With COVID-19 still dictating much of our day-to-day lives, Campus Archaeology made the early call to put all of our outreach events for the foreseeable future online or in some digital format. One of our most popular and fun events we put on is the …
Author: Jack Biggs
One of the most important infrastructural aspects of buildings today is how to get water to and from the building. Plumbing, of sorts, has been archaeologically visible and investigated at sites throughout the world. The earliest evidence of plumbing dates back to the civilizations of …
As I have discussed in previous posts, my project for this year in CAP is to make 3D models of different artifacts found around campus that we have here in our collections. You may have also seen many of these on our Instagram and Twitter accounts though our ‘Artifacts of the Week’ initiative we started this year. These efforts have been done to both digitally preserve the artifacts we have, as well as make them more publicly accessible.
Another new medium that I have briefly touched upon is 3D printing. CAP is lucky enough to have access to the brand new Digital Heritage Imaging and Innovation Lab (DHI Lab). This space allows students and scholars to digitize, document, preserve, and provide access to tangible heritage and material culture. Part of the LEADR (Lab for Education and Advancement in Digital Research) constellation of facilities, the DHI Lab is administered by the Department of Anthropology. It contains amazing artifact imaging resources, powerful computers to process 3D models, and a new 3D printer. These resources have become invaluable as CAP continues its push to reach a wider audience and share some of the great things we have found here on campus that allow us to reconstruct past student and faculty lives.
While digital 3D models allow us to share our findings with a larger audience, 3D printing those digital models gives a much more tangible and tactile representation of the artifact. When CAP conducts outreach and sets up booths and activities at community events, we want people to experience the artifacts that we find on campus, yet at the same time we are hesitant to have them handled too much as many of the artifacts are very old and fragile. Printing out the artifacts thus gives people an accurate representation of what we found while still preserving the artifact itself. Additionally, since the prints are made out of plastic, they can be handled and dropped without fear of breaking them. Plus, 3D prints are just cool.
As a test for this new idea, I decided to make a 3D print of an artifact where we already had the 3D model – the ceramic pitcher found during the 2005 Saints’ Rest excavations. The type of files required to make the 3D model are also compatible with the 3D printing software (I export my files as .obj – aka Wavefront object). With the Ultimaker 3D printer in the DHI Lab, I was able to upload the 3D model into the appropriate software (called Cura), adjust the settings, and begin the print. Making these prints is no quick task. Even lower quality prints can still take many hours.
Luckily, I had all the settings correct and the 3D print came out great! As I build more and more 3D models over the coming semester, I will also try to print them out with the 3D printer so that people can not only see, but touch and pick up representations of what we find on MSU’s campus. At CAP’s core are two tenets: 1) unearth and reconstruct the lives of those throughout MSU’s history, and 2) communicate our findings with the public. Having these visual aides allows us to better fulfill that second tenet and engage with the public in a more tactile manner. We will also definitely be bringing all of our prints to any outreach events that we host or participate in.
Archaeology has routinely been a field that readily utilizes and adapts new technologies and methods to further our pursuit of knowledge of the past. In the case of 3D printing, this new method is best used when we have the public in mind so that people have a more memorable experience when they come and see us. Keep on the lookout for more models and 3D prints that will be coming out in the coming months and be sure to check out the following links to some of our other pages and accounts that will document our latest initiative: The Archaeology of MSU in 20 Artifacts.
3D models hosted on our Sketchfab account: https://sketchfab.com/capmsu
3D model of the ceramic pitcher: https://sketchfab.com/models/0e4c1aaba78242c4bcd2b2a240d91a35
The Saints’ Rest excavations conducted by the Campus Archaeology Program have been well-documented and researched not only because this was the inaugural project for CAP, but also that it is one of the earliest buildings on campus, giving us a rare glimpse into how students …
The Saints’ Rest Dormitory has a foundational history with Michigan State University, acting as the first dormitory for the fledgling college, and with the Campus Archaeology Program itself, being the first large-scale excavation and archaeological fieldschool on campus. Built in 1856, Saints’ Rest was the second building erected on campus for the new school and was known as “the House”, “the hall”, or “old hall” . The building acted as the primary dormitory on campus until 1870 when Williams Hall was built. Unfortunately, Saints’ Rest burned down in the winter of 1876.
The site was originally excavated in 2005 as part of the Sesquicentennial Celebration and has been revisited for excavations in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2012. Throughout these digs, CAP has uncovered numerous artifacts relating to early campus life including items of personal hygiene, such as the lice comb that Lisa described in one of her earlier blog posts. Another item relating to hygiene found at Saints’ Rest was a fragmented, but reconstructed, chamber pot lid (Figure 1).
Measuring about 12in in diameter, the ceramic chamber pot lid has some kind of floral motif on the exterior surface; however, it is unclear as to what it exactly depicts (if you have any suggestions or recognize the pattern let us know – it’s previously been described as a thistle and leaf pattern). The dark blue color of most of the fragments is a result of burning during the fire.
Evidence for the use of chamber pots stems all the way back to ancient Greece, dating to the 6th century BCE [2, 3]. The use of chamber pots became more common, and more necessary, as areas of the world became increasingly urbanized. With settlements becoming larger and more organized and planned, sanitation became a major concern for many densely populated areas . Although extensive plumbing systems were installed in ancient Rome, indoor plumbing did not become readily available for small-scale buildings and for residents until the 19th century with chamber pots being used even into the 20th century .
The presence of this chamber pot lid in an early campus archaeological context highlights some of the realities of life on campus. These first students did not have the (then) luxury (but now commonality) of using a restroom inside the dorm that is separated from other rooms or is regularly sanitized; their only options were to use the privy just south of the building or to use a chamber pot inside their room. Chamber pots were often stored under the bed or in cabinets, and then emptied into designated dumping areas . Even with a lid covering the pot (and its contents), exposure to pathogens and diseases that travel through fecal matter was exponentially higher than it is today. Of course chamber pots were not the only reason that diseases relating to poor sanitation jumped easily from person to person, but the use of these vessels didn’t truly help to eradicate the problem. In 1886, there was an outbreak of typhoid fever (which is directly linked to fecal contaminants) on campus which resulted in one student death. It wasn’t until the 1890s that the college had modern plumbing installed after epidemics of diphtheria and measles, and after numerous student and parent complaints . These outbreaks even resulted in the college creating a 7-room hospital building to quarantine infected people as soon as possible.
Although we recognize that our lives as MSU students today are different from those of 150 years ago, sometimes we don’t realize by just how much. The presence of the chamber pot lid at Saints’ Rest highlights one of these aspects that may have contributed to serious health crises that broke out on campus. Books and movies have a tendency to romanticize the past as formal and proper, but studying this chamber pot lid, while fascinating, has only reinforced my gratitude for modern amenities and hygienic practices, e.g. indoor plumbing.
 Kuhn, Madison. Michigan State: the first hundred years, 1855-1955. Michigan State University Press, 1955.
 Kravetz, Robert E. Chamber Pot. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2006, 101: pp. 1414-1415.
 D’Agostino, Mary Ellin. Privy Business: Chamber Pots and Sexpots in Colonial Life. Archaeology, 2000, 53(4): pp. 32-37.
 van der Linden, Huub. Medals and Chamber Pots for Faustina Bordoni: celebrity and Material Culture in Early Eighteenth-Century Italy. Journal for eighteenth-century studies. 40(1): 23-47.
 Cunningham, Zac. “Of Chamber Pots and Close Stool Chairs”. Web blog post. Lives and Legacies Blog. 15 July, 2015.
One of the best parts about doing research on artifacts we find during CAP excavations is coming across incredible stories or histories that stem from what some people would consider mundane and ordinary objects. Such is the case with a seemingly ordinary piece of a …
As technology constantly changes, so too does the constructed landscape to accommodate those changes. One major notable change that has occurred in recent memory is the mass-production and availability of cell phones in the 1990s and 2000s. Cell phones allow people to talk to anyone …
As archaeologists, some of our most common findings are in fact trash, the things people not longer want or need which are then thrown away. As a result, dump sites, or middens, are some of the best contexts from which to reconstruct the lives of past people. The Brody/Emmons Site (location of the old East Lansing Dump) has given us here at CAP a large swath of different kinds artifacts which has allowed us to catch a glimpse of the lives of those on campus or from East Lansing during the first half of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, a large number of alcohol bottles were found. Throughout this academic year, I have written two previous blogs over some of these bottles (liquor on campus and one over a gin bottle) as has Jeff Painter. Each of these bottles present a unique history or has an interesting story that may otherwise not be told.
The liquor bottle for this post is a clear, one pint whiskey bottle with “THE A-M-S CO” embossed on one side near the base. The “AMS” stands for American Medicinal Spirits, a distilling company that was started by the Wathen brothers, Otho and Richard Eugene. The brothers came from a long line of distillers in Kentucky, dating back to some of the early settlers in the area (Odell 2004). AMS was not their first distilling company, but it might be one of their most interesting. The company was started around 1920, during Prohibition. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Prohibition (known as the18th Amendment or the Volstead Act) did not ban the consumption of alcohol, but the production, transport, and sale of it. If it was technically illegal to distill whiskey during the Prohibition years of 1920-1933, how were the Wathen brothers even able to start a distillery during the first few years after the 18th Amendment was passed? They found a loophole.
As the name “American Medicinal Spirits Company” implies, alcohol produced by AMS Co. was intended for medical purposes. At the time of Prohibition, many doctors believed that alcohol could be beneficial to one’s health if taken in appropriate doses. Maladies that alcohol was supposed to have help with included tuberculosis, high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, pneumonia, cancer, anemia, and many others (Nespor 2010; Appel 2008). While Prohibition had mostly religious underpinnings, many doctors saw the enactment of the Volstead Act (and subsequent additions further restricting medicinal alcohol) as government overreach and its interference in their medical practices (Appel 2008). As a result, prescription pads for medicinal alcohol were issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and liquor could only be prescribed under certain circumstances and in federally regulated amounts (Nespor 2010). In addition to paying for the alcohol itself (which cost around $3 or $4), patients would have to pay an additional prescription fee of $3, making it costly to legally obtain liquor which was in regulated quantities (Gambino 2013). Individuals who did legally obtain liquor could receive one pint every ten days and were required to glue their prescription slip on to the back of the bottle. However, most bottles from this period with still intact labels do not have the prescription on the back either from people not caring or that many pints were sold illegally (Appel 2008).
As most of the distilleries in the country shut down from Prohibition, AMS opened up and filled a need in the small and legal liquor market. However the presence of the embossment that reads “Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re-Use Of This Bottle” means this specific bottles was produced between 1935-1964 (glassbottlemarks.com), post dating the repeal of prohibition. In 1929, before the repeal of the Volstead Act, the Wathen brothers sold AMS Co. to National Distillers. Some records indicate that Otho became Vice President of National Distillers but then mostly left the business around the repeal while Richard appears to have continued in the liquor industry. Nevertheless, AMS Co. was one of the few companies at the ready for when Prohibition ended in 1933 and was incredibly successful in the following years. Numerous brands of liquor operated under the name of American Medicinal Spirits Co., with Old Crow Kentucky Straight Bourbon being one of the longest lasting (although Old Crow is now produced by Beam Suntory which also produced Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark). Patent records indicate that the name “American Medicinal Spirits” has not been renewed since the mid-1970s. National Distillers was sold to Beam Suntory in 1987, meaning that AMS has mostly dissolved, although products of its legacy are still consumed today.
The discovery of this bottle in the Brody Dump tells an interesting story of a company that legally skirted prohibition regulations of alcohol sales. Since the East Lansing dump under the Brody complex closed in the late 1930s, this bottle could only have been produced and consumed within a tight window of time. Was this particular brand purchased because it was familiar from the prohibition years? Was the owner previously prescribed whiskey? Unfortunately these are questions we will never know the answer to. However, it is through discoveries like these that we can add more pieces to the puzzle of what life was like in this area during the first half of the 20th century and how students may have coped with maladies (or thirst…) during Prohibition.
Appel, Jacob M, 2008. “Physicians are Not Bootleggers”: The Short, Peculiar Life of the Medicinal Alcohol Movement. Bulletin of the history of medicine 82.2: 355-86.
Gambino, Megan, 2013. During Prohibition, Your Doctor Could Write You a Prescription for Booze: Take two shots of whiskey and call me in the morning. Retrieved from: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/during-prohibition-your-doctor-could-write-you-prescription-booze-180947940/#
Nespor, Cassie, 2007. Medicinal Alcohol and Prohibition. Blog of the Melnick Medical History Museum, posted April 7, 2010. (https://melnickmedicalmuseum.com/2010/04/07/medicinal-alcohol-and-prohibition/)
Odell, Digger, 2004. American Medicinal Spirits Company
Like Mari Isa, for this blog post, I will be talking about the outreach event that CAP ran for Holmes Middle School in Livonia, MI on Friday, January 19th. However, I will be discussing it from a different point of view. In Mari’s blog, she …