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Meet the 2021 – 2022 Campus Archaeology Program GRADUATE FELLOWS

Meet the 2021 – 2022 Campus Archaeology Program GRADUATE FELLOWS

Photo by ©Nick Schrader, All Rights Reserved In September Michigan State’s Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) archaeologists wrap up our summer field work here on campus and return to the routine of classes, personal research, and teaching that each semester brings. The start of a new 

CAP Crew 2021: Start of a new field season

CAP Crew 2021: Start of a new field season

This week marks the start of CAP’s 2021 summer field season; we have completed trainings, designed survey and outreach projects, and finished our academic year. This all means we can now get out into in the field! Over the next few months, we will be 

Starting the New Semester and Attending SHA 2021

Starting the New Semester and Attending SHA 2021

Over the next few days MSU will be welcoming some students back and opening up for some in-person and many virtual classes.  For CAP, the beginning of a new semester would typically mean welcoming new undergraduate interns, preparing outreach events, and jumping back into our sometimes crowded lab. Of course, this year is different, lab work and research will continue, but only for our graduate fellows.

This is a recording of CAP’s presentation at the 2021 SHA conference. We were part of a session on Great Lakes Archaeology. Captions for this video are available under settings (three vertical dots).

One thing we are excited for this semester is sharing with our audiences the artifacts we recovered from the Service Road Construction Project last summer. Construction workers uncovered a large trash dump, or midden, dating from the 1930s up to the 1960s. Our research in the fall has revealed that some of the artifacts, particularly the child-related toys and clothing, may be from the post-World War 2 temporary housing for married veterans and their families known as “G.I. Village”.

These two images show segments of the historic midden uncovered in the construction trenches last summer. There are arrows pointing to the midden areas, which are pockets of much darker soil, suggesting burning.
These images show segments of the historic midden uncovered in the construction trenches last summer. In some areas there were more artifacts than dirt. CAP collected only a small portion of these artifacts, what we call a “representative sample”. Photos taken by Dr. Camp.

CAP recently presented some of these findings at the 2021 Society for Historical Archaeology Virtual Conference. Our presentation was part of a session on Great Lakes archaeology, which included many great archaeologists from around Michigan. Due to the virtual nature of the conference, our presentation has been recorded, which means we can share it across our social media.

 Our presentation is entitled “The Archaeology of Children on Michigan State University’s Campus” and explores the history of children on Michigan State University’s campus through the lens of archaeological and archival data. We focus on three areas of campus that feature evidence of children’s presence on campus since the university’s founding in 1855.

This image shows map of MSU campus with the locations of child related areas highlighted in various colors. The map shows our identification of four distinct time periods of child-rerated areas at MSU. The earliest (1857 – 1927) includes Faculty Row and Saints’ Rest, two central areas at the early campus. The next period (1927 – 1947) shows a dramatic contraction of child-related spaces on campus, mainly at the university preschool near to what is now the student union. The third and fourth periods show a growth of child-reated areas with the massive influx of students and faculty after World War 2. This area is to the far south of campus, showing that children and family related spaces were placed far com the centers of campus. Our study focuses on Saints' Rest, Faculty Row, and MSU post World War 2 temporary housing complexes.
This map shows the locations of child related areas at MSU across four time periods. Our study focuses on Saints’ Rest, Faculty Row, and MSU post World War 2 temporary housing complexes.

‘The first site is Saints’ Rest, which was built in 1875 and was destroyed by fire in 1876. It was the first dormitory on campus and it was an all-male dormitory that also housed college staff and their families. Excavations of a privy near Saints’ Rest identified a porcelain doll and a porcelain “Frozen Charlotte” figurine, both strongly associated with children in the 19th century.

The second site is known as Faculty Row. It dates from 1857 to the 1910s and was the first housing established for faculty at MSU. From archival evidence we know that faculty and staff often joined the children in play and invited them into laboratories and other campus spaces.

Lastly, we look at the expansion of MSU’s campus due to the GI Bill, which included welcoming numerous families and housing them on campus from 1945 to 1959. MSU constructed housing for thousands of veterans and their family members, growing its student body from 8,000 people in 1946 to 16,000 students in 1949. In the summer of 2020 amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lives of these post-WWII families were unearthed during a construction project. Child-related artifacts recovered included a plastic toy microscope; a plastic toy doll; a plastic toy car; Pyrex glass baby bottles; children’s shoes; a ceramic creamer featuring bunny rabbits; and a child’s red mitten.

We hope you enjoy the presentation, if you have any questions feel free to comment below or on any of our social media. We at CAP are looking forward to sharing additional information about this project as we learn more. Many, many hours will be spend doing the dirty work of washing and cataloguing artifacts and we are hoping to share that process throughout the semester.

Artifacts (left to right; top row to bottom) – Identified by CAP fellow Emily Milton.

  • Red nylon mitten – This small, right-handed children’s mitten is made from of a red nylon with a white nylon interior. The glove appears to have a felted wool or synthetic insulation. Nylon was created in the 1940s, providing an estimate for the earliest age for the mittens.
  • Yellow plastic toy car – This toy car was identified as a “VTG Renwal Products No. 39 Convertible” and dates to the 1950s. The car was found and presented by a construction worker on Service Road with a red plastic roof (not pictured).
  • Irwin Co. Celluloid Baby Doll – This doll was likely made between 1940-1947 by the Irwin Corporation. It is composed of celluloid and includes a small squeaker at the base of the back of its head. Squeaker toys were common in the 1940s. Celluloid is a plastic material that was outlawed in 1947 due to its highly flammable nature.
  • Pyrex® Evenflo® glass baby bottle – This bottle composed of Borosilicate glass, which Pyrex used from 1915 to 1988. The bottle design, sold as early at 1927, has a unique six-sided design which prevents the bottle from rolling.
  • Small, child-sized shoes – unknown date and manufacturer.
  • Roseville Pottery Company Bunny Creamer – This small creamware creamer was part of a ceramics line known as “Juvenile,” called that because they were designed to be used by children. The line was produced from 1910 to the early 1920s and featured a variety of animals, including ducks, pigs, rabbits, dogs, chicks, and cats.
  • Toy, plastic microscope – unknown date and manufacturer.
CAP Fellows Reflect on a Society for Historical Archaeology Anti-racism Training

CAP Fellows Reflect on a Society for Historical Archaeology Anti-racism Training

In this blog post CAP fellows share our reflections on an anti-racism, anti-bias training we took on Friday October 30th . The training was sponsored by the Society for Historical Archaeology and dozens of archaeologists, educators, and heritage professionals participated in the four hour session. 

INTRODUCING OUR 2020-2021 CAP GRADUATE FELLOWS

INTRODUCING OUR 2020-2021 CAP GRADUATE FELLOWS

Thank you Autumn Painter, outgoing Campus Archaeologist: As we say goodbye to outgoing Campus Archaeologist Autumn Painter who, in her two years in the position, continued CAP’s legacy of creative outreach, education, and mitigation while also profoundly shaping the future of the program, we welcome 

World Anthropology Day 2020!

World Anthropology Day 2020!

To celebrate world anthropology day, the current CAP graduate fellows wanted to share how they became interested in anthropology, and some current or favorite projects they are involved in!

Grace: As a first-year PhD student moving to a new state and school, I initially came to CAP to move out of my comfort zone and get to know my own field a little better. I came in with no experience in archaeology and very little exposure to anthropology so CAP presented itself as a way I could learn more about the field in an applied manner.  As was mentioned in my blog post from earlier this month, I was drawn to the focus on outreach and education that CAP emphasizes. Coming from a background in education and youth studies, I have always been very passionate about working with youth and community-engaged research practices. Outreach events such as the haunted tour have proven to be a fantastic example of how to get young people interested in research and the sciences.

This semester, CAP fellow Benjamin Akey and I have conducted research to highlight unsung voices from MSU’s graduate student body. Our particular focus is on the history of the Asian pacific American Graduate Alliance (APAGA) which has been a place of professional and social support for the Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American community. The initial idea came from our archival research on the history of the graduate school which showed us that there has been very few records kept that highlight Asian American voices. This semester we look forward to doing what we can to add to supplement the overlooked parts of MSU’s history through an oral history project in collaboration with APAGA founders as well as the MSU Archives. Because I was not well versed in archaeological research methods, the openness that CAP has to diverse forms of research came as a pleasant surprise. As an organization that values community, I think that our current project will serve to bolster community interest in the role that various forms of archaeology can play in recording underrepresented histories.

Ben: While I had taken the opportunity to start taking anthropology courses at my local community college during high school, my fascination with archaeology began the summer after I graduated—on a field school in the rural highlands of Ecuador. I had come intending to focus on the ethnographic components of the field school, but quickly found myself enamored with the pace and physicality of archaeological fieldwork, and gained a new appreciation for how the materiality of the past could be integrated into critical and community-engaged scholarship. While other crews were assigned to Incan fortress sites, I spent the majority of my time helping a PhD Candidate who was interested in studying changing land-use and ownership patterns following the establishment of the Spanish hacienda system in Ecuador. Hearing about why he was interested in these topics—and why he felt archaeology was an efficacious method for exploring them—sparked an enduring personal interest in historical archaeology and relationships of power, resistance, and identity. On return from this trip, I became more involved with the community college’s local archaeological projects and picked up laboratory and survey skillsets which further served to bolster my interest in the subdiscipline.

Upon transferring to UC Santa Cruz for my undergraduate degree, I started to focus on archaeological courses, with a particular emphasis on historical archaeologies of indigenous communities and colonialism. While I remain strongly interested in these topics, the trajectory of my own research foci shifted somewhat when I became involved in excavations at two 19th century lime kilns on and nearby the UC Santa Cruz campus, leading me to begin engaging with historical archaeologies of labor, capitalism, and immigration. These themes ultimately structured my senior thesis project, in which I examined alcohol consumption between two industrial company-towns in Santa Cruz county in relation to diasporic identities and as a form of resistance to paternalistic social controls and class-based victorian moral expectations of temperance. Besides the narrow frame of alcohol consumption, these themes continue to shape my research aims; my current project seeks to understand how contexts of radicalized industrial labor and anti-asian exclusion movements shaped processes of identity formation among early North American Japanese communities in the 20th century.

Amber: During my time as an undergraduate at Texas State University, I changed my major several times before finding Anthropology. I started undergrad in the Interior Design program, explored majors in Math and Biology, and finally switched to Anthropology with the intention of doing archaeology in Greece and/or Egypt. My parents had a bookshelf in my childhood home full of old National Geographic and Discover magazines and I used to spend hours laying in the floor reading through them. There was one that I read repeatedly on ancient Egyptian mummies. This fascination encouraged me to explore a career in archaeology which eventually led to taking elective courses on forensic anthropology and forensic osteology. My forensic osteology class showed me how remains of the deceased can be used to answer questions about the living in past and present populations. I quickly realized that a career in Biological Anthropology was what I had been searching for: a fulfilling job that can provide services to others, a way to meld hard and social sciences, and…of course…travel.

I have had the opportunity to travel to Belize, Greece, Thailand, Colombia, England, and many states in the U.S. for work. If I had to choose my favorite project so far, I would say it is the Mississippi State Asylum project in Jackson, Mississippi. A total of 67 individuals in standardized pine coffins were uncovered during road construction on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. My master’s thesis examined differential health across inmate demographic groups using patterns of oral health indicators. I was interested in determining whether varying life histories influenced survivorship within the asylum environment and whether patients experienced differential treatment based on their sex or ancestry. We combined skeletal data with asylum written records to explore these questions. This sample was also compared to noninstitutionalized samples from the Southeastern U.S. to determine how health and mortality might be impacted by institutionalization. Being involved in the entire process of this project from excavation to data management, curation, and analysis was an invaluable and rare experience for a graduate student. I am very fortunate to have been involved and grateful to the patients and their families for allowing us to carry out this project. There is an ongoing effort to identify these individuals and return them to families for proper reburial.

Rhian: When I applied to UC Santa Barbara for undergrad, I only had a vague idea of what anthropology was – everything I knew came from tv shows or movies I had watched growing up (cue Indiana Jones, as typical as that may seem). In fact, I actually enrolled with the intention to get a degree in philosophy. However, when I took my first anthropology course, Intro to Biological Anthropology, during my first year I realized that all of the questions that intrigued me in philosophy, such as what makes us human, could be investigated in a more scientific, evolutionary framework. As I took more courses in anthropology and was introduced to osteology and the field’s forensic applications, my focus shifted – I realized that this was the path I wanted to take, as I loved how the applied aspect of forensic anthropology can make a difference to modern, local communities and bring closure to family members.

Following undergrad, I continued on to get a masters in forensic anthropology at Mercyhurst University, which helped further develop my passion for the field and for how we can work to refine identification methods. In fact, through my doctoral degree at MSU, I am to hoping to continue working with biological profile methods – specifically, I am hoping to investigate the utility of postcranial metrics for ancestry estimation, as this has received less attention in the field and needs better standardization. But, I love how the field of anthropology always has an open door policy and welcomes forensic students like me to engage in programs like Campus Archaeology with open arms. While I’m only in my first year at MSU, I look forward to these opportunities and how I can use my forensic experience to inform my CAP research and vice versa, which I know will make me a well-rounded and more prepared anthropologist during my career.

Jeff: Unlike a lot of archaeologists that I have worked with over the years, I was not introduced to the field at a young age. Even in college it did not immediately start out in anthropology. I matriculated into my university as an engineering major, and quickly switched to history after about a month. However, when I encountered the discipline in the second semester of my first year, I immediately fell in love. It was Introduction to Archaeology and because the class was taught by a Dr. Lauren Sullivan, a Mayanist, the major context of the class was of the history, peoples, and cultures of pre-colonial Mexico and central America. When Dr. Sullivan discussed her research and fieldwork, I felt that this was the engagement with the past that I had always longed for and which history had left unfulfilled. I also was awed by the stories of fieldwork in the jungle, so many stories about being chased up trees by wild boars!. Mostly though, I was amazed by the idea of touching and studying objects from the past, material culture. In this way, falling in love with seemingly exotic places, ancient civilizations, and thousand-year-old artifacts, my introduction to archaeology was typical.

Years later I find myself far more interested in the seemingly mundane, in the archaeology of the recent past in the United States. During my one and a half years in the PhD. program here at Michigan State University I have had the opportunity to work as an research assistant and intern cataloging, analyzing, and counting glass and ceramic vessels from two sites far more recent than the Mayan archaeology that I encountered in my undergraduate program. One site dates to the 1940s, barely older than my father, and on a daily basis I will encounter and become fascinated by spark plugs, jars of Vick’s VapoRub, and countless indiscriminate shards of colorless glass. I find myself losing time searching eBay, Etsy, and the Sears catalog to understand objects that are so frustratingly familiar, but just beyond my understanding. And when I do find out that that could be or the exact language to describe an object so the search engine will pull up pictures of it, I am probably far too pleased that I have identified a tobacco tin. The other site dates to the 1850s and while the artifacts are more typical – we have transfer printed pottery! – the artifacts came from field that was once an orchard and later soybean farm and these processes broke many of the artifacts into tiny fragments. I spend hours looking at thumb nail sized pieces of glass, pottery, and metal and while it is frustrating, I love it and again, feel a remarkable sense of joy when I identify the pattern on one of the tiny pieces. While my interests have changed over the years, I still am fascinated by material culture, the people who used and produced it people, and places they occupied, I just have a greater appreciation for how complex the seemingly mundane can be. 

Introducing our CAP Undergraduate Interns

Introducing our CAP Undergraduate Interns

This year we have two undergraduate interns working in the Campus Archaeology Program lab. These two students both attended the summer 2019 archaeological field school. Below you can read a little more about them! Reid Ellefson-Frank is an undergraduate student at MSU working towards a 

Introducing Our 2019-2020 CAP Graduate Fellows

Introducing Our 2019-2020 CAP Graduate Fellows

Benjamin Akey: Benjamin (they/them/theirs) is a first-year doctoral student and graduate research assistant studying historical archaeology. They received their BA in Anthropology from University of California Santa Cruz in 2018, where they focused on the performance and negotiation of class and ethnic identities through patterns 

Happy Anthropology Day!

Happy Anthropology Day!

To celebrate Anthropology Day, we decided to share a little bit about what each of us typically does during a day or what a good day as an anthropologist looks like!


Dr. Camp in Ireland c. 1998-1998

Dr. Stacey Camp:
As an academic, my work varies from day to day, month to month, and even from year to year. Some years are busier than others, especially if they involve field schools or big publications (like a book or site report). Other years have more downtime so that laboratory research and writing associated with field school work can get done. As a result, I try to think about what I need to accomplish professional 5 to 10 years out. This helps me figure out what I absolutely need to get done in order to move projects forward (e.g. getting grants, finishing laboratory work, etc.) and publish about them.

My day to day work as an academic is varied, which I enjoy. Here’s what today looks like:

7:50am: Get my daughter on the school bus and say goodbye to my son, who goes to school with my husband.
9am: Arrive at my office. Check email and say hello to my colleagues.
9:40am: Set out ceramics and artifacts to prepare students in my laboratory class for a quiz this Friday.
10:20am-11:10am: Teach my laboratory methods class.
11:10-11:30am: Talk to students from the class about my field school and answer any class questions.
11:30am-12pm: Pack up the ceramics I pulled out for class and start reviewing the artifact cataloging work my lab methods class started this week.
12pm: Eat lunch with my colleagues and graduate students in the archaeology wing of my department.
1pm-2pm: Hold our weekly MSU Campus Archaeology Program project meeting with graduate student fellows and our Campus Archaeologist.
2pm-3pm: Host our weekly MSU Campus Archaeology Program writing hour.
3pm-3:30pm: Meet with an undergraduate student who is working on an article with me.
3:30pm-4pm: Catch up on work emails.
4pm-5pm: Grade discussion papers from my laboratory methods class; enter attendance data; start planning for Friday’s lecture on identifying historic glass.

Every now and then I have the opportunity to do something really exciting. Last week, I was able to visit the University of Helsinki (courtesy of faculty member Dr. Suzie Thomas) to give two talks and learn more about the WWII and POW heritage of Finland. I was able to spend my days meeting with scholars about their research. I was able to visit the National Museum of Finland as well as the World Heritage Site of Suomenlinna, a historic fortress that dates to the mid-18th century.


Mari Isa:
I would guess my day usually starts off like most people’s days: I get to the office and respond to emails. This semester most of the emails I receive are from students in the class I am teaching—Forensic Anthropology and Osteology. I spend at least part of every day doing something related to teaching: preparing lectures, giving lectures, meeting with students, or grading papers. I really enjoy this part of my day! Other mornings might start off at the morgue assisting with a forensic case. Every case is different. Our lab might be asked to analyze a skeleton and develop a biological profile—including sex, age, ancestry, and stature—to compare to missing person’s reports. Another type of case involves identifying a deceased person by comparing x-rays taken at the morgue to medical x-rays taken while the person was alive. When I get back to the office after the case, I write up a report to give to the medical examiner. The rest of the day I spend working on my dissertation research, which takes an experimental approach to studying skeletal trauma. Research work looks a little different depending on the day. On experiment days I work with a team of anthropologists and engineers to observe how bones break in a controlled laboratory setting. Other days I spend reading so I can develop better research questions or try to figure out what my results mean. Other days I collect data. Right now I am using methods from the field of fractography (the study of broken surfaces) to look at experimentally broken bones. I am trying to see if I can use these methods to figure out where a fracture started and ended. If it does work, this could help anthropologists figure out how a bone in a forensic or bioarchaeological case was broken.


Jeff Painter, CAP Fellow

Jeff Painter:
If I am not out in the field excavating, I spend my days bouncing between various projects. These projects keep me busy and ensure that I interact with a number of different people each day.  I am currently teaching my first course, on ‘Great Discoveries in Archaeology.’ My early mornings are often filled with lecturing, grading, or preparing for a future lecture. This week I am preparing lectures on paleolithic cave art! I will then spend some time down in one of our archaeology labs, collecting data on ceramics and other artifacts in order to look at past food practices and what they can tell us about various aspects of ancient society. In the afternoons, I try to spend some time analyzing collected data or writing, either on my dissertation, a publication, or the occasional grant proposal.


Jack Biggs:
For me, a typical day as an anthropologist involves the both the physical and digital preservation of artifacts and physical remains. As a bioarchaeologist, I reconstruct human remains that have broken down over time. Most of the human skeletal remains I work with come from heavily looted contexts so our excavations are commonly salvage in nature. Reconstructing these remains allows us give back some of the humanity to these individuals rather than being seen as bones that were in the way of ancient pots that looters were looking for. Furthermore, I routinely employ photogrammetry in my work which takes sets of images of an object and creates a 3D model. These models digitally preserve both human and material remains that may continue to degrade. By digitally preserving these as 3D models, these objects can be studied long after the materials break down and can be easily shared to other researchers or the public. As an anthropologist, getting to be a part of cultural preservation for future generations is incredibly gratifying and makes coming to work each day feel like a gift rather than a job.


Amber Plemons:
A day in the life of Biological Anthropologist looks different from day to day. We study human skeletal remains to answer questions about people from the past and the present. A typical day for me is jumping between tasks from conducting and writing research to working with medical examiners and law enforcement across the state to help solve crimes. We visit medical examiners offices where we compare x-rays of a deceased individual, one x-ray taken while the person was alive and one taken after death. We can compare the shape and features of bones between the two images to try to identify the person and return them to their families for a proper burial. Sometimes, we may bring the skeleton of an unknown individual back to our lab where we can measure and analyze the bones and determine the person’s ancestry, sex, age, and stature. After hours of closely examining the bones, I return to my desk to write an official report of my findings and submit the report to the medical examiner in charge of the case. The legal system will them compare my findings to missing persons reports in attempts of matching demographic information between the missing person and the unknown decedent leading to an identification. In my downtime, I work on my personal research examining the role of climate and genetics in shaping the human facial skeleton to understand human variation on a global scale.


Autumn Painter, Campus Archaeologist

Autumn Painter:
Each day as the MSU Campus Archaeologist looks a little different! This time of the year is filled with preparations for field work that will begin at the start of the summer semester. Some days I attend meetings with IPF (Infrastructure Planning and Facilities) at MSU to discuss their planned construction projects and if any of them would impact an archaeological resources. However, I usually spend my days working with graduate fellows on their research projects as needed, researching potential areas of impact for upcoming campus construction projects, writing reports from the previous field season, and doing lab work. In addition to my duties as campus archaeologist, I am also preparing to take my comprehensive exams and writing my dissertation proposal for my personal research on prehistoric foodways and social interaction.


Jeff Burnett, CAP Fellow

Jeff Burnett:
As an anthropologist and archaeologist, a good day is one in which I gain a new perspective on a particular history. This can involve being part of an archaeological excavation where a team of archaeologists and associated stakeholders recover some material culture, an artifact or feature, that expands our understanding of history or a group of people. A day where I gain a new perspective may involve laboratory work. In the lab archaeologists wash, analyses, sort, or catalogue the material remains they found in excavations, often during the activates archaeologists reveal new information about the artifacts. Finding an inscription on an object or a specific decorative pattern on a ceramic plate can give the researcher a completely new understanding of the place or group of people they are investigating. I might also gain a new perspective through a day where I engage in archival research, looking at historic documents and writings of past peoples. These documents can give context to my research and guide my questions, but they can also indicate something different than what the archaeology found, which is always interesting. The final way that I may gain a new perspective on history is speaking with non-archaeologists about the lives of their families and ancestors. In anthropology these individuals or descendant communities provide important connections between our work and the real people we are studying, they also have their own meaningful questions and perspectives that make descendants an essential aspect of many archaeological investigation. If any of these many events were to occur in a particular day my understanding of the past would be expanded and I would consider that a very good day.

Anthropology Day 2018 – What do we study?

Anthropology Day 2018 – What do we study?

Today is World Anthropology Day, sponsored by the American Anthropological Association.  This year we have decided to highlight the non-CAP research our director(s) and fellows conduct. Lynne Goldstein On this World Anthropology Day, I am doing archaeology, but differently than I have done it in