The Ritual Landscape of Michigan State University

Last week I attended the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting, held this year in Washington D.C. This was a particularly pertinent meeting for Campus Archaeology because a symposium was held in honor of Dr. Lynne Goldstein. As she nears retirement and the end of her tenure as professor and CAP Director, it was evident from the symposium that her influence on the field of archaeology is far from over. The impact of her mentorship to students and the collaboration with colleagues was felt throughout every paper.

One theme that prevailed throughout the symposium was landscape and the ritual use of space. Dr. Goldstein has written extensively about mortuary patterns (how, where, and why people bury their dead) and regional analysis to evaluate patterns of settlement and ritual land use. Papers from MSU’s own Dr. William Lovis and Dr. Jodie O’Gorman, in addition to former Campus Archaeology fellow Dr. Amy Michael, all paid tribute to Dr. Goldstein’s legacy by considering their own research from this spatial perspective.

This got me thinking: what is the ritual landscape of Michigan State University, both past and present? And how might we see this archaeologically?

Dr. O’Gorman discussed how migrating populations may maintain certain rituals from their place of origin, while also engaging in new rituals in order to integrate both into the social and natural environment of their new homes. This is reflected in the environment of a college campus. Students come to MSU from across Michigan, the US, and abroad bringing their own rituals and personal items with them. However, once students arrive on campus, they form and engage in a united identity: that of an MSU student. This identity can then be enacted through rituals that are often closely tied to specific locations across the campus landscape.

Football Revelry ca. 1910

Football Revelry ca. 1910. Image Source

MSU tail gaiting today. Image source.

MSU tail gaiting today. Image source.

Sports comprise an important part aspect of MSU identity. Football games and tailgating are important rituals at MSU. While football itself might not leave behind the much in the way of archaeological remains (besides a giant stadium), tailgating certainly might. Archaeologists often find refuse pits with large amounts of food refuse and broken pottery, the remnants of ancient feasting events, or large meals accompanying special occasions or ceremonies. Many ancient societies held community-wide events that left significant archaeological signatures, such a large amounts of broken pottery and food refuse. Today, the area around the tennis courts on the MSU campus are the hub of student tailgating, a form of feasting, and will likely someday be a treasure trove of interesting finds (at least those items missed by MSU’s otherwise stellar clean-up crews). If tailgating or other sport-related revelries were historically held elsewhere on campus, we may find evidences of these activities during our campus surveys.

Sacred Space during the early days of the campus

Sacred Space during the early days of the campus. Image source

Sacred Space today

Sacred Space today. Image source

The “Sacred Space” is the large open area north of Beaumont Tower, which is the unofficial “center” of campus.  New construction has been banned in this area since the 1870s. Although students certainly use this space, and in the future we may find refuse of their presence there, we would not expect to find much in the way of trash pits or construction refuse dating to after fits establishment (although the pre-1870s archaeology of this area is quite rich). This is common of many ancient city center plazas, where city-wide ceremonies were held. Sometimes the absence of structures or other archaeological evidence is the strongest indicator of ceremonial space as they are kept clean and clear of structures to allow room for ceremonies and their participants.

Sparty Statue - Image Source

Sparty Statue – Image Source

Graduation is arguably the most significant ritual enacted on a college campus. Graduates routinely get their pictures taken next to the Sparty statue on north campus, and may even hold more significance in this milestone than the location of the actual graduation ceremony. Sparty is what archaeologists call a “monument,” or large, immovable objects that visually mark space with significance and meaning. Monuments are common in the ancient world, from the burial mounds of the Midwest, to the obelisks and temples of ancient Egypt and Greece.

The Rock.

The Rock. Image Source

The Rock, a more informal monument on campus, is a large boulder which various student groups take turns painting, either promoting their student group or serving as a way to express solidarity, protest, and/or discontent with current events. It is so much a symbol an important symbol of MSU heritatage that someone wrote a whole book on it! Students sometimes camp out to ensure their chance for painting the rock, so we may one day be able to see this refuse archaeologically. A few years ago, a chunk of the hundreds of layers of paint fell off, revealing an enthralling stratigraphy representing decades of student voices and creativity. One artist made “Spartan Agate” jewelry from it, allowing alum to wear a piece of MSU archaeological history around their necks.

 Mary Mayo Hall, a stop on the Apparitions and Archaeology Tour, is said to be haunted

Mary Mayo Hall, a stop on the Apparitions and Archaeology Tour, is said to be haunted. Image source

CAP’s yearly Apparitions and Archaeology Tour is inspired by ghost stories associated with various buildings and features across the campus. These spectral legends are closely tied to landmarks on the landscape but leave no archaeological trace. These represent aspects of the past that archaeologists want to know but struggle to uncover: myths and legends. Reflective of a culture’s ideology, oral histories and myths often prove elusive to archaeologists unless recorded in the written records. Even in the age of print and social media, these ghost stories might have simply been passed down from generation to generation of students without official recordation, eventually forgotten, had they not been recorded by CAP for our famous tour.

One way oral history and archaeology can converge is through public outreach. So, I turn the rest of this blog over to you, dear readers! If you are a current or former student, faculty, or staff member, what are the places on campus that are most special to you? Are there areas of ritual or ceremonial significance that you know of (used by a specific student group, etc) from the past or present that Campus Archaeology should know about or document? Share your stories in the comments!

Archaeology and the Age of Plastics: Bakelite in the Brody Dump

Mirror from the Brody/Emmons complex.

Mirror from the Brody/Emmons complex.

Take a moment to think about what kinds of materials you’d expect to find in a garbage dump from 2018. Did plastic immediately spring to mind? About 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, only about 10% of which is recycled (1). Since mass production of plastic took off around 1950 an estimated 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste has been produced, much of which has ended up in landfills (1). We don’t encounter much plastic at the oldest sites on MSU’s campus. At sites dating to the 19th century, like Saints’ Rest and College Hall, we more frequently find glass, metal, and ceramics. At more recent sites, however, we begin to see more plastic in the archaeological record, reflecting the increased availability and use of plastic in everyday items. Several plastic artifacts were excavated at the Brody-Emmons Complex, the site of the East Lansing city landfill in the early 20th century.

Humans have long used natural substances with plastic properties, such as rubber and shellac, but man-made plastics are a fairly recent innovation. The first man-made plastic is attributed to British chemist Alexander Parkes (2). In 1856, Parkes acquired a patent for a product made from a plant material called cellulose treated with nitric acid and other chemicals. The product, called Parkesine, exhibited many useful properties: when hot it could be easily molded into various shapes, but when cool it was sturdy and durable. Unlike rubber, it could be industrially produced in large quantities (2).

Early plastics such as Parkesine and its successor, celluloid, involved the addition of chemicals to naturally occurring polymers (3). The first fully synthetic plastic wasn’t invented until 1907 when American chemist Leo Baekeland produced a plastic material through a condensation reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. He called his phenolic resin “Bakelite,” polyoxybenzylmethyleneglycoanhydride to the chemistry nerds out there. Unlike celluloid, Bakelite is thermosetting; once molded, it retains its shape even if heated again (3).

Baekeland patented Bakelite in 1909 and formed the General Bakelite Company around 1910 (3). The company adopted the infinity symbol as its logo to match its slogan “a material of a thousand uses.” In fact, Bakelite did prove to have many uses. Due to its resistance to heat and electricity, it was particularly useful in the automotive and electrical industries. The earliest commercial use of Bakelite was in insulating bushings manufactured for the Weston Electrical Instrument Corporation in 1908. During World War I, Bakelite was used in everything from electrical systems to airplane propellers. As plastic began to be incorporated in electronics such as telephones and radios, these products became cheaper and thus more widely accessible (3). There were also many decorative and aesthetic uses for Bakelite. Blocks of Bakelite could be carved to create items like pipe stems, cigarette holders, and even jewelry (3). The look, weight, and sound of Bakelite pieces struck together are similar to ivory (4). For this reason, phenolic resins are still used in items such as billiard balls, dominos, and chess pieces (3).

One of the plastic artifacts associated with the East Lansing landfill is a small hand-held mirror we suspected might be made of Bakelite. People who have handled a lot of Bakelite can make an assessment based on subtle clues like sound and feel. Since I have not handled much of it myself, I turned to some of the other “tests” for Bakelite.

Testing with Formula 409

Testing with Formula 409

First I tried the smell test. This method involves heating the object – either by running it under hot water or rubbing it vigorously–and sniffing. Bakelite gives off a telltale formaldehyde smell (4). As I wanted to avoid damaging the artifact, I tried the rubbing approach. The mirror definitely smelled “weird” to me, but it was too faint for me to discern a specific scent.

Next I decided to try one of the visual methods for testing Bakelite. These methods involve swabbing a Q-Tip or white cloth dampened with certain chemicals against the object in question. If the object is Bakelite, it will turn the Q-tip yellow (4). Other early plastics, such as Lucite, do not produce this result. Chemicals typically used for testing Bakelite are Formula 409 and Simichrome metal polish (4). I couldn’t find Simichrome at my local hardware store, so I opted to try Formula 409. After gently cleaning the mirror to remove any dirt, Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright and I swabbed a Q-Tip sprayed with 409 against the back of the mirror. The Q-Tip turned faintly yellow, which seemed promising. After a bit of research, I discovered that some people have successfully used baking soda to test for Bakelite (5). I decided to try this method too, and added a bit of baking soda to a damp white paper towel. Voila! The paper towel turned yellow where it contacted the plastic. These tests seem to indicate that the mirror is Bakelite, which makes it the second Bakelite artifact identified in the Brody assemblage. A Sengbusch Self-Closing Inkstand with a Bakelite lid was also recovered in 2011.

Testing with baking soda

Testing with baking soda

Bakelite was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society in 1993 (3). As the world’s first synthetic plastic Bakelite is credited with ushering in the Polymer Age, also called the Age of Plastics (3). It is interesting to observe that we can see this landmark—and evidence of the dawn of the Age of Plastics —in the archaeological record of our campus.





MSU Campus Archaeology, The Future, and Day of Archaeology

By Lynne Goldstein

I am also posting this on the Day of Archaeology website.

I was not going to personally post today for Day of Archaeology (#dayofarch) since our field season ended a few weeks ago, and I am getting ready for surgery (hip replacement). All of our student workers are off doing other things, so our lab is pretty quiet right now. Field work is also on hold since construction projects are in their final phases, in an attempt to be completed before school begins. However, when I realized that this was the last Day of Archaeology, I felt compelled to write something since I am also coming to the end of a project.

I created and direct the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program (MSU CAP), and as of May 2018, I will be retiring from the University (although not from archaeology). The job of directing and administering MSU CAP will go to Dr. Stacey Camp, who has just arrived in East Lansing so that we can overlap for a year. MSU CAP is in very capable hands, and I am confident that the program will not only survive, but thrive. We will do a blog post welcoming and more completely introducing Stacey later in August.

Historic archaeology in general, and campus archaeology in particular, were never my primary research interests. But career paths are rarely straight, and I have found that one does best taking advantage of opportunities along the way. Given this, I have conducted excavations of several large and small historic cemeteries across the U.S., and I created this campus program, which is primarily (although not exclusively) focused on historic sites.

I thought that a campus-focused program would be good for a number of reasons (beyond being able to sleep in my own bed each night), but found that there were even more reasons than I had anticipated. Here are a few of them:

  1. Doing archaeology on campus raises awareness of archaeology and the fact that sites are everywhere, and that campus histories do not tell the complete story. We see ourselves as educating a large community (students, faculty staff, alumni, the general public) on the importance and value of archaeology.
  2. Students and staff are more likely to get involved and excited when the sites being excavated are something they can directly relate to, and developing an appreciation for and learning more about the history of the campus is good for everyone.
  3. Campus Archaeology has changed attitudes and approaches of the upper administration of the campus, as well as the workers. Physical plant employees have told us that working with CAP has definitely made their jobs more interesting.
  4. Running a field school on campus (which we generally do every other year) allows students who cannot go on an expedition elsewhere the chance to learn archaeological methods and techniques. Some students cannot afford to go elsewhere, others have family commitments that constrain their opportunities.
  5. In addition to training students in archaeological methods like every archaeological field school does, we also train students in archival research and to work with construction crews, staff, administration, etc. This additional training that our undergrad interns and graduate student fellows receive helps them get into graduate school and get better jobs. They have a kind of training that few others receive; they all also get extensive training in public outreach and engagement.
  6. Social media has allowed a very small program to have a very large reach – we regularly engage with archaeologists and the public around the world. Students are trained in conducting such engagement, including writing regular blog posts.
  7. Studying the history of higher education – particularly the land grant schools – through archaeology is fascinating, reflects larger changes in the overall culture, and is an area that has not been widely examined archaeologically. Each graduate fellow focuses their individual project on a different aspect of this history.

I feel privileged to have been able to create and direct this program, and I have to thank Michigan State University for its generous and enthusiastic support. Will I miss doing this? Of course, but it is also time to move on the next phase. I love Day of Archaeology because – ona single day – we can see what kinds of things archaeologists are doing all over the world. We are learning a lot about our past, with some clear possibilities for future directions if we listen.

The Unit A Rock Collection

After four weeks of the field school, the unit in which I am working, Unit A, measures roughly 60 centimeters, or about two feet, in depth. Needless to say, it is becoming rather difficult to climb in and out of the unit. Even though Josh and I removed a significant amount of soil from the unit this week, we did not find too many artifacts. Nonetheless, there has been a couple of interesting developments.

Kaleigh works to clean the floor of Unit A.

Kaleigh works to clean the floor of Unit A.

First, the hole we dug in our attempt to investigate the area formally known as Feature 1 is finally level with our unit floor. Not having a giant hole in the middle of the unit makes it ten times easier for both of us to stand in the unit while shovel skimming. But now that we are a little deeper beneath the Earth’s surface, we are noticing some interesting changes to the Feature 1 area –specifically, the outline of this cultural deposit is changing shape. It is no longer the rectangle we were initially dealing with, rather, it is now becoming more of a semi-circle. The deposit is also migrating westward — meaning that the original location of the former feature no longer contains traces of the burned coal and other cultural matter. The northeastern corner of Unit D is now exhibiting a collection of this mysterious black matter, suggesting that the deposit continues to extend beyond our western wall. However, Unit D is not as deep as our unit, so we cannot conclusively say that the deposit in Unit A runs into Unit D since we cannot compare the patterns at an equal level at this time.

Large rocks begin to appear in the western half of Unit A.

Large rocks begin to appear in the western half of Unit A.

The most interesting development of the week occurred immediately after Josh and I eliminated the awkward hole in our unit floor. While shovel skimming the very next level, Level 6, we kept hitting one rock after another in the eastern half of the unit. It got to the point where we could no longer use a shovel to remove the standard 10 centimeters of soil from the floor, but had to use the trowel instead. After a few hours of scraping around rock after rock, we had finally leveled out the unit floor as best as we could. In total, we counted 21 sizeable rocks on the surface and another 15 or so just beginning to peak out of the ground. Because of the large number of rocks present, we were told to remove another 10 centimeters from this level, making Level 6 a 20-centimeter-deep level. The field school did not meet on Friday, June 23, so by the end of the day Thursday, we were only about 1/4 of the way done removing the extra 10 cm of soil. However, I was able to remove about 10 rocks from the unit. We still have a long way to go, though, since we are using our trowels instead of shovels to remove the soil.

While excavating around the rocks, Josh and I began to speculate about what the rocks could represent. In his previous blog post, Josh stated he believes the rocks were used to control water flow around the building. Our professor suggested the rocks could have been knocked loose from the foundation when the building was moved in the early 1920s. However, since most of the rocks I was able to remove were either round or irregular-shaped pieces of granite, and the fact we are excavating in an area that is believed to be outside the building, I think it is possible the rocks may have been used for some decorative purpose, such as lining a flower bed or walkway. However, if the rocks were once arranged in a systematic manner, I am not sure how the rocks came to be placed in this jumbled mess. Perhaps they were haphazardly discarded here after the 1903 fire or once the building was relocated.

In any case, we may never know what our collection of rocks was used for. But then again, further excavation during our final week may be able to provide us with a clue as to the purpose of these rocks.


Feature 1

After two weeks into the field school, my “squad mate,” Josh Eads, and I finished the second level of our unit. After the floor was leveled, and all the loose dirt was cleared away, we noticed something peculiar about this level: there is a large black rectangle that starts at the northern wall of our unit and extends 108 centimeters southward into the middle of the unit. This unusual area has been designated as Feature 1, or FEA 1. Unlike an artifact, which is considered to be portable, a feature is a non-portable object or area – such a as a wall, a pit, or our interesting black rectangle – that represents a past human activity.

Unit A Base of Level 2 - feature is the dark rectangle in the top part of unit.

Unit A Base of Level 2 – feature is the dark rectangle in the top part of unit.

On Friday (6/9/17), Josh and I began excavating the eastern half of the feature and finished clearing it out on Monday (6/12/17). Our goal here was to find the boundaries of the feature — to determine how deep it was and how far east it stretched. We left the western half of the feature undisturbed so we could examine any stratigraphy (changes in soil type, color, or texture) that may be present, and perhaps use a different technique to further analyze the feature. Excavating this half of the feature proved to be exceedingly time-consuming. It goes without saying that since we wanted to determine the exact shape of the feature, we had to be extremely careful while looking for the diagnostic change in soil color that told us where the feature ended. Finding the eastern boundary of the feature was rather simple, but determining its depth was much more difficult. After nearly four hours of fighting tree roots, clumps of an unknown burnt substance, and large chunks of coal, I finally started to reach the bottom of the northern half of the rectangle. Rather than a simple flat floor, the floor of this area gradually slopes inward from the eastern wall of the feature. After some interesting attempts at finding the best place to sit while excavating this awkward slope, I was finally able to reach the lowest point of this fascinating feature, which turned out to be at a depth of 34 centimeters. Josh also had to fight tree roots and coal while excavating the southern half of the feature. He was able to determine that the floor in this area was relatively flat and had a depth of about 30 centimeters.

Base of FEA 1A - the eastern half of feature 1.

Base of FEA 1A – the eastern half of feature 1.

Even though excavating the entire eastern half of this feature took up the bulk of our day, Josh and I also carefully screened the soil we removed from the pit. We found quite a few rusty nails, some of which were bent at a near right angle, some large pieces of glass, a couple of paper clips, and a sizeable amount of an unknown burnt substance — possibly clay or plaster. But the most substantial amount of material found was burnt coal. It was not burned to the point where it had become charcoal; it was more like lightweight, brittle chunks of carbon. While shovel skimming both the first and second layers of our unit, we found a large amount of coal, both burnt and not burnt. However, FEA 1 is primarily composed of the substance — it is essentially a deposit of used coal. Needless to say, our hands had a nice black hue to them by the end of the day.

The significant amount of used coal in the feature led Josh and I to hypothesize about what this feature was. We believe it may have been the location of a furnace or chimney. Another classmate, Cooper Duda, suggested that the feature could even represent the location of an old fireplace. All of these theories could also explain why we recovered so many nails — old pieces of wood containing the nails might have possibly been disposed of by being placed in an incinerator located in this area. However, we need to investigate the feature a little further before we can draw any definitive conclusions about it.

Although excavating this feature is taking such a long time, I am enjoying the task since it is giving us the chance to explore something a little more specific about Station Terrace.

MSU CAP 2015 Field School – Accepting Applications

This summer an on-campus field school will be offered. This will be the third time a MSU Campus Archaeology field school will be conducted on MSU grounds. The course, listed as ANP 464 Field Methods in Archaeology, will run from June 1st to July 2nd. The specific excavation locations will be announced later, but we will be excavating in several places in the oldest part of campus.  The course will teach student’s proper excavation techniques, and an array of archaeological methods.

As discussed in Katy’s prior blog post  the first on-campus excavation was conducted in 2005. As I’ve previously mentioned here I was lucky enough to participate in the Saints’ Rest excavation course while I was an undergrad here. It’s hard to believe that was nearly ten years ago, and although I’ve participated in other field schools and excavations since, the Saints’ Rest field methods course remains a unique experience that I’m glad I had as my first excavation. There are so many benefits to excavating on campus:

  • It’s a familiar area! This makes it a very comfortable environment to try something new, and you get to go home and sleep in your own bed. Never underestimate the glory of taking a hot shower after a long day in the field.
  • It’s easy to get to. One field school I participated in required a thirty-minute drive, transfer to a larger off road capable truck, rafting across a river, and hiking another mile and a half. It was fun, but there’s something to be said about being able to walk/bike/bus to the field location.
  • There’s a lack of dangerous animals. At the above-mentioned field school there were rattlesnakes and bears. We even had a bear pee in the equipment box, which was a unique life experience but one I don’t feel the need to repeat. With an on-campus field school the most dangerous wildlife to keep a lookout for are large groups of incoming freshmen on campus tours.
  • You get to work with your classmates in a hands-on work environment. Although you may have had several classes with many of the other members in the field school, you don’t truly know someone until you’ve worked side by side in a 1mx1m excavation unit. It’s been nearly ten years, and I’m still in contact with many of the people who I participated in Saint’s Rest with.

But perhaps one of the biggest benefits is how unique of an experience excavating on campus is. You get to excavate the material culture created by past MSU students, faculty and staff, while at the same time creating your own imprint on the archaeological record by being a part of the current MSU campus. So if you’re looking for something to do this summer that allows you to gain practical experience, while earning anthropology credits, please consider applying to the 2015 MSU Campus Archaeology field school.

Applications are due by March 5th, 2015.

Download an application: Field School Application 2015

Download the flyer – Archaeological Field School2015-s


The College Becomes A University: July in Campus History

For most of us, it seems that not much happens at MSU in July.  Most of the students are still gone, and while the occasional roving herd of incoming freshmen pass through for orientation, the campus still seems quiet.  Historically, not much has happened this month.  One thing stands out, however.

On July 1st of 1955, the college changed it’s name from “Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science” to “Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science.”  This was the fruit of several years’ of writing letters and dealing with the University of Michigan’s complaints.  They were apparently concerned that the names were too similar!  MSC had begun seeking university status in the early 1950s, arguing that their diverse variety of programs indicated that the college had grown into a university.  In Michigan law, “University” isn’t specifically defined, but there is a list of what they consider to be Michigan universities.  It is assumed that to be considered a university an institution must offer a wide variety of programs and grant four year degrees, but this does not seem to be specifically laid out anywhere.

John Hannah observes signing the Michigan State University Bill, 1955. Courtesy On the Banks of the Red Cedar

John Hannah observes signing the Michigan State University Bill, 1955. Courtesy On the Banks of the Red Cedar

Still, MSC had to propose the Michigan State University Bill in the hopes of making the name change legal.  A week before the state House of Representatives voted on the bill, U of M submitted a 26 page brief against the proposal.  It didn’t work, and in April, the Senate voted 23-2 in favor of the name change.  The change was effective on July 1st, 1955.

Still quite a mouthful, the name was shortened to the current “Michigan State University” in 1964.

Also in July at MSU:  My 20th Birthday! (page 7)





Day of DH: Perspectives from the Campus Archaeology Team

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 8.21.03 AMAs part of Day of Digital Humanities (DH), we are going to be sharing perspectives of what doing digital means for various members of the Campus Archaeology team. Digital Humanities covers a large body of work, but primarily refers to the application of digital tools and technology to humanities problems and questions. This page will be updated throughout April 8, 2014 with new posts and updates about our digital tools during the day.

You can visit our official Day of DH page here, and learn more about Day of DH here.

12:30 pm: Katy’s Perspective

My work with Campus Archaeology has been very digitally focused- that is until this year. I’ve done work to help create a more robust mapping system for Campus Archaeology using geographic information systems. As the Campus Archaeologist (2011-2013) I usedFlickrTwitterFacebook and WordPress to engage with the public and share our findings. I developed an Omeka site for Campus Archaeology to create online museum exhibits. But I’ve been a little more analog this year. My current project is to accession all the Campus Archaeology artifacts, which entails giving unique numbers to artifacts in order to keep track of them and organize them by location found.

My dropbox for applying for site numbers, collaboratively done by using the cloud

My dropbox for applying for site numbers, collaboratively done by using the cloud

Despite the fact that the bulk of my project is analog, we’ve made the process easier by sharing documents about sites in Dropbox and our database of artifacts is all digital. I’m also helping others to make their work a little more digital. I’ve been working with intern Josh to improve the GIS by adding more attributes and adding all the survey points. I’ve also been helping with Dig the Past, this past weekend I volunteered at the event and tweeted throughout the it. By keeping track of these tweets, I was able to create a Storify version of the day.

So even though I’d say I’m not doing digital projects, digital tools are still an essential part of my workflow and help to organize my work with Campus Archaeology. I still find it fascinating of how helpful new technology is for understanding the past and engaging with the public.

11:30 am: Campus Archaeologist Kate’s Perspective

Kate screening while shovel testing under sidewalks for Campus Archaeology

Kate screening while shovel testing under sidewalks for Campus Archaeology

Field blogging has become commonplace for archaeologists; creating field journals that describe the day-to-day happenings of the field season. Blogs allow the archaeologist to connect to a larger audience and interact with new communities of followers. The general public can be awe inspired to learn about archaeology while fellow colleagues can offer insight. Blogs create a transparency for excavations which encourages public trust. Additionally, this transparency provides a grounding for the general public to understand what real archaeology is, rather than what is portrayed on the silver screen. Field school blogging has become an ever more popular tool used to insure learning.

Blogging has the power to strengthen a student’s field experience by encouraging the student to be fully engaged in every aspect of the field season, by allowing the student to share his/her experience with a wider, captivated audience, and by creating a system the ensures the student is understanding the archaeology. While classroom blogging fosters interactions between students, blogging in the field fosters interactions between the student and the excavation. By encouraging the student to think critically about what the artifacts and features are saying about the site, blogging lets the student interact intellectually with the archaeology. While the typical non- digital field journal is used to remember numbers, depths, coordinates, etc…the field blog is a less formal format that gives the student an opportunity to be creative and think outside of the box…or in this case the unit!

11:05 am: Digital is all around us!

Campus Archaeology Tweet

10:30 am: Erica’s Perspective

Dig the Past

Dig the Past

When I first heard about April 8, Day of DH, my first thought was, “What is DH?” Similar to anyone with access to a computer, email is second nature to me and I have fun playing on my Facebook page, but this is where my technology experience ends. When I learned about Day of DH, I wondered, “who are a digital humanists and what do they do?” This is precisely why I would like to participate in Day of DH: to explore, to experience, and to understand what DH is all about.

Recently, I became active in a public outreach program, Dig the Past, which introduces people of all ages to what archaeologists do through hands-on activities. Participation in Dig the Past enabled me to join MSU’s Campus Archaeology Program, the parent program of DTP. By being an active member in CAP, I am learning how various forms of social media are used to educate the public about the important work that archaeologists do. I am excited to participate in Day of DH and write about my new experiences using social media to communicate about Campus Archaeology activities.

9:30 am: Adrianne’s Perspective

Dig the Past

Dig the Past

My work for the Campus Archaeology Program has largely involved creating and overseeing the “Dig the Past” monthly series of hands-on educational workshops that CAP hosts at the MSU Museum. “Dig the Past” is an education and engagement project sponsored by the Campus Archaeology Program in which kids learn what archaeologists do by doing it. Workshop participants dig, sift, and sort their way towards learning about how archaeology builds knowledge about the human past. The program involves hands-on activities targeted towards children as well as adults which promote learning and disseminate information about the history and archaeology of MSU and its campus. Because the program is, very intentionally, about physically interacting with cultural material and hands-on learning activities, my digital heritage activities for the project have not been particularly in-depth. I have used social media platforms like Twitter (@archaeoAD) and Facebook to promote the program and to connect with other content experts and public programmers interested in informal learning. I’ve written a few blog posts describing and reflecting upon aspects of my experience working with the program, which can be read on the CAPBlog. I have also created a Flickr account to archive photos taken at Dig the Past sessions, which can be viewed here: The blog posts and photo archive are valuable records of the activities, especially as they have evolved since Dig the Past started, and will complement the wealth of other content developed for the program since its inception.

8:30 am: Amy and Nicole’s Perspective

For our Campus Archaeology projects, we rely on the MSU Archives to supplement the artifacts we find during excavations on campus. Fortunately the Archives have digitized some of their collections, which can be found on their searchable website “On the Banks of the Red Cedar”.  This site contains oral histories, documents, newspapers, and photographs detailing early campus life. The Archives also has a public flickr account which includes many photographs from MSU’s early history. An upcoming exhibit by Campus Archaeology on the origins of research laboratories on campus will be featured in Chittenden Hall, which will soon be the new home of the MSU Graduate School.

In order to benefit future researchers interested in the historic campus, we catalogue all notes regarding historical documents, photographs, and artifacts in a digital reference database. Campus Archaeology uses the Zotero software to share and disseminate this information. Our integrated project demonstrates the usefulness and importance of combining archaeological excavations and archival research to further our understanding of MSU’s rich academic and social history.

7:15 am: Good Morning and Happy Day of DH!

Campus Archaeology Day of DH tweet

6:00 am: Doing Digital Campus Archaeology: Andrew’s Perspective

One of my functions within Campus Archaeology is to monitor and disseminate scholarly archaeological content via our social media outlets.  While tangentially related to DH, it does bring the field or archaeology, from various perspectives on various subjects around the world, to our readers who might not otherwise have found the same content. As professional archaeologists, it is our connection to the scholarly community which allows us to bring interesting and informative content to readers who may not be professionals, in a way that is easily understood and accessible.

Inkwells on Campus

Hey everyone, guess who’s back!  Yep, after six weeks of field school in Belize, I’m back in East Lansing, working with Campus Archaeology to unearth the past couple of hundred years of Michigan State University.  While I was away, the rest of the Campus Archaeology team worked hard at different sites on campus, including the area where Morrill Hall used to stand, the construction site at Landon hall and the West Circle sidewalks.  Plenty of the usual nails, ceramic pieces and, of course, dirt were found, but what really interested me was a glass inkwell that was uncovered.

Today, when we need to jot something down on paper, we grab a ballpoint pen or a mechanical pencil.  However, throughout the 1800s and even into the early 1900s, inkwells were the only way one could transfer thought onto paper (except for the typewriter, but that’s a whole different story).  Inkwells were made from an assortment of materials, including shell, pottery, wood, sandstone, porcelain, cast bronze, iron and brass.  Sometimes they were more utilitarian in make, or sometimes they were made with extreme ornamentation, depending on who owned the inkwell.  Those of a more aristocratic standing often had inkwells shaped as animals or other small statues.  Fun fact: inkwells were also often used as paper weights.

Inkwell found on MSU's campus

Inkwell found on MSU’s campus

The inkwell that we found was a simple small one, made from clear glass.  Over the years it has been broken, but we have at least two distinct pieces of it – the base and the top.  What would have sealed the inkwell is missing, but based on pictures of similar inkwells I found online, it is likely that this had a cork top that has gone missing over the years.  At the bottom of the base the glass is embossed with the words “Higgins Brooklyn NY.”  I googled this company to see if I could find out anything more about the bottle, and I learned that this inkwell was most likely manufactured sometime in the early 1900s.  This makes sense, because the university wasn’t founded until 1862, so the inkwell would have to be from sometime after the beginnings of the school and before inkwells were completely replaced by pens.  The plain, simple make of the inkwell is also consistent with universities from that time.  Just as the majority of college students today don’t have a lot of money to spend on extravagant purchases, many students in the late 1800s/early 1900s also didn’t have a lot of money to spend.  They wouldn’t have wasted their money on inkwells that were excessively and colorfully decorated.  Instead, they would have used cheaper inkwells – likely those made of clear glass.  This probably goes for the professors and administrators on campus, too.

While it may seem that an inkwell isn’t a huge or significant find on a college campus, we can still learn information from this artifact.  On the writing utensil timeline, there is an overlap between pens and inkwells.  The first fountain pen was made in the 1880s, but since we know that this inkwell is from the early 1900s, we can discern that students on the MSU campus were still using inkwells even after pens had been invented.  Again, this could be due to a financial reason; perhaps pens were more expensive than inkwells when they were first invented.  Even though all we have of this inkwell are two small pieces, barely six centimeters in diameter, it’s still as valuable to us as any other find would be.