“Blogging Archaeology” and SAA Conference

At the end of March, I will be taking part in a session at the Society for American Archaeology Conference in Sacramento entitled “Blogging Archaeology”. The session is organized by Colleen Morgan, a graduate student at Berkeley, and the author of the blog “Middle Savagery“, one of the premier archaeology blogs. I will be presenting a paper about the archaeology blogging project we did this past summer during the archaeological field school, and co-authoring a paper with Sarah Nohe of the Florida Public Archaeology Network about the use of social media in public archaeology.

In preparation for the session, Colleen has organized a Blog Carnival on a surrounding a series of questions relating to blogging and archaeology, and has opened the floor to all who would like to participate. For those of you who are archaeologists and blog, I would encourage you to take part. I will be responding to the questions on my personal blog. In all, this is an important discussion for archaeologists, as the Internet has become the primary way that most people answer questions. One of the reasons why Campus Archaeology uses a blog is to make sure that people asking questions about MSU’s past and its archaeology are getting the answers from the source. Please join us for what should be a wonderful discussion!

Conference Poster on Archaeology and Higher Education

This week, Campus Archaeology Director Lynne Goldstein and former Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock will be heading to Austin, Texas to take part in the Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Conference. This conference is held each year as an opportunity for archaeologists around the world to gather and give presentations and posters on the research they are conducting. Last year, Campus Archaeology presented a poster on using Digital Social Media to engage the community in their research, a poster that spawned a number of other archaeologists throughout the country using social media in this way.

This year, Terry and Dr. Goldstein will present another poster about why institutions of higher education are important places for archaeologists to research. Over the past few years, we have conducted a number of archaeological investigations throughout campus. While our discoveries have held important cultural meaning to MSU’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni, they also provide an important glimpse into how higher education has grown and changed over time. For example, the excavations at Saints’ Rest, which have revealed small trash pits of cut bone and ceramics, may tell us a good deal about how sparse and basic life was like for the earliest students. In contrast, excavations at Brody Hall, which revealed a massive landfill from the 1930s and 40s, suggests that the community in East Lansing had grown substantially during the previous 70 years, due primarily to the impact and growth of the university.

Our poster addresses the potential questions that could be analyzed by research programs on college campuses, addresses the challenges faced by the unique context of university’s, talks about who the key community stakeholders are in these programs, and suggests a process by which these programs can be carried out. We have found the Campus Archaeology Program to be a successful model with which to conduct archaeology on a college campus, and hope that this poster will encourage others to develop such a program. We have provided the poster on Slideshare, so that you can see what we are up to. We’d love to have your feedback!

Last day as Campus Archaeologist!

Campus archaeologist Terry Brock cleans and artifact

Today is my last day working as Campus Archaeologist. Being Campus Archaeologist at Michigan State University has been the most rewarding professional experience I have ever had. Two years ago, when Lynne Goldstein informed me that I had the job, I had no idea what to expect. It was the first time such a position had existed, and was a central component of the newly formed Campus Archaeology Program. Neither the program or position existed anywhere, let alone at MSU, so what I’d be doing was only partly understood. Some of the responsibilities were clear, others would be developed as we went on. Little did I know, it would be an experience that would help me discover more about myself, my home town, my university, and my future than most could ever ask for in a job.

I grew up in East Lansing. I graduated from East Lansing High School in 2000, and spent my childhood attending MSU football and basketball games, feeding ducks by the river, picnics in the park behind Student Services, summer baseball camps at College Field, and annual school field trips to the MSU Museum and Wharton Center. My father works here, my sister went to school here. I have always loved MSU. Little did I know that the opportunity to explore its past through its archaeology would deepen the love affair: holding this position has given me chance to gain a thorough understanding about why MSU is what it is. This is a great school, with a rich tradition in teaching, research, and community engagement, and that commitment has shaped how it looks and the type of education offered here. I am hopeful that more students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members learn about it and develop a greater appreciation for where it has come from. And I hope that it is the Campus Archaeology Program that leads the way.

The job itself is steeped in professional opportunities that I couldn’t have predicted. There is the obvious experience of conducting archaeological survey and excavations, the added benefit of co-directing my first field school, and learning about the process of doing Cultural Resource Management. What was unexpected was the amount of experience I gained in developing a fully functioning campus program focused on research, teaching, and engagement. I learned how to work with departments across campus, watched and learned about the inner workings of campus administration, learned about managing budgets, developed internships and mentored undergraduate interns, and interacted in new and exciting ways with the community. These experiences are going to follow me everywhere, and greatly inform who I am as an academic, researcher, and person. I have Lynne Goldstein to thank for the guidance, the wisdom, and the trust to let me be creative, take risks, and letting me be as involved as possible in every step of the development of this program. This blog, for example, in addition to the use of digital social media, are examples of risks that I was allowed to take. That sort of trust is rare in any boss, and I have had the good fortune of working with someone who gave me that freedom. Mentors are hard to come by, and Dr. Goldstein is one of a kind. I am lucky to have her in my corner.

The future for me will be in Williamsburg, Virginia, where I will be writing my dissertation on a slave plantation site in Southern Maryland. Leaving my home town is hard, but it won’t keep me entirely from Campus Archaeology. I will continue to work for the program as a researcher, converting many of the archaeological projects we have conducted over the past couple years into (hopefully) publishable articles, along with some other interesting engagement projects. I will continue to post here about all of these projects, so that you can continue to be involved in them. Chris Stawski, who has worked with our program as a field tech and teaching assistant for the past two years, will be taking over as Campus Archaeologist. A good friend of mine and a fellow graduate student in Anthropology, Chris will be bringing even more unique talents to the program…so stay tuned.

In closing, I’d like to thank everyone at the MSU Anthropology Department for their help and support, and all my fellow grad students who’ve been out digging with me: it has been so much fun. I’d like to give a huge thank you to the MSU Archives and Historical Collections for all of their help, energy, and expertise. They are an unknown treasure on this campus. I’d like to thank all the people across the university, from University Relations to the MSU Union to MSU Campus Planning who have taken beautiful photos, served delicious food to hungry archaeologists, and offered helpful insight and advice about our campus. An enormous thank you to the MSU Graduate School and Dean Klomparens, who provided the funding for the Campus Archaeologist experiment in so many stages: this has been a wonderful experience that is exemplary of what advanced graduate education at MSU is all about. I’d like to the thank every person who showed up to an excavation, asked a question, or followed us on Twitter or Facebook: our work and research is meaningless if we don’t have a community to share it with, so thank you for giving us a reason to do what we love. Most importantly, I’d like to thank MSU Physical Plant, particularly those of you on the ground who are at work before all of us making this campus a beautiful place to work and live. You’re appreciation for MSU’s past has allowed us to learn some amazing things, and it’s been a blast being out in the field with all of you making these discoveries together.

Thanks again, and Go Green!

Field School Update: Weeks 3 & 4, let the games begin…


Field school students continue to excavate

After weeks of survey, getting used to working together,learning the note taking process, and getting to know the space, our field school students were ready to begin the next step of archaeological methods: opening up full scale excavation units. We opened up six units at in three spots to the west of Beaumont Tower in Week 2, and during weeks 3 and 4, students have learned all about the process of moving through an excavation unit.

There are a host of new skills that students need to learn when excavating a unit that are very different from Shovel Test Pits. Instead of digging straight down, students need to learn how to use their shovels and trowels to “scrape” and “clean” the surface of the 2 x 2 meter unit. This means that the dirt is excavated very carefully in very small increments. Units are taken down in levels following the changes in soil; each level has an extensive amount of paperwork, including measurements, artifact recording, mapping, and photographs. This can be a long and tedious process, and does not have the immediate rewards that STPs can often produce. Because of this, it took almost a week for most of the units to get down to depths where artifacts were found.

Some great artifacts have been found. Nicole has written about the first arrowhead ever foundarchaeologically on campus, Keenan has discussed the butchered cow bone, and Lindsay, Evan, and Chelsea have shared their thoughts on finding the pocket knife. Each discovery reenergizes the crew, and leads to even more exciting finds. We have a display case of some of our significant finds down at the site, so please visit!


Field school students work to clean a unit floor

It is becoming evident that we can make some interesting observations based on what we are finding. Layers of rubble found by Beaumont Tower has shown that the building of the Tower led to the almost complete destruction of the remains of College Hall and the Artillery Garage that stood on its foundations.  Plow scars found in units further west of Beaumont may be indications of some of the earliest moments at Michigan Agricultural College, when students and faculty had to remove the many trees and stumps that filled what is now known as the sacred space. Excavations along the slope leading to Sleepy Hollow suggest that the early students scattered ashes from their stoves, as well as deposited trash and garbage along the slope. All give a window into periods of our University’s earliest periods, and how different the lives of students, faculty, and staff would have been.

Students also spent their first day in the lab, working on cleaning and sorting the artifacts found in our STP survey. This process includes using household tools such as toothbrushes, colanders, and washtubs to scrub the century-old dirt off the artifacts. Often times, a great deal is revealed during this process: artifacts that were unidentifiable in the field become amazing discoveries when the grime is washed off, while other items thought to be artifacts turn out to be only rocks.

Students also had the good fortune of hearing a guest lecture by Professor Bill Lovis, a professor of anthropology and MSU Museum Curator, who discussed the importance of artifact collections and conservation. We also had a guest lecture by Duane Quates, an MSU Anthropology PhD student and an archaeologist at the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Program (read a post by Mike Millman about this lecture!), which has spearheaded the protection and preservation of cultural and archaeological resources in military zones. MSU Anthropology Graduate Student and TA Chris Stawski gave students a lecture on GIS and mapping, while they also had the opportunity to spend a rainy afternoon in the MSU Historical Archives and Collections, looking at old documents and photos.

As always, please check out the photos on our flickr page of the students excavating!

Field School Recap: Week 2, In the Shadow of Beaumont

In the Shadow of beaumont tower

Excavating in the shadow of beaumont tower

Our second week of field school moved us from the Old MSC Power Plan to just west of Beaumont Tower, across West Circle Drive from the Library. Although we continued to dodge raindrops for the entire week, we managed to survey an enormous area in just over three days. Digging shovel test pits became a regular act for the students, and we began to reap some interesting rewards in the forms of bottles, nails, and, as is the norm here on MSU’s campus, brick.

Based on our finds, we have decided to focus our excavations in three different spots west of Beaumont Tower. The first is located directly under Beaumont Tower, where we located a number of foundation stones and construction material. Expanding the units will allow us to determine if there are any intact features or walls located here, which would be related to College Hall, MSU’s first building. The second is a bit further to the west, where a number of STPs were turning up a layer of cultural material, including some intact bottles and an interesting knob, possibly a piece of an old microscope, which had a patent date of 1889 stamped on it. The third spot is along the path leading to Sleepy Hollow, where a number of STPs produced a variety of artifacts along the slope. These included bottles and brick; we are hopeful that more trash deposits will be turned up.

One of the benefits of working on campus at MSU is that there are a number of in-house experts on a variety of things related to archaeology and MSU’s history. We had two guest lectures during week 2. Frank Tewlewski, a Professor of Plant Biology and the Curator of the Beal Gardens, gave us a lecture about the historic trees and gardens located on MSU’s campus. Dr. Bob Brinkmann, a professor of Geography from the University of Southern Florida, gave students an introductory lecture on soils, and their relationship to archaeology. Special thanks to both of these lecturers!

In addition to our new units, we will begin posting a number of blog posts written by the students about their first week at field school, like this firstone from Kayla Habermehl. Please give them a look, a read, and ask questions! We also added two new students from Kalamazoo College, who will be with us for the rest of the season.

We also got a bit of press this week: The State News wrote an article about our excavations, and MSU News came out and did some fantastic photography!

As always, please follow along on Twitter and Facebook, and check out (some less professional) photos from the second week on Flickr!

Field School Recap: Week 1, getting to know you…

Field School Student screens in the shadow of the MAC smoke stack

Field School Student screens in the shadow of the MAC smoke stack

For students, first week of any field school is a process of getting your feet wet, getting to understand your surroundings, getting to know your crew mates, and starting to get a feel for how archaeology works. For the directors and supervisors, it’s a time to get to know the students strengths and weaknesses, understand how to work together, and how to best approach and teach a new group of eager diggers. This past week, our students went through two days of lecture, activities, and presentations about archaeological methods, MSU’s past, campus artifacts, mapping, and an introduction to the class website. We talked about shovel test pits, how to use your tongue to test to see if an artifact is bone, and how to take notes. By the end of those lectures, the students (and supervisors) were ready to dig.

A full 6 in rail spike excavated! A good find...

A full 6 in rail spike excavated! A good find…

Our first two days in the field were at the Shaw Lane Power Plant. The power plant, marked by the iconic “MSC” smokestack that stands next to Spartan Stadium, was built in 1948, a product of the rapidly expanding campus, which was growing exponentially due to the influx of GI Bill students from World War II. The original power plant, located in front of where the Hannah Administration building stood, could no longer handle the load necessary for the expanding campus. Coal arrived by train, which ran from the south, next to Spartan Stadium, over the Red Cedar River, and ran behind Olds Hall. The site of the Shaw Lane plant was chosen largely based on accessibility: it was built alongside these train tracks. The Shaw Lane Plant stopped burning coal in 1975, and has been abandoned for quite a while now.

Our objective for this small survey was twofold: first, to see what types of features may be associated with the power plant, and second, to provide an opportunity for the students to get to know each other and get a feel for how shovel test pit survey works. Our findings were as expected. We found coal. The quantities were heaviest along the west side of our survey area, closest to the Spartan Stadium parking lot. Additionally, we found a compact gravel surface and two railroad spikes (left) in this area, indicating that, if we conducted further excavations, there would be the remains of the old railroad bed.

In all, this was a fantastic first week. The students are energetic, and we managed to dodge much of the rain that threatened us. This week, we will be continuing survey on the west circle area of campus, which is the oldest part of MSU, dating back to 1855. We hope that you will keep following along here!

See some photos from the first week of excavations!

Get to know our students! Check out the rest of the blog posts from last week as they introduce themselves!

Be a Part of Our Summer Field School!

Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock explains the test unit

Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock explains the test unit

In one week, the 2010 Campus Archaeology Field School will begin, and we’d like you to be a part of it.

16 students have enrolled in our Field School, and they will be doing the dirty work: digging, screening, and cleaning artifacts. However, we want this project to be more than an exercise in learning about archaeology and MSU’s past for them. We want it to be an opportunity for you, as well.

As always, we will be continuing to tweet and post to Facebook with updates about what is happening while we are excavating, where we are digging, and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We encourage you to keep asking us questions, help us identify artifacts, or send in memories about where we are excavating. We will also provide you with summary posts to this blog every week about our weekly progress.

You are also welcome to visit us on-site. We will be excavating in the West Circle area of campus, conducting survey during the first few weeks, and will select a permanent location based on our survey results. If you do visit, you will be taken around the site by our students, who will be acting as tour guides.

The final way to take part is to continue being a part of our online community. Our students will be posting to the Field School class blog, and will be doing so with you in mind. Each post will discuss what they’re learning, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. They may cover a range of topics from posts about certain artifacts, techniques and methods, or links between the archaeological record and MSU’s past.  We hope that you will take the time to subscribe to the RSS Feed, read their posts, and provide them with questions and reflections about what they’re up to. This portion of the field school is designed to teach them about the importance of interacting with the community, and your participation will help to make that a worthwhile experience for them. Please be mindful that this space is a virtual classroom, and that they are learning. If you have any problems about what or how they’re being taught, please direct your concern to the project directors, Lynne Goldstein and Terry Brock.

Please visit our class website here, and visit the “For the Public” link to read about your role in the Field School!

Archaeology 101: Shovel Test Pit Survey

Chris digs an STP.

Whenever Campus Archaeology is alerted of a construction project on campus,  we typically conduct what is called an archaeological survey to determine if there are any potential archaeological sites in the area. This is important because it gives us the opportunity to quickly examine a large area, and then do more detailed archaeological excavations if we are able to determine that possible sites exist. There are a number of different types of survey that are used, each depending on what equipment is available and what the type of environment being surveyed. We are using two survey techniques while we search for the location of the Weather Bureau: Geophysical Survey and Shovel Test Pit Survey. This post will discuss the latter.

Shovel Test Pits, or STPs, are a way for archaeologists to cover a large area quickly. STPs are minimally invasive, meaning that they do not disturb a lot of ground, yet provide enough data for us to determine how viable an area is for further archaeological testing. The STP is a shovel-by-shovel width hole dug straight into the ground. The dirt is sifted, and artifacts are collected and their type and quantity is recorded on a map. We then examine the map for areas where their are significant artifact clusters, and identify those areas as potential archaeological sites that need to be further examined.

Let’s use our survey at the Weather Bureau as an example. Our first step was to establish a grid and pace off the location of where the STPs would go. Because we are in a small area, and were hoping to identify a building location, we decided to put STPs every 5 meters. In larger areas, these STPs would have been spaced at 10 or 15 meters. After this was settled, the STPs were excavated, artifact counts were recorded, and plotted on the map. STPs with significant concentrations are referred to as “positive” while ones with no or few artifacts are “negative”.

When we were finished, definite clusters of positive STPs began to emerge on the map near the north west corner. At this point, it is customary to excavate “radials”. These are additional STPs that are dug to the north, south, east, and west of each positive STPs, giving us a more refined picture of how these clusters are delineated. If a positive STP is surrounded by negative radials, than it is typically assumed there is no site there. In this case, these radials ended up being positive, indicating that there was significant human activity occurring in this space. Because these items were primarily bricks and nails, it is assumed that this was most likely the location of a building, probably the Weather Bureau.

The next step would be to do further testing to determine how much of the building is still intact. It is quite possible that this was just brick rubble and fill from the building’s demolition, not intact features or foundations. Without STP survey, however, we would not have been able to identify where to begin these excavations, making this a critical piece of archaeological methodology to understand.

Interns present (and win!) at Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum

Dan Tooman talks about his poster.

Over the past year, Campus Archaeology has had 6 undergraduate researchers work with our program in an official capacity. Each intern worked on a research project, ranging from site reports to archival research to investigating new forms of public engagement. This past Friday, Jennifer Allen, Patricia Cashen, Jeff Gepper, David Lewandowski, and Jamie Patrick Henry all presented papers or posters about their research projects at the MSU Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. They were all well received, and we will begin this week to start showing you what they presented.

Jeff and Dan posing with their certificates.

Of particular note, Jeff and Dan both were awarded with first prizes for their posters. Jeff worked with MSU Physical Plant and the MSU Archives to develop overlays of historical maps on the current maps, allowing us to better identify locations of structures that have been destroyed. Dan worked on examining the cache of bottles found underneath Brody Hall, developing a historical sequence for that space.

Over the next couple of months, we are planning on putting this research up on our website for you all to see. Congratulations again to our student researchers for all their hard work!

Campus Archaeology is on Foursquare!


The Campus Archaeology Program has been considering using location based mobile software for a while now. One of our interns, Jamie Henry, has been working on a research project discussing the possible applications for this platform for public engagement. Our director, Lynne Goldstein, and Campus Archaeologist, Terry Brock, have both been using Foursquare since January. Today, Campus Archaeology has decided to take the plunge.


Because archaeology is inherently spatial and is located all over MSU’s campus. Yet, it’s not visible on the current landscape. We want you to learn about your campus, what spaces mean, when they were built, and what they looked like before. We want you to be able to experience the campus as it was in the 19th century. Foursquare gives us an opportunity to not only share this information about historical spaces on campus, but to do it in a fun and engaging way. We will be marking historic spots on campus, such as our first dormitory at Saints’ Rest, and loading them with tips so you can learn about the space. You may decide to check in at the library, only to learn that the fountain right in front of it sits on top of the old Physics building, or that the library itself sits in a space once occupied by one of the earlier Wells Halls. At some point, you may even be able to take your family and friends on a little tour of campus, using our campus tips as a guide!

Using Foursquare will provide another opportunity for us to engage with you about the spaces around you. It will allow us to create a virtual historic landscape for you to explore and ask questions about, making the campus space unique and exciting.