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Volunteers dig archaeology fever

BY KRYSTIN E. KASAK The Times reporter
| Sunday, June 22, 2008

KOUTS | The latest saga of Indiana Jones might have dug up more than just a crystal skull. Leaders of a local archaeological dig said it might also be one of the reasons behind this year's surge in volunteers.

The annual excavation along the historically fertile Kankakee River near Kouts has drawn interest from a record number of volunteers this year. Not only is the dig attracting more local residents, but it also has lured out-of-state and out-of-country volunteers -- coming from as far away as Paris .

"We're way in advance of where we ever were in the past," said John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society. "We normally get a rush at the last minute but this year, there's been a steady stream of them coming in."

In addition to the archaeology fever provided by Harrison Ford's latest flick, the dig might be garnering more interest due to its recent discoveries and awards, Hodson said.

Since the excavations began in 2003, amateur archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of thousands of artifacts from Porter County 's earliest inhabitants, dating back 8,000 years. Last year's treasurers included a spearhead dating to about 1000 to 1500 B.C., a 5-cent piece from the early 1800s, animal bones and various historic and prehistoric pottery.

During the final days of the excavation, diggers also discovered a large underground structure that Hodson said will be a main focus of this summer's dig.

Dig leader Mark Schurr has said the structure could be anything from an ice house to a cabin basement to even a summer kitchen. The first step will be to find the structure's boundaries and set up units around the perimeter, Hodson said.

"We just keep coming up with a lot of mysteries," Hodson said. "The site covers such a wide range of history and so many great things keep coming up here. We're finding styles of pottery that haven't been seen before."

Schurr, who heads up the anthropology department at the University of Notre Dame, publicized this year's dig in the Archaeological Institute of America. Hodson said he believes it also helped generate additional interest in the site.

This year's dig is from July 7 to 24. The project will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The only requirement for participation is to become a member of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society. More information can be found on the society's Web site, www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.com.


Informational meeting

The Kankakee Valley Historical Society will hold an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Kouts Library about this year's archaeological dig along the Kankakee River . A video about the dig will be shown and past volunteers will answer questions. Officials also will be signing up volunteers for the excavation, which is from July 7 to 24. The library is at 101 E. Daumer Road .


Kouts archaeological dig site getting more volunteers


June 17, 2008

BY CHARLES M. BARTHOLOMEW Post-Tribune correspondent

KOUTS -- Organizers of the annual volunteer archaeological dig on the Kankakee River at Baums Bridge are getting an unprecedented response to their notices for sign-ups this year, not only from people, but from Chicago area organizations.

The Kankakee Valley Historical Society, which owns the abandoned building on the north bank of the river, will host a pair of meetings in the coming week as part of preparations for the sixth three-week summer excavation at the Collier Lodge.

"We're all amazed. I don't know if it's the Indiana Jones thing, or what. We've been getting three or four new volunteers a week," KVHS president John Hodson said.

Hodson said this year's dig has attracted the attention of members of the South Suburban Archaeological Society of Homewood, Ill., a chapter of the Illinois Association for the Advancement of Archaeology.

He said the work crews will include four students from Valparaiso University , where geography professor Ron Janke has arranged college credit for them. Notre Dame University anthropologist Mark Schurr , who has been overseeing the project every year, has also made credits available to students working at the site.

Graduate students are coming from France and Indonesia , Hodson said.

But most of the workers are amateurs and volunteers. Some have worked at sites on several continents, while others are teenagers who had just come to watch and were drawn in by the thrill of discovery.

All that's required is payment of KVHS membership dues and, for those under 18, a release signed by a parent or guardian.

"We have a deal with the Holiday Inn Express in Valparaiso for suites at a special rate during the dig," Hodson said.

He said he and Schurr are going to Indianapolis today to meet with state Historic Preservation Officials as the first step in applying for a grant to write an application for the lodge to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an archaeological site.

Hodson said Jim Hitz, director of Taltree Arboretum, has asked the society to set up a booth at Taltree's 10-year celebration on July 19, during the dig.

"This is a great opportunity for us to develop a strong partnership with Taltree," he said.

Saturday is the day for a work party at the dig site to clean up the trailer and field lab that was donated for the project.




Notre Dame professor again will lead Collier excavation in July

May 18, 2008

BY CHARLES M. BARTHOLOMEW Post-Tribune correspondent

Almost every chair in the meeting room at the Lake County Public Library in Merrillville was filled recently for a preview of this summer's archaeological dig at the abandoned Collier Lodge at Baum's Bridge by Mark Schurr , associate professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.

Schurr and Kankakee Valley Historical Society president John Hodson presented a video on the excavations that are going into their sixth year at Collier Lodge, the last of the hunting clubs in the former Grand Kankakee Marsh.

After a 45-minute video on the history of the dig, which began in 2003 as an all-volunteer effort supervised by Schurr under contract with the KVHS, the professor laid out plans for the 21⁄2 weeks of field activity at the site in July.

"I'll be doing pretty much what I did in the past, managing everything as site supervisor," Schurr said.

He said the work will pick up with investigation of what he calls "the megafeature" uncovered on the last day of the 2007 dig, a corner of the foundation of what might be a large cabin from the era of French fur traders in the 17th century, when Europeans first visited the area.

"We hope to answer the question, 'How big was it?' We will put in new units (dig new holes) to find out," he said.

Schurr said the Collier Lodge site deserves to be on the National Register of Historic Places, and he will compile an application package with a state grant next year.

"The grant will allow us to go through state archives in Indianapolis and research other records," Schurr said.

In past years, excavations have uncovered prehistoric roasting pits and other features, yielding thousands of artifacts that might be up to 10,000 years old.

Among the first to arrive for the program were Beth Spicknall of Merrillville and her sons, Mike, 12, and Matthew, 7, all interested in visiting the dig site.

"This is the only place I can work on my archaeology merit badge without going to another state," said Mike, a member of Boy Scout Troop 45 in Crown Point .

Among those planning to return to work this summer was Johan Arif, a professor from Indonesia who moved to South Bend for postdoctoral studies after joining the 2006 dig. He said he wants to go back to his country to do similar excavations with what he learns here.

Also in the audience were members of the South Suburban Archaeological Society in Homewood , Ill.

As one of the volunteers in the video said while she cleaned freshly dug artifacts, "We don't appreciate our past, but here, you can feel it."

Get involved

-- The public is welcome to view excavation work at the Collier Lodge site on the Kankakee River from July 7 to 24.

-- Release forms and parental permission for those under age 18 are required for all volunteer workers, who must be Kankakee Valley Historical Society members and pay one-year dues of $30 per person or $40 for a family. For more information and times, visit the Web site www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org.


Article in "Senior Life" May issue (click to enlarge)  New

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Unearthing reveals links to the past


By TIM ASIILEY Staff Writer

Shovel full by shovel full, slowly but surely, the history of an area along the Kanka­kee River in Porter County is being revealed.

Each year since 2003, a group led by . lark Schurr, a professor at the University of Notre Dame and chair of the university s anthropology department, has been digging for artifacts near the river close to Kouts. The excavation site is the old Collier Lodge, the last of the Kankakee Marsh hunting lodge still standing.

The annual dig is a collabo­ration between Notre Dame and the Kankakee Valley Historical Society and includes students from Valparaiso University , as well as other colleges. Some of those who participate are experienced in archaeology, but many are amateurs who are either students or members of the society and want to experience the process of unearthing artifacts. This year, the group will be at the site July 7-24.

During the two and a half weeks the amateur archaeologists arc at the excavation site, they typically put in roughly seven-hour days Monday through Thursday. "On any given day, about 35 to 40 people will be involved, with about a hundred people over the course of the season," Schurr said via a-mail. "The unit leaders and other trained people dig and those less experienced or so in­clined help by screening or washing and sorting artifacts. Even' day starts with a tour of the site to see what will be done."

One of the major objectives of the project has been to learn more about the early inhabitants of Porter County . And much has been accomplished toward that end.

Last year, artifacts discovered included a spearhead dating back to approximately 1500 B.C., a 5-cent piece from the early 1800’s, animal bones and historic and prehistoric pottery. But just prior to the close of the 2007 dig, a large underground structure. 5 by 17 feet in size, was discovered. This structure, believed to be the home of the Kankakee River ferry, will be the focus of the 2008 dig.

Other discoveries have included pottery, which is evidence of a possible American Indian culture in the Kankakee Valley .

More discoveries are anticipated for 2008, including animal bones, pottery, stone tools, food remains and garbage pits. Taken together, these clues will shed more light on the early life of Porter County .

Digging for and unearthing historical treasures is literally history unfolding before a person's eyes, so understandably the digs have attracted people front a wide variety of backgrounds and locations. It is not uncommon, for examples, to see retirees show up or grandparents bring their grandchildren.

The historical society purchased the property where the excavation site is located and hopes to restore it for a museum depicting the history, of the early dwellers of the county. For the time being, the artifacts discovered will become part of a collection at Notre Dame, but Schurr noted eventually the artifacts need to be put on display somewhere publicly to tell the story of the Collier Lodge,

Schurr's efforts have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year, he was presented the Rodney F. Ganey award. The award is given annually to a Notre Dame faculty member who is involved in a community basest project which deals with a local question and involves students and a local organization.

The dig is a public project and visitors and volunteers are welcomed. Though previous archaeological field work experience is not required to work at the site, some expe­rienced field workers will be needed this year.

For more information about volunteering, call John or Mary Hodson with the Kankakee Valley Historical Society at 219-766-2302. Information, as well as applications may also be found online at www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org.

In addition, an informational meeting and sign-up for the dig is planned for 6:30 p.m. June 24 at the Kouts Library, 101 E. Daumer Rd.

Schurr is originally from South Bend and has been teaching at Notre Dame for 14 years. “I have been conducting excavations from grad school when I was studying to be an archaeologist.




Dig leader nets honor for Kankakee River excavation


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Dr. Mark Schurr and family at Ganey Award Banquet

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Dr. Mark Schurr and Dr. Terrence (Terry) Martin at Ganey Award Banquet 

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Dr. Mark Schurr and KVHS members at Ganey Award Banquet


 Monday, March 17, 2008 |

VALPARAISO | Thanks to a university professor, people new to archaeology have been able to participate in excavations along the Kankakee River . The amateur diggers over the last five years have unearthed thousands of artifacts while learning about soil types, fossil dating and native animals.

Dig leader Mark Schurr has received a lot of praise for his use of volunteers, and his efforts have helped him capture a community-based research award this year from the University of Notre Dame.

Schurr, who heads up the university's anthropology department, recently learned he is the recipient of this year's Rodney F. Ganey award. One faculty member earns the distinction each year for a community-based project that deals with a local question while involving students and a local organization.

Schurr's dig involves a collaboration with the Kankakee Valley Historical Society each year and repeatedly draws students from various colleges, including Notre Dame and Valparaiso University . One of the project's aims has been to discover more about Porter County 's earliest inhabitants.

Besides students, the dig has attracted people from a variety of backgrounds and locales, such as retirees, granddaughter-grandfather teams and teachers.

"Everybody who works with Mark is in awe of what they learn," historical society official Mary Hodson said. "He's patient enough to teach us, and he doesn't ask any less of the volunteers than he would of his peers."

Hodson spent about a month putting together Schurr's 13-page letter of nomination, which included information from the past five years of excavations and how the project has affected the surrounding region.

Accompanying the award is a $5,000 prize, which Schurr said he likely will use toward costs of testing artifacts, such as carbon dating and animal bone analysis.

Schurr will receive the accolade formally at an award banquet April 2.

Collier dig to resume

February 26, 2008

BY CHARLES M. BARTHOLOMEW Post-Tribune correspondent

KOUTS -- Volunteer diggers for the Kankakee Valley Historical Society's sixth annual summer excavation at Baum's Bridge won't make history when they resume the ongoing scientific investigation that is rewriting the story of Northwest Indiana .

The history (and prehistory) already is there, much of it still buried beneath the outflow of silt and sand from the glacier that receded more than 12,000 years ago, leaving behind Lake Michigan and the Valparaiso Terminal Moraine.

KVHS president John Hodson said last summer's dig ended in a movie-style cliffhanger when the outlines of a 5-by-17-foot building foundation were unearthed at the end of the three-week session led by Mark Schurr , chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.

"Dr. Schurr calls it the 'megafeature,' " said Hodson in his Pleasant Township home, a mile from the excavation site at the Collier Lodge, the last of the old Kankakee Marsh hunting lodges still standing. "He's really excited about this. It's enormous for its time."

The society has bought the property in hopes of restoring it for a museum on the history of the pioneers, French voyageurs, and American Indians who lived and came here to hunt and trade from all over the continent.

Schurr has found pottery unique to the Kankakee , evidence of a possible American Indian culture in the Kankakee Valley , where now there's a blank spot on the prehistoric map of the Great Lakes region, Hodson said.

In previous years, thousands of artifacts dating as much as 8,000 years have been unearthed for study, but the sudden discovery of what may have been the original dwelling for the Kankakee River ferry that predated Baum's Bridge will have Schurr's crews focusing on the region's pioneer days.

Schurr and Hodson will give several programs on their activities in the area this spring, including one for the Midwest Open-Air Museums Coordinating Council on Saturday, March 8, and another at the Lake County Public Library in Merrillville on Tuesday, April 29.

Hodson said half a dozen responses have been received, even though it's only February, to notices that Schurr put out on the Internet and in archaeological publications.

"He's really trying to get unit leaders with field experience to work with our regular volunteers," Hodson said.

He said students from as far away as Ontario , Canada , are attracted by the chance to earn college credit. Schurr said graduate and undergraduate students can receive credit through the ND summer session program.

"We have a girl who has worked at Crown Canyon (near Mesa Verde) in southwest Colorado ," he said.

Hodson said the project especially needs experienced, full-time field workers who can be on site for all days of the dig. He said KVHS and Schurr are working to have Collier Lodge placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the prehistory category.

How to join

-- The Kankakee Valley Historical Society's 2008 Collier Lodge Dig is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, July 7 to 24 (weather permitting).

-- Applications to join the dig can be found at kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org/2008digapplication.htm   

-- More information about the project is available at www.nd.edu/~mschurr/Collier_Lodge/Collier_Lodge.htm


Archaeological dig set for July

Kankakee Valley Historical Society seeks volunteers for Collier Lodge project
Date posted online: Monday, January 28, 2008

KOUTS | Aspiring archaeologists can now sign up for the sixth annual Collier Lodge dig, which has been scheduled for July 7 through July 24.

The dig, which is along the historically fertile Kankakee River near Kouts, routinely draws both experienced and novice volunteers of all ages. The only requirement for participation is to become a member of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society.

Past digs have unearthed thousands of artifacts from Porter County 's earliest inhabitants, dating back 8,000 years. Last year's treasures included a spearhead dating to about 1000 to 1500 B.C., a 5-cent piece from the early 1800s, animal bones, and various historic and prehistoric pottery.

During the final days of the excavation, diggers also discovered a large underground structure that will likely be a focus of the 2008 dig, said historical society President John Hodson.

"We just caught it at the very end," Hodson said. "So we really want to explore that a bit more this year."

Hodson also said the society is looking for anyone with field experience to serve as unit leaders this summer.

The project will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. To download the application, log on to kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org/2008digapplication.htm.

"This is just a really great opportunity for people to get an idea of what a dig is all about," Hodson said.