4th Annual Apparitions & Archaeology Tour Recap

Happy Halloween! This past week the Campus Archaeology Program and the MSU Paranormal Society hosted their fourth annual Apparitions and Archaeology: A Haunted Campus Tour! While it was a little chilly out, we had a record number of attendees, with over 200 people touring!

Spooky artifacts were displayed for visitors to see. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

Spooky artifacts were displayed for visitors to see. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

Similar to previous years, there were stops at several of the important landmarks on campus. Everyone started their tour at Beaumont Tower where Dr. Lynne Goldstein, the director of the Campus Archaeology Program gave an introduction to the event and a history of the tower area. After this introduction, everyone was welcome to take the tour in any order they preferred, with additional stops at Saint’s Rest, Sleepy Hallow, the fountain, Morrill Hall, and Mary Mayo Hall.

A tour participant holds the haunted tour map. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

A tour participant holds the haunted tour map. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

At each stop, a Campus Archaeology Fellow gave a brief history of their area as well information about what has been found archaeologically, both prehistoric and historic. We also explain how this archaeological data can be used to learn more about the experiences of past MSU students, faculty, and staff, as well as earlier inhabitants of the region. In addition to learning about the archaeology conducted throughout MSU’s campus, the MSU Paranormal Society told stories of the MSU’s haunted past, and showed some of their equipment that they use while conducting paranormal investigations including EMF meters and a spirit box.

One of our favorite parts of this event is interacting with the public about our archaeological investigations of MSU’s campus. We love to hear questions and stories from past and present MSU students, faculty, and staff, the greater MSU Community, and from our future Spartan visitors!

A tour group waits at the horse fountain. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

A tour group waits at the horse fountain. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

One fun story we heard from a future Spartan was at the Saint’s Rest stop, the location of the first dormitory on campus. Lisa Bright, the current campus archaeologist talked to the visitors about the privy associated with this dorm, where excavations several years ago recovered a lot of artifacts, including a ceramic doll! The reason archaeologists like excavating privy’s so much is because when someone drops something down in a privy, they are probably not going to go after it, leaving an exciting archaeological record! One boy mentioned how that makes sense because his brother once dropped a pencil down the toilet and they didn’t want to go after it!

Another great question from a future Spartan was from a girl who asked the MSU Paranormal Society if they have ever gotten responses from ghost animals through the spirit box! While they haven’t gotten any yet, they said that they wouldn’t be surprised to get a woof or meow response someday!

For those of you who weren’t able to make it to the tour check out the YouTube video the State News made from the tour! And stay on the lookout for the tour next year!

Do you have any questions about MSU’s past? Ask them in the comment section!

 

Many thanks to undergrad volunteer Courtney Rae Pasek for taking the photos.

 

Hunting and Gathering on Campus: New Insights from Old Sources

This past year, I wrote a blog post detailing several stories of hunting and gathering on campus that I had uncovered while researching food practices on MSU’s early campus. I have continued to explore this aspect of campus and recently discovered some new information that sheds a little more light on these activities!

It is well documented that the first students and faculty on campus supplemented their diet with fruit and game animals from the surrounding area, but the motivation behind this was not completely clear. Within Madison Kuhn’s book Michigan State: The First Hundred Years, there is a passage that discusses the student reactions to the board rate increase from $2.50 per week to $3.15 in the early 1880s. The students were outraged that the raise in rate did not correspond with the quality of food that they were being served. A student committee investigated the university accounts and discovered the university steward “paid excessive prices, that he failed to enter all receipts, and that he bough canned goods while vegetables rotted in the field, and that he charged the boarding-hall for the feed of his personal driving-horse” (Kuhn, p.126). All of these irregularities resulted in the resignation of the steward. This hefty price, plus the less-than desirable taste of the dining hall food, could have been a key factor in the student’s motivation to supplement their diet from the surrounding area.

As Susan mentioned in her blog post last week, students would steal food from different areas around campus including bread, cakes, and fruit from the MSU Orchards (Kains, 1945). In addition to swiping food from around the college, students would also forage across several of the neighboring farms. Using spare clothing as impromptu bags, students would raid nearby fields, coming back to campus with apples, musk melons, and occasionally a stray chicken (Kuhn p. 46).

MAC Gardens and Orchard, date unknown. Image Source.

MAC Gardens and Orchard, date unknown. Image Source.

However, this less than legal practice was not the only way that students added variety to their diet. In the 1870s, a competitive “grand match hunt” was commonly held in October. In 1873, the hunt “bagged seventy-nine squirrels, twelve pigeons, nine quail, six partridges, four turkeys, eight ducks” and the winning team was treated to an oyster dinner by the losers (see Mari’s blog post about Oysters!; Kuhne, p.99). This and other hunting stories are made all the more interesting since, according to the rules and regulations established by the College in 1857, students were not supposed to possess or use firearms on campus (Meeting Minutes 1857, p.32). Because of this rule, students used other means, such as building pens to capture wild turkeys or getting faculty assistance, in order to feast on wild game (Kuhn, p.45). Like smoking and alcohol, the use of firearms was either not strongly enforced or was easily kept secret on a sparsely populated campus. Maybe the promise of a few choice cuts of meat was enough to make faculty members look the other way when it came to hunting on campus.

Student with Turkey, date unknown. Image Source

Student with Turkey, date unknown. Image Source

References:

Kains, Maurice G., editor.
1945   Fifty Years out of College: A Composite Memoir of the Class of 1895 Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science
. New York: Greenberg.

Kuhne, Madison  1910   Michigan State: the first hundred years, 1855-1955. Michigan State University Press [1955].

Meeting Minutes, 1857, Offices of Board of Trustees and President, UA 1 http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/3-F-1D9/meeting-minutes-1857/

Turkey Photo, date unknown: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-74C/student-with-turkey-presents-to-onlookers-date-unknown/

MAC Gardens and Orchard, date unknown: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-6A2/mac-gardens-and-orchard-date-unknown/

Capturing Campus Cuisine: The Saga Continues

I am excited to announce that Capturing Campus Cuisine, the food project that Susan Kooiman and myself began this past year will continue! Last year, we studied the earliest period of MSU’s campus from 1855-1870, focusing on the production, processing, and consumption on campus. This research culminated in the recreation of a historic campus meal with the assistance of MSU Culinary Services. You can read more about what we did previously on the project website: earlyfood.campusarch.msu.edu. This year, we will continue to visit different areas of campus including visits to the MSU farms and meat lab, and conduct further archival research and archaeological analysis in order to expand upon what we have learned.

Personally, I am going to focus on analyzing more of the animal bones that have been recovered during campus excavations. While we can assume that there will be many domesticated species, including cow, pig, sheep, and goat, it is also possible that there are undomesticated species, such as white-tailed deer, elk, or turkey, in the archaeological assemblages.

Cow in front of barns c. 1896. Image Source.

Cow in front of barns c. 1896. Image Source.

We know through archival research that both students and faculty hunted on campus (see Autumn’s previous blog on this topic) and that there was also a deer park on campus from 1898 into the early 1900s. This deer park contained three deer as well as two elk. The university even considered expanding to include a buffalo at one point (Beal 1915 pp. 263; MAC Record Nov 15, 1898)! In 2008, the campus archaeology program uncovered the foundations of the barn in the photo below during excavations near present day Mayo Hall.

Deer Park c. 1907. Image Source

Deer Park c. 1907. Image Source

Elk in the deer park c. 1907. Image Source

Elk in the deer park c. 1907. Image Source

As I continue with the faunal (animal) bone analysis, I will need to be aware of this, and compare the specimens against both domesticated and undomesticated species to verify the animal species identification. Another layer of analysis that I will conduct this year will be on identifying the specific meat cuts that were utilized. Understanding what cuts of meat come from which skeletal elements in an animal will allow us to compare and contrast what is present within the campus archaeological collection against the archival records which list specific meat portions!

Below are a few images of the animal remains that are being analyzed. Stay tuned for updates on the results of the animal bone analysis!

Sample of the faunal remans being analyzed.

Sample of the faunal remans being analyzed.

Autumn sorts bones in the cap lab.

Autumn sorts bones in the cap lab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Cow Barns May 31, 1896 Image: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-3D3/a-picture-of-a-cow-in-front-of-barns-1896/

Deer Park 1907 Image: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-96D/deer-park-1907/

Elk Deer Park Image: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-970/elk-in-the-deer-park-ca-1907/

MAC Record: Tuesday, Nov. 15, 1898 Vol 4 No. 10: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-4EC/the-mac-record-vol04-no10-november-15-1898/

Beal, William James. History of the Michigan agricultural college and biographical sketches of trustees and professors. 1915.

http://campusarch.msu.edu/Exhibits/FacultyRowExhibit/FacultyRowExhibit.html

 

A Taste of History: Our 1860s MSU Meal Reconstruction Event

So what does history really taste like? As you can read from Susan’s event preview blog post, this past week we hosted a 1860s MSU-inspired meal based on archival and archaeological research. This event took place through the collaboration of Campus Archaeology and the MSU Culinary Service, specifically Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski, Chef Jay Makowski, and MSU Baker Cindy Baswell.

Our menu included codfish ball appetizers; main dishes of walleye, spiced beef, turkey with oyster dressing, and beef tongue; sides of chow-chow, graham bread, and potato croquettes; and desserts of ginger cake and raspberry charlotte russe. We also had ginger beer (non-alcoholic) as a beverage option. This was included because Campus Archaeology uncovered a ginger beer bottle during the excavation of Saint’s Rest dormitory in 2005 (read more about ginger beer here. About 25 guests attended the event, ranging from anthropology graduate students and faculty to college administrators.

A little bit of everything from the nicely prepared meal.

A little bit of everything from the nicely prepared meal.

It was a wonderful meal recreation and I have created several videos below that give a view into what was put into the event, as well as the food that was created and some reactions to beef tongue!

 

As the meal was finishing, we asked the other guests what dish was their favorite; it ranged from the codfish balls and potato croquettes (with a side of chow-chow!) to a surprising enjoyment of the beef tongue! Personally, I really enjoyed every dish but I was most surprised with how much I actually enjoyed the beef tongue (as long as I didn’t think about what I was eating too much!).

Susan Kooiman and I are extremely proud of how this event came to fruition, and hope to continue researching the early foodways of MSU with Campus Archaeology! Later this week the website I have been building through MSU’s Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Fellowship will be launched, which will detail the information that led us to create this event, an interactive map with interest points from historic MSU, and a designated page about the meal itself! Look for the announcement of the webpage on the CHI blog.

There is Something Fishy about this Privy

It’s official… the fish skeletal material recovered from the Saint’s Rest privy, the toilet associated with the first dormitory on campus contained walleye!

Walleye. Image source

Walleye. Image source.

Walleye are the largest member of the perch family and can be caught in shallow bays and inland lakes. As there are plenty of inland lakes surrounding East Lansing, it is possible that these fish were caught locally and served on campus. Also, walleye actively feed all year round, they can be caught during any season, however, it is easier to catch them during the early morning and evening, as that is their prime feeding times (MI DNR).

Walleye Teeth image source

Walleye Teeth. Image source.

When the privy was excavated, an immense amount of bone was recovered from the southwest corner. The bones were very densely packed, and excavators were under time constraints so the area was block lifted and screened back at the lab!

West Circle Privy after excavation.

West Circle Privy after excavation.

This privy was a permanent brick structure, a earth-closet type of privy, which means that it would have been cleaned out regularly, which may explain why the fish remains were packed tightly into the back corner, possibly out of reach as a result of the cleaning process.

So how do I know that they are walleye? To determine which species the fish remains were, I began at the MSU Museum, where in the collections is a small fish index. This has many different bone elements separated out and labeled by species. This allowed me to get a preliminary identification of walleye or sauger. However, as the index does not include every single fish bone, I wanted further verification. Luckily for me, Dr. Terrance Martin (Illinois State Museum, emeritus) was visiting MSU and was able to take a few minutes and look at the Saints Rest privy fish remains. He also agreed that they looked like walleye, but suggested that I verify the remainder of the materials against other walleye specimens. Unfortunately, the MSU Museum did not have any other walleye skeletal materials in the collections so I turned to another museum. This past week, a specimen loan from the Field Museum arrived, allowing me to take the material and confirm that it is in fact walleye! Below are some images of the fish remains, in comparison to the walleye specimen.

Walleye Dentary

Walleye Operculum

Walleye Operculum

Now that I have many of the previously identified elements confirmed as walleye, I am going to move forward on identifying the remainder of the fish remains, as I already have them sorted by side, counted, and weighed. In addition to focusing on the fish materials, I will begin looking through the mammal remains that have been uncovered on campus, including cow, pig, and sheep/goat with the goal of determining what type of meat cuts were present, and the proportions of species present within the archaeological contexts. Stay tuned for more updates on the Campus Archaeology animal bone identifications!

Resources:

DNR Walleye: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_53405-216550–,00.html

So We Meat Again: Species and Meat Cut Purchasing Records for Early MSU

During Susan Kooiman and I’s research on the early foodways of MSU’s campus, we scoured our way through a number of purchasing records in the MSU Archives. After Susan’s blog post on the seasonality of food purchased, we realized that it might be interesting to see if there were any patterns of meat purchasing through time! To accomplish this, I reorganized all of our data from the 1861 to 1874 archival records by meat type (i.e. ham, chicken, salt pork, lamb, whitefish, etc.). While we have a few lost years, 1864-1866, I was able to see a few changes through this period of time.

In the beginning, during the early 1860s, the purchasing records were very specific, not only recording that MSU purchased “fresh fish”, but the specific species as well, including trout and whitefish (sometimes even listed as Lake Superior White fish; read more about this here). Through the entire period I analyzed, they also recorded specific cuts of meat, instead of just beef or pork. The types of meat that were listed in detail include bacon, beef shanks, coined beef, beef steak, beef roast, corned beef, shoulder, salt pork, and salt beef.

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While there are no clear patterns of changes in purchasing preferences in these early years, the records became much more difficult to interpret during the late 1860s into the 1870s. During the 1870s, it becomes more vague, sometimes only listing from whom the meat was purchased from and not always including the type of cut or even species! This lack of detail makes it much more difficult to recover any changes in meat purchasing and use over time, meaning that other means of gathering information, such as the bones themselves, will be critical for looking at meat use over time at MSU.

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While I am unable to uncover any changes in meat use at this time, I did find a few fun entries in the purchasing records as I was compiling the data. The first comes from 1867, citing the specific purchasing of meat from the MSU farms. While it doesn’t say what type of species, it is one of the few accounts that we have come across that specifically cites the purchasing of meat from our very own farms! Second, lists the purchasing of chickens in 1869, not for everyday consumption, but for winter commencement. Commencement would have been one of the larger events held on campus every year, so the college had to buy a lot of food specifically for this event. Lastly, one of my personal favorites, were listings over multiple years for the purchase of steak as well as beef and pork roast, not for the boarding halls, but for President T.C. Abbot. The purchasing records do not list the occasions that the meat was destined for, but from the pounds of meat purchased each month, one may assume that it was purchased for sharing at small functions… unless President Abbot really loved his steak.

 

Resources:

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. “Agricultural boarding hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 82. Folder 11, Box 2531. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account with Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 108. Folder 11, Box 2533. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account With Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 32. UA17.107. “Accounts 1867-1873”

Waltzing Through Time: A History of MSU Dances

For Valentine’s Day, let take a dance through time! MSU has a long history of university dances. As we learned through Susan Kooiman’s blog post from October, there are archival records, such as dance cards, from the 1880s that list the order of dances with a space for filling in your dance partner. This particular dance card uncovered by Susan, was from 1884 and only had one dance line filled in. Here is the story, as told by Susan:

1884 Dance Card. Image Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

1884 Dance Card. Image Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

“He was to do the Grand March with Grace Boosinger. Curiosity prompted an internet search of her name, which turned up the alumni update section for the Iota Chapter (Michigan Agricultural College) of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity in 1892. It reported that H.E. Thomas married Grace Boosinger (“his old freshman girl) on July 12, 1982, and that he had been “re-nominated as circuit court commissioner.” Harris Thomas was a mover and shaker – he began his career as a lawyer but served as president of multiple companies later on and even served as a US Postmaster. He and Grace lived in Lansing their whole lives and are buried here as well. It seems he only had one name on his dance card for a reason…”

Sadly, many of the photos that I have uncovered do not have as much of a backstory, but they do tell the tale of the long history of formal dances at Michigan State University, some of which still happen today. Now we are going to continue waltzing through time, taking a look a few photos of dances through MSU history.

In 1912, the Olympic Society was one of several literary societies on campus. It was founded in October 1885, due to the need of another literary society at the school (MSU Archives). Below is a photo showing a group of students from this dance.

1912 Olympic Dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1912 Olympic Dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In 1920 the first Co-Ed Prom took place! However, even through the name says co-ed, it was an all girls’ dance. Not a single man could attend, or even be an onlooker! The dance had some resistance from men on campus, but successfully continued for several years.  The M.A.C. record article about the first dance states that, “The lights went out, but the dance went on without interruption.  Did some envious man try to stop the fun because he could not be there?” (MA.C. Record Jan 20 1920). The men sometimes held separate “stag parties”, but news accounts note that attempting to sneak into the dance was a enticing challenge and they had to “plug the tunnel and keep the college cop at the door to keep men from sneaking in”(M.A.C. Record Jan 1935).

Each of the “couples” were required to attend the dance in costume. Interestingly in 1921 someone dressed up as Munsel Color Theory (I wish there was a picture of this because as you know, we love Munsel). This prom was organized by the all girls’ student council and with run with the help of the co-ed faculty and student body. The co-ed prom continued through the 1930s.

1920 co-ed prom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1920 co-ed prom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1927 co-ed prom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1927 co-ed prom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In 1943, a Mardi Gras Ball was held at MSU. Below, is a photo of the queen of the ball and her court.

1943 Mardi Gras ball queen and court. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1943 Mardi Gras ball queen and court. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

As I continued through time, I came across several photos from 1950, one of a group of female students getting ready for a dance and the other of a couple at a formal dance.

1950 couple at formal dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1950 couple at formal dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1950 female students getting ready for dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1950 female students getting ready for dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Several years later, in 1953, there was an International Festival where three women performed an Indian Stick Dance.

1953 Indian Stick Dance at the International Festival. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1953 Indian Stick Dance at the International Festival. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The photo below, from a dance in 1954, shows a large group of students doing the Bunny Hop!

1930 conga line. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1954 Bunny Hop. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In 1955, the University held a Harvest Dance pictured below, showing a couple posing with the best of the harvest crop!

1955 harvest dance

1955 harvest dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Finally, I would like to take us to the present day, where MSU continues to have formal balls! One of them is the Honors College Ball. Each year, the ball is organized by Honors College Programing Board, and it is the social calendar highlight of the year. The theme changes from year to year and recent themes have included “Black and White,” “Winter Yule Ball,” and “Masquerade.”

All in all, MSU has a very long history of formal dances, from the late 1800s to present day.

 

Sources:

Olympic Society:

  • http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/ua12-2-19.html
  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-296/1912-olympic-dance/

Co-Ed Prom:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-294/1920-coed-prom/
  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-295/1927-coed-prom/

Bunny Hop:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-30C/conga-line-1930s/

Mardi Gras Ball Queen and Court:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-310/mardi-gras-ball-queen-and-court/

Female students getting ready for dance:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-B99/female-students-getting-ready-for-dance-1950/

Couple at Formal Dance:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-840/a-couple-at-a-formal-dance-1950/

Indian Stick Dance at the International Festival:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-F4E/indian-stick-dance-at-the-international-festival-1953/

Harvest Dance:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-93F/a-couple-poses-with-produce-at-the-harvest-dance-1955/

MSU Dance 1958:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-297/1958-dance/

Dance Decoration:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-83D/students-decorate-dance-1959/

M.A.C. Record – Jan 1935, January 20 1920.

The Cutting Edge: The Analysis of Historic Meat Cuts

Man prepares meat in the Kellogg Center 1959. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Man prepares meat in the Kellogg Center 1959. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The analysis of animal bones from historic MSU involves more than the identification of species. While it is important to determine the species that were being consumed, we are also very interested in the specific portions of animals that were being purchased and produced by MSU. Not only was MSU purchasing meat from local vendors, but, as an agricultural school, they also were butchering animals raised on campus. It is possible to determine what cuts of meat were being produced and consumed on campus from analyzing the faunal material uncovered during archaeological excavations. However, there is an added level of difficulty in this type of analysis. While animals were being butchered on campus, they were not being processed by professionals. Instead, MSU students were being trained on how to butcher and process meat from the campus farms. How do we know this you ask? Well, there are photographs in the MSU archives that show the butchering of animals, but we can also learn from studying the animal bones themselves. They allow us to see the many different cuts and angles present that suggest that the individual who was processing the meat was learning where and how to make specific types of cuts (AKA like student drivers, student butchers could not stay in their lane).

Students butcher meat, early 1900s. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections - Scrapbook #45

Students butcher meat, early 1900s. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections – Scrapbook #45

Butchered animal bones excavated by CAP.

Butchered animal bones excavated by CAP.

So how can we tell different meat cuts apart by looking at the animal bones? Not only can we talk to current butchers, there are countless books on the subject going back through time for butchering processes and preferred cuts. Below are some images that depict various meat cuts on different animal species. Through comparisons between the actual bones recovered and the illustrations of the types of bones that are the result of different cuts of meat, we can figure out what types of meat cuts were the most preferred on campus at the time.

Cuts of meat depicted as bone cuts. Image Source:

Cuts of meat depicted as bone cuts. Image Source: Evans and Greene 1973

Another factor that needs to be considered while conducting this type of analysis is the preference for specific meat cuts through time and by region throughout the United States and the world! Even today there are certain types of meat that are very popular in one area of the United States, but that cannot be found in another. For example, tri-tip in California is a very popular cut of beef from the bottom sirloin for barbecuing, however, in the Midwest, it is almost impossible to find in a grocery store! However, by understanding the skeletal anatomy of each species, archaeologists are able to determine what types of meat cuts were being produced and/or consumed during the Early Period of MSU’s history.

 

Different butchering techniques and cuts of meat from around the world. Image source:

Different butchering techniques and cuts of meat from around the world. Image source: Swatland 2000

Using all of this information, I will continue working on the faunal analysis from the Early Period of MSU’s history. After the faunal (animal) bone analysis is complete, I will be able to compare the meat cuts found within the archaeological record to the meat cuts listed within the MSU Archives detailing the purchasing records for the boarding halls.

Resources:

MSU Archives

The Meat Book: A consumer’s guide to selecting, buying, cutting, storing, freezing, & carving the various cuts by Travers Moncure Evans and David Greene [1973].

Meat Cuts and muscle foods: an international glossary by Howard J. Swatland [2000].

Zooarchaeology: The Study of Animal Bones and How it is Done

What is zooarchaeology and how is it actually done? This is a question that I get a lot when I talk about my research. Zooarchaeology is the study of non-human animal remains; specifically this involves the identification of animal species from archaeological contexts. However, it’s not as simple as just looking at a bone and easily knowing what it is right away! Typically, within archaeological contexts, animal bones are highly fragmented, leaving the zooarchaeologist with small pieces of an animal skeletal element. This fragmentation could be from both human and natural processes including: the butchering process, disposal practices, trampling, exposure to scavenging animals, and/or weathering.

Animal bone from Saints Rest Rescue Excavation

Animal bone from Saints Rest Rescue Excavation

So how are zooarchaeologists supposed to figure out what the broken bones are if they don’t look like a normal skeletal element, like an entire femur or scapula? To determine the identifications of archaeological animal bones, zooarchaeologists use a comparative collection. A comparative collection is a collection of identified animal bones by species and skeletal element.

Step One:

The first step in analyzing animal remains is to sort the bones by animal class: mammal, fish, reptile/amphibian, and bird. It is possible to separate bones by animal class because each animal class is different, and can be determined visually by zooarchaeologists.

Step Two:

After the animal bones are sorted by class, the next step is to sort them by skeletal element (if possible). These first two steps allow for easier use of comparative collections for specific identifications.

Step Three:

Zooarchaeologists then take the sorted animal remains one item at a time, and based off of their initial evaluations compare each bone to the bones of previously identified species within the comparative collection. For example, if I have a bone that is thicker and/or larger than most of my mammal animal remains from a prehistoric archaeological site that is located in an area that has a lot of white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus), I would start by looking at the deer comparative skeleton to identify the bone.

Comparative Collection

Photo of comparative collection section – Illinois State Museum Research and Collection Center, Springfield, IL

Campus Archaeology

Assortment of fish bone from the West Circle Privy

Assortment of fish bone from the West Circle Privy

Conducting zooarchaeological research at MSU is a little more difficult than you would expect because there is not an established zooarchaeological comparative collection. However, I have been working with the MSU Museum for the past year on developing one! While it is not finished, we have selected complete skeletons that have been reviewed and deemed fit to be included in the comparative collection. After I finish as much analysis as I can using the MSU Museum comparative collection, I will take the remaining unidentified animal bones to Springfield Illinois, to use the collection at the Illinois State Museum Research and Collection Center.

Currently, I am in the process of pulling out the animal bones recovered during the Campus Archaeology excavations of site from the Early Period of MSU’s history (1855-1870). Below are some photos of the bones that I will be analyzing in the coming months!

With these identifications, we are able to estimate the number of individuals that are found, the seasonality of the resources exploited, meat cuts based off of butchering methods, or even how different pieces of meat from the same animal are distributed. Stay tuned to learn about the results of the animal bone analysis and the methods we use to make our interpretations!

Here Fishy Fishy: Fish Importation in the 1860s

As I have been going through the purchasing records for the Agricultural Boarding Hall at the MSU Archives, I’ve noticed some interesting purchases that I did not expect to run across. These are the purchasing notes for imported fish, including Lake Superior Whitefish and Halibut. I am particularly interested in the importation of the Lake Superior Whitefish because I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right across the street from Lake Superior. Growing up in Marquette Michigan, Lake Superior Whitefish was a staple in our house and is very common at local restaurants in town. I was surprised to find it purchased by Michigan State during the Early Period! The archival records show that during the 1860s, not only was MSU was purchasing Lake Superior Whitefish, but that they were doing it throughout the year. During the Early Period of MSU (1855-1870), I was expecting that almost all food resources that MSU utilized would be local, because of the difficult nature of transporting more exotic/distant food. To be able to transport fish from Lake Superior to MSU, the fish would have to be either transported on ice (more difficult to do during the summer months) or they would have been salted to preserve them.

1861 Purchasing records for the boarding hall (Saint's Rest) - lake superior whitefish highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1861 Purchasing records for the boarding hall (Saint’s Rest) – lake superior whitefish highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Before I dive into the history of fishing on Lake Superior, here is a quick background information on Lake Superior Whitefish. Lake Superior whitefish are a member of the trout/salmon family (Salmonidae). The reason whitefish were and still are such a popular fish is due to its tasty flavor, convenient size, and their habit of schooling that allows for easier mass catching (DNR). Whitefish hatch in the spring, and grow rapidly, allowing them to reach over 20 pounds and can live over 25 years (DNR).

Whitefish - Image Source: DNR

Whitefish – Image Source: DNR

Fishing for Lake Superior Whitefish has a long history in the state, and commercial fishing on Lake Superior has had some major changes throughout Michigan’s history (Goniea DNR; Minnesota Sea Grant). Small steamer ships are no longer required for transporting fish to the market (Holmquist 1955). Now it is possible to drive the fish catch downstate along the highways throughout Michigan, many of which follow the Great Lake shorelines. One part of commercial fishing that has not changed is the most common method of fishing: gill nets. However, there are now different laws that govern the size of the mesh used by fishermen as well as fishing seasons (Holmquist 1955).

The steamer "Hiram R Dixon" fished regularly along Lake Superiors North Shore. Image Source

The steamer “Hiram R Dixon” fished regularly along Lake Superiors North Shore. Image Source

Through the 1890s, whitefish were the most popular/mainstay within the Lake Superior commercial fishing, but through the early 1900s, the species almost became extinct. Now with the help of more restrictive fishing methods and artificial propagation, whitefish populations are at adequate levels for commercial fishing once again (Holmquist 1955). According to Holmquist (1955) a second attempt of large-scale fishing on Lake Superior occurring around 1860, when a commercial operation was opened at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is possible that this push in commercial fishing during this time influenced Michigan State’s purchasing of imported fish in addition to the more typical local resources.

Fishermen in a Mackinaw boat raising their nets. Image Source

Fishermen in a Mackinaw boat raising their nets. Image Source

While MSU farms and local businesses provided the majority of the food resources consumed by campus residents during the Early Period, it has been exciting to learn about the non-local resources that are being purchased for the boarding halls. While the purchasing of Lake Superior whitefish does not appear to be a constant throughout the 1860s (archival records indicate sporadic purchasing during three separate years), it is interesting that there was an inclusion of food that would have been more difficult to acquire. Students and faculty were treated to a more varied diet than what their local surroundings could produce. The purchasing of Lake Superior whitefish during this time shows the appreciation of great resources and the wonder of the Upper Peninsula before the building of the Mackinaw Bridge!

 

Resources:

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. Agricultural boarding hall.

Commercial Fishing on Lake Superior in the 1890s by June Drenning Holmquist (1955): http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/34/v34i06p243-249.pdf

DNR: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_18958-45680–,00.html

Tom Goniea (DNR) – The Story of State-licensed Commercial Fishing History on the Great Lakes: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_52259-316019–,00.html

Minnesota Sea Grant – Lake Superior and Michigan Fisheries: A Closer Look: http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/fisheries/superior_michigan_fisheries