WMU students, staff dig up artifacts on Apple Island

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published June 11, 2013

 Western Michigan University faculty and Anthropology in the Community students pose for a picture during a May 23 farewell dinner and dig summary at Orchard Lake Community Church, Presbyterian.

Western Michigan University faculty and Anthropology in the Community students pose for a picture during a May 23 farewell dinner and dig summary at Orchard Lake Community Church, Presbyterian.

Photo courtesy of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society


ORCHARD LAKE — After three weeks excavating and searching for treasures untold, a Western Michigan University archaeological class left Apple Island with heavier suitcases — filled with items including animal bones, milk bottles, cutlery, and saucer and cup sets.

LouAnn Wurst, archaeological dig principal investigator at WMU, and 10 undergraduate students from an Anthropology in the Community class collected archaeological data from the 35-acre island as part of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society’s annual Apple Island Tours May 18-19.

During a May 23 farewell dinner and dig summary at Orchard Lake Community Church, Presbyterian, 5171 Commerce Road, Wurst presented her staff and students’ findings.

“It’s been just delightful being here in this community with this kind of community support,” Wurst said during the event, “and public anthropology is a very big thing now — that we should work with communities instead of being in our white towers — and that is what we have done.”

The class has roughly a month to process the found artifacts and prepare them for submission to the state for the National Register of Historic Places program, which is the official list of the nation’s historic places deemed worthy of preservation, according to www.michigan.gov. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, NRHP is part of the national program that supports public and private groups’ attempts to protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

“The argument for the island National Register nomination is going to be based on the 19th-, 20th-century occupation and the resort-vacationing aspect (of the island),” she said. “In order to do the nomination for that … it would be easier to focus on that because it covers the whole island.”

Wurst said having the island become a nationally listed historic site would afford it recognition and a semblance of protection, legally; the state does not have an official deadline for submitting NRHP proposals.

She said the class surveyed the island, excavating sample yard areas and select features, among other things. The group began its archaeological dig at cottages on the island’s east end.

“We wanted to make sure that we were going to be in a very public area so people could see what we were doing, because our time was short,” she said. “We could not investigate all of the cottages, so we decided to concentrate our excavation on one of the cottages that represented a larger whole and a gain for the national register.”

Wurst said the group found “little glasses,” which turned out to be 32 communion glasses in the lower levels of a privy; they connected those findings to the well-known Campbell family, who frequented the island for nearly 60 years.

“The Campbells had church services on the island,” she said.

The artifacts were held in a temporary lab inside Orchard Lake Community Church, and a majority of the island was backfilled, Wurst said.

“You might know we were there for a very short period of time, but we removed everything and backfilled everything,” she said.

Because Apple Island became the West Bloomfield School District’s property in 1970, Wurst said her team plans to return the artifacts after the national registry process.

“They are going to go back to Kalamazoo with us so that we can research them more; then they are going to come back because they belong to you. They don’t belong to us. So they will be your problem,” she said to a laughing audience.

Historical Society President Gina Gregory, also coordinator of the project, said during the dinner that it takes the “strength of a group” to host that kind of endeavor.

“This project is so unique, with many challenges,” she said. “This has been a huge undertaking for a small volunteer organization.”

WMU junior Scott Duxbury joined the class because he wanted a new perspective to add to his sociology and anthropology double major.

“I’ve learned how to dig, learned how much it takes to do something like this, and how much we can incur,” Duxbury said after the event. “It is really easy to dig, but there is so much more to it.”

He said his classmates have several weeks to interpret about 50 pounds of artifacts to apply for the national registration.

“And we’re writing it. And this is all within the next month (June), and this is something I just pitched my fingers into,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot, but there is so much more that I don’t even know that I don’t know.”

For more information, visit www.gwbhs.com or call (248) 757-2451.