Terri Fletcher has seen her share of dirt.
The history and women’s studies major spent the summer sifting through soil as part of an archeological dig at the site of the new roundabout in Sandwich. It was a paid internship that earned Fletcher course credit as well as income, but the Missanabie Cree woman and founder of UWindsor’s Native Student Alliance said it also gave her the opportunity to honour the history of the Indigenous peoples who once called the shores of Detroit River home.
“It was an interesting job,” said Fletcher. “You learn a lot about soils and the layers of historical reference.”
Fletcher, a former autoworker who returned to school at age 51 to earn a bachelor’s degree and will pursue her master’s in history in the new year, kept her two other jobs while working on the dig. She works nights at the Windsor Star’s printing facility and for the City of Windsor as a housing advocate at the Can-Am Indian Friendship Centre.
Before Fletcher joined the dig in May, workers found a projectile point believed to date to 7500 BC. It is believed to be the oldest artifact ever found in the Windsor area.
Fletcher said the most significant item she unearthed was a fragment of a pipe — a short section of stem connected to part of the carved bowl. In speaking of the artifact, she cups her hand as if she is cradling it still. It was creamy white against the dark soil.
It was hot, dirty work, but extremely educational, Fletcher said.
“Whenever someone found something, we would pass it around and talk about it.”
She also found a clay marble likely dating from the 1800s — a predecessor to the tiny glass spheres that were later mass produced as children’s toys. But Fletcher said most of what she unearthed were mundane items like bottle caps and pennies.
She recounts the excitement at the site after a co-worker digging near a light fixture discovered a large clay pot. Workers wrapped the largely intact vessel in tin foil to keep it from crumbling.
The city commissioned Hamilton-based Fisher Archaeological Consultants to conduct the dig and to clean, analyze, and catalogue the items found.
In the spring, the company’s president contacted UWindsor’s Maria Cioppa, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, offering paid summer internships. Fletcher was one of three students who worked on the dig and completed course work related to it.
The placement was intended to earn students a credit in science, but Fletcher got hers applied to history, explained Michelle Bondy, instructor in the internship course.
“There are lots of experiential learning opportunities in science,” she said. Working for Fisher Archeological Consultants was a one-off, but regular internships involve working in labs on campus, working at the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, at the Ojibway Nature Centre, or in local high schools.
At the dig, there were thousands of items collected — arrow heads, shards of pottery, buttons, bits of brass, and fragments of tools made of bone.
Russell Nahdee, co-ordinator of the Aboriginal Education Centre, said the artifacts confirm the oral history of Indigenous people along the Detroit River. “It’s the Indigenous lived experience.”
Dean Jacobs, former chief of the Walpole Island First Nation and founding director of the Walpole Island Heritage Centre, said he considers the ongoing archeological dig near the Ambassador Bridge and the completed one at the roundabout where the statue of Sir Isaac Brock and Chief Tecumseh now stands to be one large site.
“We characterize it as a village site,” Dr. Jacobs said. “It demonstrates that there is a long occupation by our ancestors.”
Some of the artifacts found were displayed at the city’s Chimczuk Museum earlier this year. There has been no decision on where they will be housed once Fisher has completed its work.
“We’d like to find a way to celebrate those artifacts,” Jacobs said.
History and women’s studies major Terri Fletcher displays a fragment of a pipe, one of thousands of artifacts found during an archeological dig on the site of the Sandwich Street roundabout just west of the UWindsor campus.