My Three Weeks as Supervisor

2013-06-04 12.58.15

Katie working on a unit near MSU Museum, via Katy Meyers

During this month, our Campus Archaeology Commander-in-Chief, Katy Meyers, went abroad to pursue her personal research in Central England.  While she was gone I had the privilege to take her place as supervisor during what I can simply describe as an eye-opening two weeks.  I am here to share with everyone my inside look into the hectic world of being the Campus Archaeologist, and hopefully at the end we can share a new respect for all the things that go on behind the scenes of an archaeology crew.

In preparation for my stint as supervisor, I had been attending pre-construction meetings since early May. Pre-construction meetings are where all the various players of a project come together and discuss the timeline, projects, and projected outcomes of the construction at hand.  During these meetings I was introduced to the university contacts, company contacts, and briefed on the safety precautions for the individual sites.  These meetings are an important step in the planning process for the kind of archaeology we perform on this campus. After the pre-construction meetings, archaeological supervisors are in constant contact with the construction crews.  I had to make sure I was up to date on all the projects both by phone calls and site visits.  Construction crews contact us if they uncover anything cultural or out of the ordinary, and such a contact happened on my very first day of supervising.

On my first day of supervising, the West Circle Steam Project II project manager contacted me.  I was alerted that the crew had hit an unidentified cement structure under the ground where they were excavating a duct bank.  In the case of such an event, CAP must go to the site and document the findings as well as see if further investigation is required.  In this particular instance I took detailed notes, gathered the location coordinates of the structure via GPS, and took multiple pictures.  By the end of the next day, two more of these structures had been uncovered.  Proper documentation was completed on all three of these structures.  It was deemed that these structures were old utility units.

Surveying at Morrill Hall, via Katie Scharra

Surveying at Morrill Hall, via Katie Scharra

As a supervisor, I learned how important it is to be a few steps a head or be able to quickly determine the next move. Planning in archaeology is key to being successful especially in summer weather were you need to get in and out of a site quickly.  One of the big responsibilities I had as supervisor was making sure the final survey of Morrill Hall was completed.  This meant coordinating with the construction company to find a time that it was safe and efficient to conduct shovel tests where sidewalks had been removed.  Sometimes that time ends up being right then, leaving little room for planning.  As a supervisor it is important to be able to plan effectively as you go.  This is what we had to do with Morrill Hall.   Unfortunately there were no finds. A detailed explanation of the dig can be found in a previous blog, “The Final Morrill Hall Survey”.

Other time digs happen with a decent amount of time to set up.  This is what occurred with the Landon Hall Survey. Planning for Landon Hall required more than just plotting test pits.  In a highly residential area, the supervisor has to look ahead at the locations of all utilities to make sure none are to be hit.  Campus Archaeology does this prep work by using an online software program.  The program consists of a detailed map including geographic features, buildings, and utility lines.  A successful dig uncovered multiple artifacts in the area.

My two weeks spent as supervisor taught me how much prep work goes in to planning sites from locating utility lines to understanding the construction projects.  Not to mention the amount of time and practice it takes to schedule and manage a crew.  I also learned the importance of being able to work well under pressure when there is no time to plan. Lastly, I learned just how much contact must be kept open between the project managers and you at all times. I think it can best be stated that being an archaeological supervisor is an easy way to stay on your toes and be both a well-organized planner as well as creatively efficient doer.

The Final Morrill Hall Survey

It is fall 1900 and you are eagerly awaiting your first steps into your new home.  Like many freshman you are nervous, anxious, and ready to taste some independence.  You join the other 59 female students, and as you enter the brand new red sandstone dormitory just for women- The Women’s Building- you are not just taking a few step forward for yourself but also for women of your time.  This is a monumental day in your life and a substantial sign of the turn of the century changes, which led to more opportunities for women.   This red sandstone structure represents a home, a change, and a new century.

Morrill Hall in 1900, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

Morrill Hall in 1900, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

At Campus Archaeology this summer we monitored the demolition of this extraordinary piece of both MSU’s and America’s history. In May asbestos was abated, furniture was removed, windows were taken out, bricks went up for sale, and the building was picked apart and eventually all the remains were removed over two months of demolition work. Over June, the building was slowly torn down. Everyday, Campus Archaeology documented the process of the demolition. Portions of the building were torn down from west to east, leaving the Gothic inspired front stair and columns until the very end. A monument of campus was gone. (You can follow our demolition photos on our Flickr page).

The Final Days of Morrill Hall, only the front remains, via Katy Meyers

The Final Days of Morrill Hall, only the front remains, via Katy Meyers

Shortly after the removal of debris from the area the campus archaeology team members surveyed the area of removed sidewalks for finds.  There were no artifacts recovered from this area and in fact all of the shovel test pits brought up what we refer to as fill, a orange colored sand that is use to fill in areas after construction.

In this area there is a high amount of sewer lines explaining this area of unnatural soil.  Furthermore, the area that was tested by our crew was at the front of the building.  A lack of finds in this area reflects how the fronts of campus buildings act as a showcase for the school and are therefore well kept.  Litter which leads to the types of archaeological finds around campus sidewalks, was likely quickly picked up and not in the archaeological record.

Surveying at Morrill Hall, via Katie Scharra

Surveying at Morrill Hall, via Katie Scharra

Over 110 years have altered the importance and meaning of this building.  It now over the course of this summer has been demolished. The dilapidated red sandstone building was rumored to have been home to cockroaches and bats in the time before it was torn down due to safety issues.  Morrill Hall the building that was once The Women’s Building hardly holds onto the memory of an era of change that it once represented.

Currently the site is being cleared and rebuilt, new winding sidewalks making their way through the rubble, and once again renewing the historical social significance the building had.   A walk will replicate the central hallway of the building, while a sitting area of red sandstone will mark what was the entrance to the building.  Finally, a plaque will stand at the site to describe the plaza’s significance.  A whole new era of Spartans will be able to experience the memory of change the Morrill Hall represented.

Works Cited

Gilchrist, Maude. MAC Catalogue 1899-1900. The first three decades of home economics at Michigan state college 1896- 1926.

Rainy Day Work: Integrating GIS and the Artifact Catalog

The large amount of rain East Lansing has experienced over the past three weeks has deeply affected the construction and archaeology on campus.  This delay in work has allowed us at the Campus Archaeology Program to turn our attention to the other side of archaeology: finds and analysis.  Back here at our homebase in MSU’s Consortium for Archaeological Research, we’re working on analysis and interpretation of our artifacts and integrating this with our maps.

Artifacts cleaned and ready for cataloging

Artifacts cleaned and ready for cataloging

Artifacts found on this campus vary from types of ceramics and metal fixtures found within homes to industrial pipes and building materials.  After the dig, the collected finds are returned to the lab and processed.  This means that all of the finds are washed and dried.  Following this process, members of our team work to identify the artifacts and input them into a database.  Our team notes the type of artifact and the presence of identifying characteristics such as decorative styles, any wording or maker’s mark (trademark stamps), and/or if the piece is a specific part of a vessel such as rim, handle, or base.  This allows us to look at just what types of things were being used in the early days at Michigan State College.

In the meantime, another type of analysis is occurring upstairs in the archaeology computer lab.  It is here where a slightly more technologically literate group (with skills I personally envy) works on the digital side of Campus Archaeology.  Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) members input the location of our digs on to real satellite images of the area.  This creates a multilayered map with extensive information on the site.  At current, these maps show the location of all our shovel tests (ST) (a surveying technique where a small pit is dug to sample the area).  Each shovel test is associated with the archaeological project site it is within, who dug it, and a positive or negative indication of whether finds were collected.  This process helps us located the areas of early activity on Michigan State’s campus.

So far these two important processes have been separated.  While the rain has kept us off site and stuck indoors, we have been inspired to initiate an integration of the two forms of analysis into one helpful mapping system.  Our goal is to create a more robust and useful purpose for the Campus Archaeology Program’s GIS maps.  The result of this will be the creation of a way to integrate the catalogue of artifacts into the map.

In order to represent the artifacts in the GIS system our team needed to come up with a list of artifact types that not only fully incorporates the variety and cultural relevance, but also is not overwhelming to the system.  This took a rather tedious meeting and lots of debate in order to develop the shortest and most complete list.  We debated whether we should focus on broad types such as pottery or metal, or more specific types like whiteware, stoneware or pearlware. A second debate was whether we should assess them by presence or absence, a technique that works well if something is broken within the pit, or by the frequency of finds, which works well with lots of little artifacts. We also debated how to classify artifacts, like whether we should separate items by function or material used, which becomes problematic with items like buttons that are all different materials but same function. We came up with a semi-finalized list of around 25 artifact types will be inputted in to the GIS system.   From here, each ST will be associated with either a presence/absence or item amount for each of the 25 types.

Once this is done we will be able to use the GIS maps to show where artifacts were collected, and further look at the location and concentrations of artifacts by statistical analyses. This process, which is one of the most intensive off site projects, will with all hopes be fruitful to the knowledge of your Campus Archaeology Team.

Finding the Old Road In Front of the MSU Museum

Michigan State University’s landscape is consistently changing.  The area north of the Museum and west of Linton hall, known as the sacred space, is a great example of this.  Although no buildings have been built within this space the changing of the roads from inside the space to outside the space was one of the major changes altering the size and appearance of campus.  This change, which is suspected to have occurred in the late 1920s, is the focus of one of Campus Archaeology’s current investigations.  What we are looking for is how the original road was laid within the sacred space in front of William’s Hall one of the first dorms.

Photo from the late 19th c of Williams Hall and the fountain, road and sidewalk in old positions can be seen, via MSU Masterplan

Preliminary investigations involved comparing archival data such as pictures and maps.  We looked to compare the location of the road based on two structures: the fountain between Linton and Museum and the Museum itself, which is believed to stand directly on top of the old William’s Hall. You can see in the image below that the road was to the right and the sidewalk to the left.  Today the sidewalk sits to the right of the fountain.

It was made clear that the road followed a curve from the west entrance of Linton Hall to the north side of the old William’s Hall via the north side of the fountain. This is drastically different from the roads and sidewalks we see today.

To investigate the location of the road a test pit was dug in the green space 7 meters north of the northeast edge of the Museum.  Recovered from this pit were multiple layers of road materials from a gravel layer followed by a layer large river rocks and a subsequent layer of chunks of granite (about 15 cm x 6 cm) and clay.  As this was the expected location of the road the layers of road materials confirmed the location.  Now we ask the broader questions: “What did this road look like?”, “How wide was it?”, “Where did it curve?”, and “What was it made of?”.

To further investigate we went back to the archives searching for pictures of the road to help identify its composition.  Archival research showed that in the past a process called macadam was used in which “crushed stone surfaces, 6 to 10 inches thick, were merely bound by dirt and clay” (ASCE, 2013)  As this older technique was widely used it is extremely possible the lowest granite and clay layer is campus’s old road.

Today we open up a section to explore the layering of this area in hopes to answer these questions.  If we find that this layer of granite and clay reaches out further we will be able to confirm this is the old macadam road and further test pit to see its boundaries.

American Society of Civil Engineers. 2013. “Macadam Roads”. accessed 5/20/13