Author: Nicole Raslich

An inkling from the privy: Cox’s Carmine Ink

An inkling from the privy: Cox’s Carmine Ink

In June of 2015, CAP discovered a privy during archaeological monitoring. This discovery was the first privy to ever be excavated on campus. From the collection of artifacts recovered during the excavation, this structure has been narrowed down to a decade of use, from 1850’s-1860’s[1].…

Vernor’s, A Michigan Tradition and MSU favorite

Vernor’s, A Michigan Tradition and MSU favorite

In light of the Venor’s sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), we here at CAP decided to highlight one of our finds from the People’s Park excavations in February of 2011. We found an intact Vernor’s bottle labeled as “Detroit’s Drink”. What is the connection to MSU and Detroit…

Water Sanitation at MSU

Water Sanitation at MSU

Given the national focus on the Flint water crisis, where I am a resident, I thought I would take a closer look at water safety and its conveyance within MSU. Water and its safe supply has been a concern for human populations for thousands of years from the Neolithic into the present (history of water cisterns). Many cities across the country have lead based pipes for their cities water mains, similar to Flint. The main reason for this is cost. It is expensive to dig up water mains and re-lay them with all new pipes. Having witnessed a water main being tapped for a new house main while conducting archaeological monitoring, these city water mains are huge! They lay in the center of roads about four foot down, so not only do you have to excavate the water pipes, you also have to replace the roads that are torn up in the process. Simply put, it is expensive and often takes years of deliberation before water mains are overhauled for any public area.

Here at MSU, our administration discussed this very issue for about twenty years. Through the MSU Archives, I searched for discussions regarding switching water pipes and water mains. The discussion started in 1881, with new water mains being laid to buildings as our university expanded. Our administration noted that we needed to start switching out wooden ones for iron ones. At the time, the state of the art water pipes in use were Wycoff wood pipes. We here at campus archaeology find pipes all the time in excavation work around campus. We even, surprisingly, excavated one of these Wycoff pipes along faculty row which our first Campus Archaeologist, Dr. Terry Brock, wrote about. You can find his blog post here. These were state of the art for water conveyance in the mid 1800’s. Although believed by the general public to have been changed out prior to 1886, here at MSU we used them until just into the twentieth century due to cost. Surveying had to be done to generate a map of the existing water lines and estimates for costs started to be generated.

By July 23, 1902, as new medical discoveries were made and the field expanded, the discussion about changing our water infrastructure, by our administration, shifted from fire safety to health safety. In this 1902 meeting, a medical doctor stated to the board that the water coming from the wooden pipes was not safe to drink in the warmer months due to bacterial growth. By May 26, 1903, the new water main lines were being installed around campus at a depth of five feet. This is what a responsible governing board does. When a medical issue was brought before them, they immediately put the health and safety of our students first. We see evidence of the old water and heating systems in our excavations around campus.

Wycoff Pipe - Found near Beaumont Tower
Wycoff Pipe – Found near Beaumont Tower

Most of the pipes found by Campus Archaeology are drainage and steam pipes, where they come out in mass quantities of broken insulation and steam conduit remains, as they are rarely dug up and disposed of. Traditionally, old pipes are left in the ground and new ones are lain with only the connection being excavated and replaced. The topic of Flint’s water is a discussion that I am emerged in no matter where I go as someone inevitably asks when they find out I live here; these daily discussions lead me to this blog post. I began to wonder when MSU begin to deal with issues of aging infrastructure and health safety issues. Archaeology is the perfect tool to utilize when trying to answers questions of the deep past. Our role here at Campus Archaeology is a vital one, allowing us to document and write important pieces of MSU’s past that are often left unwritten or to add material evidence to the written record. Using this deep past, we can begin to look at issues that are often the subject of our blog posts. Our archives here at MSU are an amazing resource and many of them are available digitally here. Check them out for your own research and tell them Campus Archaeology sent you.

Wycoff Pipe Metal Bands - Faculty Row
Wycoff Pipe Metal Bands – Faculty Row Excavations
Making Memories Through Campus Archaeology

Making Memories Through Campus Archaeology

Throughout our careers, we as archaeologists participate in public outreach programs. Whether through public dig sites, school programs or artifact identifications, outreach programs come in many shapes and sizes and can be rewarding in unexpected ways for everyone involved. Being raised by my grandparents, I…

Holidays and Anthropology

Holidays and Anthropology

Now that Halloween is passed and Thanksgiving will be here shortly we are in the midst of the holiday season. I always think of the holidays as one of the best times for teaching people about anthropology. As an individual who has always had a…

Examining Museum Accessional Policies

Examining Museum Accessional Policies

Sitting here thinking about the closure of the Illinois State Museum (ISM) system and the layoff and forced retirement of several colleagues and friends while I wait for my last batch of tomatoes to come out of the canner, I’m thinking about the importance accessions. This is one of the many reasons scientists are rallying around the ISM system. These accessioned collections are used for research in all fields and the censure of access to them limits research projects in every field from geology to history.  Read more about the closure here: http://news.sciencemag.org/scientific-community/2015/09/amid-budget-fight-illinois-state-museum-prepares-close?rss=1

My project this year examines the ethics and procedures used in developing accessional policies for museums. The beautiful exhibits witnessed by visitors at museums small and large are only a small portion of the physical holdings a museum curates. Often times these collections acquired through purchase, research and donations take immense amounts of space, time and money to properly catalogue, store and curate.

My colleagues at the Illinois State Museum system and other museums around the world make decisions on what items will be kept by the museum and which ones will be rejected and what to do with collections that are deemed to have little to no research or public interest potential. The decision to keep an item or a collection of items and add them to the museums vaults is called accessioning. Which items are kept, why and for how long are some of the questions my research this year for campus archeology deals with. Throughout the various field schools and survey archaeology performed around campus, a large assortment of artifacts have been collected, cleaned and catalogued. Everything from bricks, lightbulbs, flatware, lab equipment and indigenous artifacts, all pertaining to the history of MSU and our state are now being curated by campus archaeology. Simply put, all museums eventually run out of space.

Archaeological collections are valuable sources of research data because we never know what questions will be asked in the future. Material remains are finite resources, once excavated they can never be put back or excavated again so we must exert great caution when deaccessioning items. Questions such as how much brick, lithic flakes or window pane glass is a sufficient sample for a research study are generally answered with accessional guidelines. Campus archaeology as of yet, does not have such a statement. This is where my research comes in. Using protocols from museums and curators around the globe a policy statement will be generated allowing us to make these kinds of decisions easier and quicker.

Having a clear guideline in place for collections management decision making assists future researchers and campus archaeology staff and interns with time management when cataloguing artifacts and making loan requests. It also offers a rubric for new staff to follow allowing transitions to flow more smoothly. Transitions and staff turnovers are commonplace on college campuses with student staff and interns as some graduate and new people step in to fill the positions.

For all of these reasons, museums and their collections are an important part of scientific research going on daily that is often never viewed by the public. Accessions and access them impact us all on a daily basis which is why we should all be concerned when entire state systems shut their doors.

Field School with MSU and ISM staff, June 2015
Field School with MSU and ISM staff, June 2015