in the story of a cabin that stood in the days when the site was the only way to cross the river between South Bend and the state line.

"This year Mark is working with Indiana University-South Bend to get enough students together for a field school," Hodson said.

He said this yearís dig will be conducted Tuesdays through Fridays from July 5 to July 22.