A Farewell to Trowels


Katie Scharra (right) and I working the CAP crew in 2013

I’ve been a member of Campus Archaeology Program since I started working on my Ph.D. in 2010. Next month, I graduate. The experience and knowledge I’ve gained as a member of CAP has been invaluable, and it has shaped my professional trajectory in many ways. In May, I will begin a full time position at the George Eastman Museum as the Manager of Online Engagement, and my experience blogging, tweeting and conducting outreach with CAP has prepared me well to do this job. So, as I ride off into a Spartan sunset, I decided it would be fitting, like Amy, to share the some of my favorite projects I’ve worked on. I’ve had an amazing career with CAP, first as a graduate fellow then as Campus Archaeologist, finally as Assistant Director of the field school.

Creating a Better GIS for CAP: One of the big projects I worked on throughout my time in CAP, has been helping to create the Geographic Information System (GIS) for our archaeological projects. GIS is a computer based system that allows us to keep track of spatial data, including the locations of current MSU buildings and features, historic buildings, and every single hole we’ve ever put into the ground for shovel testing and excavation. In fact, the first CAP project I was ever assigned was based around GIS. The goal of that project was to examine current research, and create a spatial model that would help us locate prehistoric sites on campus. As the Campus Archaeologist, I developed a GIS layer that could be used by the university’s Infrastructure, Facilities and Planning department to improve our workflow with them on construction projects. As a CAP fellow, I continued to aid in creating and maintaining different layers and files in the GIS, and taught others how to use this system. This last year, I standardized the system and wrote a best practices guide to ensure that the GIS continues to be an asset to the program, and will be maintained.

Excavating the Saints' Rest basement! That's me!

Excavating the Saints’ Rest basement! That’s me!

Campus Archaeologist: During my second and third years in the program, I was the Campus Archaeologist and led the day to day operations of the program. It was an exciting time to be leading the archaeology crew- the steam tunnels were being replaced across campus, allowing for major shovel testing and excavations in previously unexplored areas. I got to watch Morrill Hall be demolished, but also recover and document the boiler building that was used for the structure from 1902-1905. One of the most rewarding experience of my role as Campus Archaeologist was getting to work with a broad range of people from the university and in the community. I really enjoyed collaborating on construction projects with the various crews, teaching the public about the archaeological work we were doing, and training undergraduates in field and lab methods. Probably one of the coolest things I got to do, was excavate Saints’ Rest, the first dormitory. We were able to find the dividing wall between two parts of the basement, and the metal parts of the door that would have divided it. We also found the chimney to the building- it had simply fallen off the back and been buried. It was an incredible find!

2015 Field School: One of the most rewarding experiences I had during graduate school, was helping with CAP’s 2015 field school. This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to be the assistant director for the CAP field school, which excavated an area behind the Admin building, just south of the river. I love teaching and field work, so this was an amazing chance to combine this love and learn more about MSU’s past. We found hundreds of artifacts, interesting features, and were able to connect the deposit back to the Gunson household. The excavation provided us with a fascinating look into an era of campus occupation that we hadn’t previously found much material for, and told an interesting narrative about the changing nature of a single household as well as the broader landscape.

This means no more photos of my hands!

This means no more photos of my hand with artifacts! Maybe that’s a good thing…

Working with Historic Artifacts: I love the challenge of working with historic artifacts, particularly trying to use them to better understand MSU’s history. Because we have text and photographs in these periods, we can learn a lot about the artifacts and connect them to broader interesting stories. It is a fascinating challenge to connect histories of objects to the specific history of MSU. I’ve had the chance to learn about listerine bottles, makeup containers, various ceramic patterns, Frozen Charlotte dolls, changes in bottle glass over time, souvenir glass (one of my favorites), and even the development of the paper clip. Learning the history of each object makes our understanding of the past so much richer, and gives us insight into the daily lives of historic students. I am truly going to miss getting handed an artifact and having to identify it on the spot (promise to send me photos!).

There are things I’m really going to miss about CAP- getting to work on a wide range of field projects and excavating a historic landscape, getting the opportunity to identify cool new historic artifacts, connecting archives to archaeological work, working with a diverse range of colleagues to solve problems, and getting the opportunity to actively change and add to the history of my university. Not only did a learn a lot about MSU’s history (I can do a pretty awesome historic tour of campus), but it solidified within me a Spartan identity and a pride for my university. As I move into the next chapter of my career, I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had, the colleagues I’ve gotten to work with, and the constant guidance and encouragement of Dr. Goldstein. Go Green!


Katy Meyers Emery

MSU @ SAA2016


As we do every year, here is a look at the presentations that will be at the Society for American Archaeology’s Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida taking place this week. We have a number of presentations, sessions and forums involving members of the MSU Anthropology program. Check out all the presentations below, in alphabetical order of presenter. Session number for program reference is in brackets.

Dziedzic, Erica [71] (Co-Presenter with Adrianne Daggett)

  • Session: Assessing Outcomes in Public Archaeology: Imperatives, Perils and Frameworks
  • Presentation: Dig the Past: Evaluating a CampusBased Public Archaeology Program
  • Date: Thursday, April 7 at 2-4:45 pm

Goldstein, Lynne [30] (Co-Presenter with Vincas Steponaitis and William Lovis), [48], [116]

  • Session: NAGPRA Applied: Stories from the Field on its 25th Anniversary
  • Presentation: A Brief and True History of SAA’s Involvement with NAGPRA
  • Date: Thursday, April 7 at 9-11:45 am
  • Forum: The Future of American Archaeology: Engage the Voting Public or Kiss Your Research Goodbye!
  • Date: Thursday, April 7 at 1-3 pm
  • Session: Buried, Burned, Bundled and Broken: Approaches to Co-Occurrence of Multiple Methods, Treatments and Styles of Burials Within Past Societies
  • Presentation: Discussant
  • Date: Friday, April 8 at 8-10 am

Lovis, William [30] (Co-Presenter with Vincas Steponaitis and Lynne Goldstein)

  • Session: NAGPRA Applied: Stories from the Field on its 25th Anniversary
  • Presentation: A Brief and True History of SAA’s Involvement with NAGPRA
  • Date: Thursday, April 7 at 9-11:45 am

Meyers Emery, Kathryn [116]

  • Session: Buried, Burned, Bundled and Broken: Approaches to Co-Occurrence of Multiple Methods, Treatments and Styles of Burials Within Past Societies
  • Presentation: Preparing Their Deaths: Examining Variation in Cooccurrence of Cremation and Inhumation in Early Medieval England
  • Date: Friday, April 8 at 8-10 am

Michael, Amy [116] (Co-Presenter with Gabriel Wrobel)

  • Session: Buried, Burned, Bundled and Broken: Approaches to Co-Occurrence of Multiple Methods, Treatments and Styles of Burials Within Past Societies
  • Presentation: Discerning Patterns of Intentional and Unintentional Movement of Human Bones in Maya Caves
  • Date: Friday, April 8 at 8-10 am

Wrobel, Gabriel [116](Co-Presenter with Amy Michael), [158]

  • Session: Buried, Burned, Bundled and Broken: Approaches to Co-Occurrence of Multiple Methods, Treatments and Styles of Burials Within Past Societies
  • Presentation: Discerning Patterns of Intentional and Unintentional Movement of Human Bones in Maya Caves
  • Date: Friday, April 8 at 8-10 am
  • Forum: Presenting the Ancient Mayan in 3D
  • Date: Friday, April 8 at 1-3 pm

Gunson’s Glowing Glass: History and Archaeology of Uranium Glass

Over the summer, we found some yellow-green bumpy glass within the Gunson collection. It was a unique color that didn’t fit with the normal range of aqua, clear, green and brown glass, and appeared to be in a form that was nicer- like a vase or drinking glass. It also had an odd raised pattern that we hadn’t seen before.


Our vaseline glass in normal light

That’s when we pulled out the black light and discovered it glowed! We had found our first sample of Uranium Glass on campus.

Our vaseline glass under black light

Our vaseline glass under black light

Uranium glass, also known as vaseline glass due to its color, is glass that has uranium added to the mixture during the molten period when color is added. The amount of uranium can range from 2-20%, and can vary in color from yellow to yellow green or even avocado coloring. Due to the presence of uranium oxide in the glass, the glass will glow a bright green color when put under a black light- this is the best way to identify it. While uranium is radioactive, it isn’t actually bad to drink or enjoy food in the glassware that uses this. The amounts that leach out of the glass is so tiny, that it won’t have an effect on you.

Vaseline glass became popular during the mid-19th century, and was at its height of popularity from the 1880s to 1920s. Uranium oxide was first used as a coloring agent in the 1830s, and spread throughout Europe during the 1840s. It was produced by a variety of companies, who specialized in different tones of greens and yellows. Each company had unique names for their specific color of uranium glass, including citron, jasmine, golden green, mustard, Florentine and more. During the Depression, iron oxide was added to the glass to increase its green glow- although antique collecting purists argue that this shouldn’t be included in true uranium glass collections. The glass was formed into a variety of decorative and practical dinnerware pieces including cups, bowls, plates, vases, figurines, paperweights and more.

In 1943, production of vaseline glass was stopped due to the implementation of heavy regulations on the use of uranium. It wasn’t until 1958 that uranium was deregulated and the production of vaseline glass resumed, this time using depleted uranium instead of the natural radioactive version.

Vaseline hobnail glass bowl - our fragment is likely from the base. Image Source

Vaseline hobnail glass bowl – our fragment is likely from the base. Image Source

At the Gunson/Admin site, our uranium glass included a piece of golden green hobnail glass. Hobnail glass is a specific pattern of decoration where bumps of glass are added to the exterior or interior of the glass to produce a raised pattern. While these were most popular during the 1940s and 1950s, they came into production during the Victorian period. Our uranium glass is a unique piece of history, and is just plain cool. The glowing glass is something that today we may view as strange- who would ever want to drink out of a glass colored with a radioactive material- but in the past was a unique collectible. You can still find examples of uranium glass today in antique shops, but buyer beware. There are fake vaseline glass products that have the neon green coloring but do not glow under a black light. Unless it glows, it isn’t real uranium glass!


Antique Vaseline Glass. Collector’s Weekly. http://www.collectorsweekly.com/glassware/vaseline-glass

These People Love to Collect Radioactive Glass. Are They Nuts? Collector’s Weekly. http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/these-people-love-to-collect-radioactive-glass/

Uranium Glass. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium_glass

Frozen Charlotte: A Cautionary Tale Baked into a Cake

Today is a holiday that goes by many names: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. The day involves the practice of eating richer and fatty foods before Ash Wednesday when Lenten begins. It is celebrated in different ways depending on where you are. In England it is also known as Pancake Tuesday and, not surprisingly, involves eating rich pancakes. In New Orleans it is a colorful celebration with parades, dancing, eating and drinking. One of the more interesting traditions of this celebration is the King’s Cake– a cinnamon sugar dough twisted into a ring and decorated with icing and purple, green and yellow sugar. Most importantly, baked within the cake, it a small plastic or porcelain baby meant to symbolize the Jesus, and whomever gets the slice of cake with the Jesus becomes the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ for the day and gets a prize or special privileges. But this isn’t the only type of doll found in a cake…

Our Frozen Charlotte, about four inches tall

Our Frozen Charlotte, about four inches tall

This past summer, we excavated a privy to the southwest of Saints’ Rest, and found two dolls. One of those is a fairly intact bust of a larger doll, but the other is a small porcelain girl with few features. When we started looking into the history of this smaller doll, we learned that this was a very important figurine in the late 19th century, and has a slightly morbid story behind it.

Her name is Frozen Charlotte

The doll was first created in Germany in 1850 as a playmate for bath time, perfect since the doll does not have clothing in many instances. However, it quickly became associated with a dark Victorian poem by Seba Smith. In the poem, a young woman named Charlotte who takes a sleigh ride with her beau on New Years Eve. As she leaves her home, her mother warns her to bundle up against the cold weather.

“O, daughter dear,” her mother cried,
“This blanket ’round you fold;
It is a dreadful night tonight,
You’ll catch your death of cold.”

“O, nay! O, nay!” young Charlotte cried,
And she laughed like a gypsy queen;
“To ride in blankets muffled up,
I never would be seen.”

Charlotte doesn’t take her mother’s advice, and rides through the night without a blanket so that everyone can see her clothing and beauty. When Charles and Charlotte arrive to the party, he holds his hand out to her, but she isn’t responsive.

“He stripped the mantle off her brow,
And the pale stars on her shone,
And quickly into the lighted hall,
Her helpless form was born.
They tried all within their power,
Her life for to restore,
But Charlotte was a frozen corpse,
And is never to speak more.”

The poem and doll became a cautionary tale for children. The dolls sold for a penny, and were extremely popular in America. It may seem morbid, but for the time period this type of children’s story was actually quite common. Struwwelpeter was a popular book of children’s stories from this period that included children being burned alive after playing with matches, becoming sick after being naughty, and having their thumbs cut off if they sucked on them. Pretty gruesome.

What does this all have to do with King’s Cake and Fat Tuesday? Well, similar to the King’s Cake Baby, Frozen Charlottes were often baked into cakes or other desserts for children as a nice surprise during Christmastime! Perhaps our Frozen Charlotte was hidden within a cherry pie and accidentally discarded?


Happy Birthday! There’s a Corpse in your Cake. Nourishing Death. https://nourishingdeath.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/happy-birthday-theres-a-corpse-in-your-cake/

Frozen Charlotte. Dangerous Minds. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/frozen_charlotte_the_creepy_victorian-era_dolls_that_slept_in_coffins_and_w

Frozen Charlotte- Full Poem. Whimsical Flea Market. http://awhimsicalfleamarket.blogspot.com/p/frozen-charlotte-story_21.html


Red Souvenir Glass: A Beautiful Memory

Collecting souvenirs is not a modern phenomenon. Travelers have been collecting memorabilia of their adventures for centuries- bringing home with them evidence of the amazing sights and curiosities from far away places. They serve as an integral part of the travel experience for the tourist and for the native community. Souvenirs are evidence of where we have been, a tangible piece of our trip that we can bring home with us and share with others. They also provide those living in these areas with a source of income, or allow for protection and maintenance of heritage sites.

Example of Souvenir Glass from the World's Fair

Example of Souvenir Glass from the World’s Fair

One of the most popular types of souvenirs from the turn of the 20th century was a unique style of red glass simply called ‘Souvenir Glass’. The ability to personalize the souvenir was a fairly new phenomenon, and the cheap cost of the glass production made them extremely popular. Souvenir glass is a sub-type of Early American Pattern Glass. In the late 19th century, glass manufacturing greatly improved, making it easier and cheaper to make glass that had the look of more expensive crystal. Molten glass would be pressed into a mold that had a pattern in it, unlike cut glass or crystal where it needs to be hand shaped and cut by an expert.

Postcard from 1900s, sign reads "". via Bergie's Place Antiques

Postcard from 1900s, sign reads “Headquarters For Glass Engraving”. via Bergie’s Place Antiques

By the 1880s, manufacturers figured out how to add color to the pressed glass, allowing for a ruby red color to be placed in the goblet portion of it. This color was achieved by painting copper sulfate or other chemicals onto the glass, then firing it in a kiln at a high temperature, causing a chemical reaction and staining the glass. Since the coloring was painted on, it could be scratched off to engrave the glasses. The detail and precision of the engraving depended on the individual doing it- some appear to be hand-drawn while others were carefully etched with a lathe. During the early 1900s, it was popular for tourists to pick up these engraved ruby red glasses as memorabilia of their trip. The glasses would have the location, date, and could be pre-engraved with sentiments like ‘Mother’ or ‘Father’, or they could be personalized with the individual’s name. Postcards from the 1900s show images of tourists stopping at the “Headquarters For Glass Engraving” to get their ruby red classes engraved.

Souvenir Glass from Gunson Unit B

Souvenir Glass from Gunson Unit B

During the 2015 Campus Archaeology field school, we found a shard of ruby red glass with some engraving on it. Upon closer inspection, it was determined that this was souvenir glass, and was possibly engraved with a name. We know from our archival research, that the area excavated during the field school likely has the reconstruction remains of the Gunson household. Professor Gunson’s second wife, Lutie, may have been the owner of this souvenir glass. It is even possible that she collected it in Michigan. During the early 19th century, souvenir glass was a popular collectible purchases on Mackinac Island, and they have many examples of this type of memorabilia in their current museum. This is a very unique and interesting artifact- just from this one little shard, we can learn so much about who these people were. A souvenir is a keepsake of an important memory, so what might this glass have been a memory of? Perhaps it is from a family outing or a romantic trip?


Bergie’s Place: Early American Pattern Glass.  http://www.bergiesplace.com/Patterns/patterns_001.htm

Frank Kriesche’s Ruby Red Souvenir Glass. Mackinac Park Website. http://www.mackinacparks.com/frank-kriesches-ruby-souvenir-glasses/

More Than Just Nightsoil: Preliminary Findings from MSU’s First Privy (MAC Poster Presentation)

At the Midwest Archaeological Conference, Lisa, Amy and myself got the opportunity to present some of our preliminary findings from the privy that we uncovered during Summer 2015. Here, I’m going to share some of the findings from our poster, and the poster itself for those who are interested!

In June, 2015 during routine construction monitoring, the Campus Archaeology Program survey crew noticed a disturbed area of bricks and dark soil. The salvage excavation determined that it was a brick privy. This is the only privy we have unearthed on campus, and date ranges from diagnostic artifacts (1850’s-60’s) indicate that this privy was used during the earliest years of the university.

The Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was opened to students in 1855, and consisted of two primary buildings: College Hall, the main classroom and library space, and Saints’ Rest, a dormitory. Rapid development and the poor construction of the buildings led to new structures being built, old structures lost to fire, and expansion of the campus across the landscape. Despite finding many of these early buildings, the Campus Archaeology program hadn’t discovered evidence of any privies or earth-closets.

Privies at MSU

Privies were variably constructed from brick, wood, or stone as small, sturdy receptacles for human waste before the invention of the flush toilet. Due to their necessity and use by individuals from all social tiers, privies are located across all manner of sites.

Often, items were discarded into privies due to either intentional disposal or accidental loss. The assemblages in privies often reflect a mixture of artifacts that hint at daily activities and lifeway practices, but these spaces were not used as everyday trash pits. Through disposal of artifacts into the dark hole of the privy, peoples of the past were unintentionally creating a unique cultural assemblage. Archaeological excavations of privies have ranged from Australian convict hospital grounds that revealed medical treatments performed on prisoners (Starr 2001), to archaeo-entomological investigations of insect species to understand displacement of native fauna (Bain 1998), to tracing the use of nightsoil practices in early major American cities (Roberts and Barrett 1984). Even early anatomical techniques can be reconstructed through privy excavation; a report of a privy on the property of a 19th century doctor contained human bones with evidence of postmortem surgical incisions (Mann et al. 1991). Beyond material culture, privies also contain botanical remains that can inform of historical subsistence behavior.

Discovery and Excavation

Bottom of Level 1, West Circle Privy

Bottom of Level 1, West Circle Privy

The privy was discovered on June 2nd, 2015 during routine monitoring of construction. The location of the privy is approximately 10 meters southwest of the first dormitory, and had been protected over the last century by the roadways that covered it. The majority of the artifacts and the nightsoil were concentrated in the northeast quadrant.

The structure consists of a brick wall creating a sunken area about 2 meters by 2 meters, and 0.25 meters deep. On the western edge, there are two angled chutes leading into the sunken area and a central brick pier or pedastal. We conclude that the building had two stalls, allowing multiple people to use the privy at the same time, and two chutes to allow for dumping and removal of nightsoil. The shallow depth and chutes tell us that this was an earth-closet, rather than a privy.

Artifacts from the Nightsoil

Part of the large porcelain doll

Part of the large porcelain doll

Dozens of artifacts were recovered from the nightsoil in the privy. Many of these have been found in other areas on campus: buttons, medicine bottles, inkwells, combs, floral and faunal remains, and more. It also revealed a number of unique artifacts and assemblages that add to our understanding of what it was like to be a member of the 19th century Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. These unique pieces include an entire set of dishware, violin-shaped cologne bottle, and two dolls, one complete figurine type and another consisting of the bust. Here are some of the amazing finds from the privy.

The lack of privies on MSU’s historic campus has always been a mystery, and this first find represents a major boon to our research. Over the next year, we will be looking more closely into MSU’s Archives and Historical Records in order to learn more about privies at MSU, analyzing the artifacts, and determining a more exact date range for the building. This building, despite its mundane function, provides us a unique glimpse into life on MSU’s 19th century campus.

Interested in the complete poster? Download it here! 

Works Cited

Bain A. 1998. A seventeenth-century beetle fauna from colonial Boston. Historical Archaeology 32:38-48.

Mann RW, Owsley DW, Shackel PA. 1991. A reconstruction of 19th century surgical techniques: bones in Dr. Thompson’s privy. Historical Archaeology 25:106-112.

Roberts DG, Barrett D. 1984. Nightsoil disposal practices of the 19th century and the origin of artifacts in plowzone proveniences. Historical Archaeology 18:108-115.

Starr F. 2001. Convict artefacts from the Civil Hospital on Norfolk Island. Australasian Historical Archaeology 19:39-47.

Maintaining GIS Continuity on an Ever-Changing Campus

For the Midwest Archaeology Conference (November 5-7, 2015) this year, I’m going to be co-authoring an oral presentation on how we maintain continuity in the MSU Campus Archaeology Program when we have a consistently shifting group of graduate and undergraduates working for it. This is my sixth (that’s right, sixth) year working with CAP as a graduate student, so I have a unique perspective on how the program has maintained its goals, expanded its reach and developed over the last half decade. The presentation will discuss the roll that students, particularly the Campus Archaeologist, plays in running the program effectively, and the ways in which we promote continuity through selecting students with a strong commitment to CAP, ensuring overlap between campus archaeologists, and maintaining a strong record of prior work through field notes and digital media.We maintain continuous institutional memory, and promote a strong sense of collaboration and teamwork among both the current students and alumnus of the program.

When I arrived here back in 2010 as a first year graduate student, my first project was using a geographic information system (GIS) analysis to determine the most likely locations for prehistoric sites on campus. At this point, we had not found good evidence for prehistoric occupation of the campus, it wasn’t until summer 2011 that we found our first site and solid evidence. The model used a number of variables to determine where prehistoric sites may be found- settlements and human activity were most likely to occur within 300 meters of water, within a slope less than 5% steepness, near edible vegetation, and we were more likely to find material in areas that weren’t disturbed by prior construction. Overall, the project was not very successful, but it did get me started working on the CAP GIS database, and since then I’ve developed a more robust GIS database for the program, taught an undergrad to do GIS analysis and data input for CAP, and have helped to maintain the database as we add new layers and shapefiles when new excavations and surveys occur.

The CAP GIS database is one of the important tools in creating continuity and maintaining the program despite changes in students involved. Our CAP GIS database was first created by Chris Stawski, and since then Josh Schnell and myself have been active in maintaining it. Having an up to date and accurate spatial database is critical for archaeological work. It demonstrates where we have and have not excavated, what areas need further attention, areas that might be good for future field schools, and allows us to analyze the materials we uncover broadly in space. As each new Campus Archaeologist begins their work- the GIS database provides an important source of information for learning about the archaeological landscape of MSU. Further, this spatial information is important when communicating with broader MSU departments like Infrastructure, Planning and Facilities, and Landscaping. By showing them areas of high sensitivity, we ensure that they help to protect our heritage.

This year is my last year as a graduate student, which means it is my last year in the Campus Archaeology program. Part of my goal this year, is to make sure that my six years of work with the CAP GIS gets recorded accurately so that the next person in charge of the GIS database will know how it is organized, the coding for our files, where new files get placed in the database, how they all relate to one another, and so on. Part of ensuring that CAP has continuity means planning for when you are no longer part of the program and making sure that the next person will be able to access, use and expand your work without issue. This morning, I took time to audit our GIS database, make sure all the files were in their correct places, find bugs and issues, and I am now in the process of writing down everything that went into creating this. My goal is not to create a final product- my goal is to leave behind a spatial database that will be used and expanded in the future.

Refining a Cultural Heritage Plan for MSU

Understanding the cultural heritage of an institution is important- it not only helps us define who we are, but where we came from and how we can protect our history for future generations. During summer 2014, Dr. Lynne Goldstein taught a course on Methods in Cultural Heritage to a group of senior undergraduate and graduate students. As part of the course, we developed an outline for a cultural heritage plan for MSU. Over the last year, this plan has developed slowly into a more robust document, and over the next couple weeks, it is my goal to complete the plan and have it ready for submission to the university.

BeaumontCultural heritage is the legacy of a group, community or society that is inherited from previous generations, maintained by the current generation, and is endowed to the future generations. It includes tangible, intangible and natural forms of culture. At MSU, our tangible cultural heritage includes monuments, buildings, art and artifacts, such as Beaumont Tower, the Broad Art Museum, ‘The Rock’, and the work we do as part of Campus Archaeology- the artifacts and historic buildings we find hidden beneath our feet. Intangible cultural heritage includes folklore, songs, knowledge and traditions, such as the persistence of the saying “Go Green, Go White”, wearing green, passing down the fight song to new students, and the tradition of painting the rock. Finally, we also have a strong natural heritage, which consists of all the landscapes and biodiversity on campus like the Red Cedar River, historic sacred space, Beal Gardens, our diverse range of squirrels and the wooded lots on campus.

A cultural heritage plan is a living document that identifies, protects and manages all types of tangible, intangible and natural heritage within a given group or community. MSU already has a number of plans that set the course of how the university plans to develop over the upcoming years,  including President Simon’s Bolder by Design and Infrastructure, Planning and Facilities’ 2020 Vision Plan. While both these plans note the importance of stewardship and continuing a historically based Spartan legacy, our cultural heritage plan makes these aspects more explicit and builds upon the other plans. If we want future generations of Spartans to understand the true legacy of their identity, we need to explicitly determine how we will protect and promote that heritage.

Currently, I’m at the stage of writing the document where I’m trying to come up with tangible activities and assessment for engaging current stakeholders in their heritage. The plan is not just a record of what is important- it is a guide for how to make this heritage known and accessible. We are coming up with a range of ways for engaging with students, faculty, staff, alumni and the broader East Lansing community so that it isn’t just us worrying about cultural heritage- it is also all of the stakeholders who are invested in it. Within the next couple weeks, we will have a draft of the plan available and more ideas of how to put it into action!

Rethinking the ‘Sacred Space’

1880's Map of MSU, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

1880’s Map of MSU, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

Michigan State University’s campus began as a small grouping of buildings in an oak opening, and since the 1870s, when the College President decreed that no further construction was allowed within this central wooded area, it has been known as the “sacred space”. The Campus Archaeology Program has worked diligently since 2005 to investigate and protect the archaeological integrity of this historic portion of campus, and much of our work has been located within this ‘sacred space’. It is perceived as one of the last historic and authentic feature of MSU’s campus, which has led to the it being discussed as a static, preserved landscape- a perception that we too as the archaeologists on campus have perpetuated to some extent. However, despite being ‘sacred’, construction, destruction and reconstruction of the space has continued at a steady pace throughout the over 150 years of campus life.

For the “Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Values” conference held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, I’m going to be discussing this paradox: why do we talk about this central area of campus like it is a preserved and protected landscape, when construction crews, landscaping and even ourselves have altered it and actively dig it up?

Our excavations have revealed a number of interesting facts about the ‘sacred space’ and its preservation.

  1. Sacredness has protected some archaeological features from destruction, and prevented major building work: Not only is this the historic area of campus (so we find the majority of historic artifacts here), the concept of the space as an area with protection from construction is highly beneficial for the protection of artifacts and features. We have been able to recover large amounts of artifacts that could have been otherwise destroyed by construction. Further, the preservation of the historic landscape allows us to better interpret artifacts in situ and understand their relationship to the historic context.
  1. Utilities run throughout the space and even through archaeological features: Despite the theoretical restriction on construction and ‘sacredness’ of the space, there has been destructive alterations to the landscape throughout the years to deal with campus development and changes in technology. Steam tunnels, utility lines to supply water, gas and electric throughout the campus, and the replacement of the lampposts with electric versions has all led to changes underground. Sadly, some of these efforts have highly disturbed archaeological features. College Hall’s foundation walls were damaged by utility lines, and had they not gone through this area, we may have found more evidence from this building.
  1. Discover of original roads and sidewalks shows that the pathways we take have changed dramatically with shifts in transportation: The roads and sidewalks of campus have shifted in location, type and size over the years, especially since the invention and popularization of cars. The major campus road used to circle on the interior of the sacred space, and was expanded and moved to the outside during the late 19th century. The sidewalks were originally dirt or cinder, and were constructed in informal patterns to simulate a park. Today’s sidewalks are concrete or a glass-concrete hybrid, and while they are still more informal, they are not as winding as they once were. Sidewalks are consistently altered within this space to try to fit student walking patterns to promote walking and biking on sidewalks, rather than creating more informal pathways of dirt between the walks- a losing battle.
  1. Brick, building material and new soil are scattered across the sacred space, suggesting they were used to raise up sections of land across campus, changing the rolling hills and the overall grading of the sacred space: In various spaces across North campus, we’ve found evidence of clean soil, piles of bricks and building material, and sand deposits that suggest that the actual grading of the landscape has been altered. The slopes of the sacred space today are nowhere near those of the earliest stage of campus occupation, where hills were undulating. It is now a small rolling of a single hill. The landscape has been altered dramatically over time.
  1. We disturb the ‘sacred space’: It isn’t just landscaping, facilities and planning or the administration that has changed this sacred space. In the act of learning more about the space to better interpret and protect it, we actively are disturbing this landscape and altering it. As always, we try to stick to areas that are already going to be disturbed for one reason or another, but our work is destructive- in learning more about the past, we disturb the context.

1945 Photo of Sparty, via MSU Archives

Even though the landscape isn’t sacred in the sense that it is static, it is sacred in the fact that the vital characteristics and identity of the space remains coherent and supportive of our university and community identity. But it isn’t just that- the space is a reminder of a lost landscape. We don’t have the first campus buildings, we don’t have the small college in the oak opening. What we have is a space that harkens back to those early designs and hopes of the people who wanted to create a university dedicated to agricultural research. We have natural space in the middle of a thriving, busy and massive campus. The sacred space is a refuge for students, faculty and community members- it is a space of tranquility, a space to restore one’s emotional and physical health by taking a break from the pace of life. It has always been a part of our Spartan identity, and it always will be. Yes, the space has changed- but so have we, so has our university, so has the community.

For us, the space is hallowed ground, a cemetery for the buildings of the original agricultural college of the state of Michigan, and the natural landscape is the piece that remains. As archaeologists, it is our duty to continue to promote this sacredness, not as a static piece of history, but as sacred because it is a vital piece of our Spartan identity, sacred as the site of the original campus, sacred as a shelter from the modern world.

MSU at the Society for American Archaeology 2015

In a couple weeks, from April 15 to April 18, the Society for American Archaeology Annual Conference will be occurring in San Francisco, CA. There is going to be great representation of members of Campus Archaeology and the MSU Anthropology Department.

Daggett, Adrianne


  • Room: Continental Parlor 3
  • Date and Time:Thursday, April 16, 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM
  • Role: Chair

Frederick, Kathryn


  • Room: Golden Gate 4
  • Date and Time: Thursday, April 16, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
  • Role: Presenter (7:oo PM)- Holes: The Beginners Guide to Food Caching (received Honorable Mention for the SAA Student Paper Award)

Goldstein, Lynne


  • Room: Continental Parlor 2
  • Date and Time: Thursday, April 16, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
  • Role: Moderator and Discussant


  • Room: Union Square 13
  • Date and Time: Friday, April 17, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
  • Role: Presenter (2:30 PM)- Digital Public Archaeology Reconsidered: Lessons from Michigan State University’s Campus Archaeology Program


  • Room: Continental Ballroom Parlor 8
  • Date and Time: Saturday, April 18, 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM
  • Role: Discussant

Kooiman, Susan


  • Room: Yosemite A
  • Date and Time: Saturday, April 18, 8:00 AM – 10:30 AM
  • Role: Presenter (9:00 AM)- Pottery Function, Cooking, and Subsistence in the Upper Great Lakes: A View from the Middle Woodland Winter Site in Northern Michigan

Meyers Emery, Katy


  • Room: Union Square 25
  • Date and Time: Thursday, April 16, 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
  • Role: Discussant

Schnell, Joshua


  • Room: Grand Ballroom A
  • Date and Time:Friday, April 17, 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM
  • Role: Presenter- Three-Dimensional Osteometry: A Comparative Study of 3D Model Generation Techniques for Cranial Osteometry

Watrall, Ethan


  • Room: Golden Gate 3
  • Date and Time: Friday, April 17, 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
  • Role: Discussant


  • Room: Union Square 13
  • Date and Time: Friday, April 17, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
  • Role: Chair and Presenter (1:30 PM)- MBRIA: A Platform to Build, Serve, and Manage Mobile Public Heritage Experiences

Poster Session Featuring Jodie O’Gorman, Frank Raslich, Nicole Raslich, Nicole Silva, Andrew Upton and Jessica Yann


  • Room: Grand Ballroom A
  • Date and Time:Saturday, April 18, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
  • Poster Presentations

365-a Jodie OGorman, Michael Conner and Nicole Silva—Negotiating Migration and Violence in the Pre-Columbian Mid-Continent: A View from the Village

365-b Timothy Horsley, Michael Conner and Jodie O’Gorman— Understanding Settlement Organization through Geophysical Survey at the Morton Village Site, IL

365-c Andrew Upton, Jodie O’Gorman, Michael Conner and Terrance Martin—The Role of Public Space in Identity Making at Morton Village (11F2) 304 Program of the 80th Annual Meeting Saturday Afternoon, April 18

365-d Jessica Yann, Jeff Painter and Michael Conner—The Spatial Distribution of Domestic Facilities in the Multiethnic Morton Village Site

365-e Michael Conner, Jodie O’Gorman and Nicole Silva—Introduction to the DMM-MSU Morton Village Project 365-f Ryan Maureen Tubbs, Jodie A. O’Gorman, Jeffrey M. Painter and Terrance J. Martin—Negotiating Identity through Food Choice in the Pre-Columbian Mid-Continent

365-g Frank Raslich, Jodie O’Gorman and Michael Conner—Coming Together: Evidence of Ritual and Public Space as a Mechanism of Social Integration

365-h Jennifer Bengtson, Jeffrey Painter, Frank Raslich, Nikki Silva and Andrew Upton—Migration and Cohabitation at Morton Village: Future Research Directions