Desiree examines a bottle from the Brody/Emmons complex.
If you’ve been following the blog you may have noticed the many interesting artifacts, mostly bottles, found during the Brody Hall and Emmons Amphitheater area excavations. Since the Brody complex is built above the old East Lansing Landfill, these excavations provided us with an array of items that provide some insight into what life was like during the early 20th century in East Lansing.
As an intern for CAP this past semester, I’ve been given the task of going through these bottles to catalog and re-examine them. These bottles held everything from cosmetics to cleaning products to condiments that reflect everyday life in East Lansing during this the early 20th century. This landfill was active from the late 1910s to the late 1940s, which gave us a general range for a probable date on these bottles, but part of my task as an intern has been trying to get a more specific date. This has been interesting because I had never really thought about bottles in this way before. Researching the various shapes of historic bottles and using clues to find out how the bottle was used and when it was made has been a very educational experience. For some of these bottles, figuring out a date was relatively easy when you know the code they sometimes stamp on the bottle. However, many of the bottles had little to no markings that could be used to determine a date. This meant many hours of researching bottle shapes and looking through catalogs. Since many of the bottles were like this, it has taken us some time to get through all the bottles. Now, of course, I use bottles every day, but historic bottles are much different. I’ve been pleasantly surprised many times while researching to discover a bottle’s intended use.
A selection of bottle from the Brody/Emmons complex.
Researching these bottles has also got me thinking a lot about trash and how we treat trash. Reading literature on the history of garbage and waste management was surprisingly very interesting and made me realize why archaeologists love trash so much. When I take the trash out, I don’t see where it goes. All I know is that someone picks it up and it’s not my problem anymore. Although I try to be eco-friendly and recycle, it’s the same deal. I put my recycling or trash in bin and someone takes it far away from me. No one wants to see trash, but we throw away everything. During the time that this landfill was active, municipal trash pick-up was a relatively new thing but since then, not much has changed in terms of how we deal with garbage after we throw it away. Realizing this got me thinking about sustainability on campus and if anything has changed. While the fact that these complete bottles are still here after 70 years has been helpful for our research, it’s daunting to think about how much of our trash will long out live us.
In the past, CAP has used archaeology to investigate how sustainable practices were used on campus. Many of these sustainable practices can be traced back to events like war or recession – being sustainable because it is necessary for survival. Building from the previous research on MSU’s sustainable past, I’m using these artifacts to assess how sustainable practices in waste management have changed and examine if we are truly more sustainable today. Although these bottles are made of glass which is not considered to be “eco-friendly” when thrown away, examining how they were used could be helpful in assessing sustainable practices at that time.
Unit B brick feature.
The field school is coming to a close soon and although we’ve made a lot of progress in Unit B, we still have a lot to accomplish during this last week. We are currently over a meter deep, which has made getting in and out of the unit difficult, and we are still finding things. We haven’t found many artifacts, but we did come across a brick feature and the bottom of the cement wall mentioned in my previous blog post.
The brick feature was found in our northwest corner while we were digging our level 7 guide holes. It consisted of many bricks that seemed to be clustered together in no particular pattern and were different colors. Many were clustered in the northwest corner but a few other bricks were also found near the north wall. After mapping the brick feature, we realized that some bricks were stuck in the wall. Besides those stuck in the wall, we pulled the bricks out and checked to see if any of them had makers marks. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any makers marks on any of the bricks, however we did notice that most of the bricks were pretty light and seemed cheaply made. This caused us to speculate that these bricks could have been made locally. However, without any makers marks, there isn’t much that we can do with these bricks in the lab. However, they seem to make excellent tarp weights! The fact that this brick feature was found so deep is interesting and I’m curious to find out if we will find more as we dig deeper.
Cement feature along south wall of Unit B.
Finally finding the bottom of the cement wall in out unit has raised some more questions about its place at Station Terrace. It seems to be too thick too be a walkway or sidewalk and where it stops doesn’t seem even. Now, this could be due to erosion. However, from what we can see, a mold wasn’t used which further supports the theory that this was not a walkway. Also, the gravel layer we found along our west wall seems to be related to cement but it’s a little unusual. The gravel layer is only visible along the west wall despite the fact that the cement wall extends across the entire unit and is very distinct. This has lead us to believe that the cement wall could have been part of the trolley turn around and gravel was placed leading up to the wall. It’s still very unusual that it’s only along the west wall.
Gravel layer along west wall of Unit B.
Throughout my time as a CAP field school student I have learned a lot about what archaeology is like in practice. I’ve learned the basic procedures and how to think about context. Most importantly, I think I’ve learned to think about the bigger picture and ask questions when I find something. (How does this connect to other units? What does this mean in the context of Station Terrace? What does this mean in the context of MSU?) Although I knew that those questions were important, it was hard for me to think about them when finding artifacts. Things that we may not think are significant can be significant in certain contexts. Our nail layer just seemed like a bunch of nails, but it became something noteworthy because of the context. This experience has helped me to think more like an archaeologist and I can’t wait to see what we can discover in this last week.
Since having the large tree roots removed last week, Cooper and I have been able to work much faster in Unit B. Despite having the large roots that haunted us from the beginning removed, the remnants of the former tree hadn’t given up. As we went deeper, however, we kept finding more and more roots until eventually, we came across two very large roots that extended across the entire unit. Since we were no strangers to digging around roots, this surprise didn’t delay our progress too much. Although it was frustrating, our prior experience had prepared us and allowed us to react accordingly. We knew how to dig around the roots and complete levels without taking them out, even though we desperately wanted to rip them out. The frustrations I experienced with the roots, however, made it so much more satisfying when we finally cut them out. After finishing level 5, the roots were visible enough to cut out without disturbing the floor of our unit. Although I didn’t personally cut the roots out (shout out to Cooper, who did all the root work), it was so satisfying to see how clean our unit was without them. We had dealt with having roots in our unit throughout the entire field school and it was weird to see our unit looking so clean. I’m sure we will run into more roots eventually and we will know how to handle them but for the time being, I’m going to enjoy our clean, rootless unit.
Cement feature running along Unit B’s south wall.
Although we found many roots, we haven’t been finding many artifacts. After finding the layer of nails and metal artifacts that I discussed in my blog post last week, we’ve only come across a few nails, some bits of glass, and some mortar. It has been a little disappointing to screen bucket after bucket and find nothing, I won’t lie. However, we did find something very exciting… ANOTHER WALL! Maybe. When recording previous levels, we had noticed that the soil along our south wall was significantly lighter than the rest. While shovel skimming, Cooper noticed something solid and we used our trowels and brushes to uncover a wall that runs east to west along our south wall. However, this wall is a little different than the walls that Units A and D have come across. Their walls connect and were made with larger rocks. Our wall looks more like old concrete and is a little deeper than the other walls. Due to these differences, we think this may have been part of a sidewalk or walkway as opposed to a foundation wall. Since discovering this wall, we have gone down two more levels, 20 cm, and we still haven’t reached the bottom. It will be quite interesting to see how deep it goes and see if we find any other parts of the structure. Artifacts are always cool to find, but learning about the structure of a building on my own campus is a unique experience that I can only have during this field school. Finding these structures has also helped me to focus on the larger context of the site as opposed to simply just focusing on the artifacts in my unit. With only a little over a week left, I feel like we still have a lot more to learn about Station Terrace however, these past three weeks have been a great learning experience and have solidified my plans to continue archaeology in the future.
Another view of the cement feature along Unit B’s south wall.
After a week of digging around tree roots and finding nothing but nails, Cooper and I began to find some interesting things in Unit B. One of those things happened to be a lot more nails. Underneath a layer of clay, there was a layer of darker soil that consisted almost entirely of nails. This was interesting because although we had found many nails before this, we had never seen so many in one area. This only occurred within a small layer of dark soil and not many nails were found in the subsequent layers of soil. There were so many nails that it looked like a whole bag of nails was dropped. We aren’t quite sure yet why there was a layer of nails but perhaps, with further excavation we can gain more information.
Unit B South Wall.
Clip from Unit B.
Around that layer of nails, we also found a few metal artifacts that were interesting. We found a wheel and what appears to be a door stopper in our first level which was exciting since these were the first artifacts we found that weren’t nails. Although we didn’t find nearly as much in our second level, we did find a metal clip and what looks to be a coin or button. Both artifacts were quite corroded so it was hard to tell figure out exactly what they were. Hopefully after some time in the lab, we can gain more information on these artifacts.
Disc – possibly a button or small coin. Hopefully cleaning it up in the lab will tell us more!
I won’t lie, excavating our unit has been very frustrating at times. Our unit was at a weird angle and had countless tree roots, large and small, that made it very difficult to dig. It took us over a week just to finish our first level, but I’ve learned that’s archaeology. By having to deal with these difficulties, I’ve learned that archaeology isn’t easy because the dirt doesn’t care if you want to have a nice clean, square unit. We had to take our time, be patient, and always have root clippers handy. It was frustrating sometimes to see other units finishing levels but I think having to deal with these additional difficulties has made my experience more useful. Without encountering these difficulties early on, a young archaeologist may have an idealistic idea of archaeology and subsequently, unable to deal with challenges at a time when the stakes are higher. I’m glad that I can encounter some of these challenges during this learning experience because that will make me better prepared for the future. After finishing our first level, which took over a week, we finished our second level in just over a day. As we start our third level our unit looks completely different than it did a week ago because the large roots along our west wall that have characterized our unit have been removed. I was relieved at first because it will make everything much easier, but, in a way, I’ll miss the roots because I’ll miss the challenge. However, we still have a long way to go and undoubtedly many challenges to face. I can’t wait to see what other challenges lie ahead!
Desiree excavating in her unit.
The first week of the 2017 field school has quickly passed and, although my unit hasn’t found much of anything yet, I have learned so much. I’ve learned how to shovel skim, measure elevation,and dig guide holes. I’ve learned that archaeology takes patience from the many tree roots in our unit that have made things a little difficult. Most importantly, however, I’ve learned that I definitely want to be an archaeologist.
Coming into this field school I was a little scared that after getting hands on experience, I wouldn’t like archaeology. Although I’ve taken many archaeology classes, I wasn’t quite sure that I would like digging all day in the sun. Many past classes have strengthened my love for anthropology and have confirmed that I would like to be an anthropologist but this field school has been my first opportunity to apply those skills. After just one week, however, I know that this is definitely the field for me. Even though our unit has had some difficulties getting around tree roots and finding anything but nails, I am having so much fun. Of course I hope that I eventually find something cool, but despite that I’ve still had a lot of fun and learned a lot.