Serpent sideplate found at Michigan colonial fort

The longest ongoing archaeological dig in the United States, the excavation of Fort Michilimackinac in Michigan’s lower peninsula, has unearthed a neat serpent-shaped sideplate from a British trade gun. Just shy five inches long, the sideplate dates to the 1770s. It was discovered in the west wall of the root cellar of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. Only four gun parts have been found there in 12 years of excavations.

The house was first owned by French-Canadian fur trader Charles Henri Desjardins de Rupallay de Gonneville, who lived and worked in the area between the 1730s and 1750s, and later by an unidentified British trader. The site has proved an archaeological gold mine, with a unique ivory rosary found in 2015, a trade silver triangle pendant and a brass lock in 2017, and the hits just keep coming.

This find continues an amazing streak of discoveries from the past few years in the root cellar, including ceramic vessels, tin-glazed earthenware, creamware plates, Chinese export porcelain, a mostly intact knife, and the handle of a sword, all uncovered during the 2018 season, as well as a large ceramic sherd, a silver trade brooch, a door hinge and a large piece of feather creamware already found in 2019.

In the excavations that have taken place at Fort Michilimackinac every summer since 1959, archaeologists have unearthed more than a million objects and materials, so you wouldn’t think so modest an artifact as a serpent sideplate wouldn’t necessarily rate public comment, but the vast majority of what has been found at the fort are fragments of glass, bones, beads, buttons, literal trash left behind by the soldiers, traders and Native American residents who slowly moved out of the fort in favor of the nearby limestone fort of Mackinac Island. In the two years it took for the fort to be abandoned, all the valuables and every-day items that were still intact or usable in any way were packed up and moved with the people. Refuse is all that’s left, and because archaeology is awesome, what was garbage to the British and French in 1781 is such a rich treasury of information to us today that it has sustained six decades of continuous excavation.