The New Grad Student Research Team

Every year Campus Archaeology has a number of graduate students working on various projects. These projects use the artifacts, excavation reports and historic documents to conduct research about MSU’s past. Previous projects have examined animal bones to determine butchering and dietary habits of the late 19th century campus, and information about the landscape and previous excavations were used to create a computer based model for determining where prehistoric site would most likely be found. Please meet our team for this year!

Amy Michael is a fifth year graduate student studying mortuary sites of the ancient Maya in Belize. She works as a field crew member on the Caves Branch Archaeological Survey and has archaeological experience digging in Illinois, Michigan, and Belize. Using dental microscopy, Amy’s dissertation project focuses on the health experience of individuals buried in caves and rockshelters in the Late and Terminal Classic Periods. Last year, as a CAP fellow, Amy worked on a project regarding sustainability practices of the historic MSU campus, a project she is continuing this year. Her other research interests range from archaeological to forensic, and include the movement of human bone through caves and rockshelter mortuary contexts, the effect of alcohol on bone aging, and the determination of a “human signature” for osteon area size and circumference for use in positively identifying human bone.

As a CAP fellow this year, Amy will be continuing her research on sustainability throughout MSU’s history. She is currently researching changes in transportation since the campus first opened and what these changes mean for energy sustainability.

Sylvia Deskaj is a doctoral student in the department of anthropology at MSU, and you can read about her here.  She graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a B.A. in anthropology.  She has done fieldwork in Belize, Peru and CRM in New Orleans. Since 2008, she has worked in the Balkan nation of Albania, and is beginning a dissertation on human mobility during the Bronze Age in the Shkoder region of the country.  She is interested in the social aspects of death and burial during that time period.  Last summer, she also began work on a project in Greece, focused on the massive Neolithic cave complex called Alepotrypa (Fox Hole), where she is studying the distribution of 100s of pieces of scattered human bone. Lastly, she lives with my two cats – Black Nose and White Nose – who’ve recently become famous on CatBook (

Her CAP project for the year is to develop innovative ways to get information about archaeology (in general) and CAP (in particular) to multiple publics in an effort to increase our visibility.  This involves working closely with various members of the community in an attempt to create effective lesson plans that strive to further engage the public with archaeology and the efforts of CAP.  Please let her know if you have ideas that would help with this endeavor!

Sabrina Perlman is a first year anthropology graduate student. Her concentration is in medical anthropology but she has always had a deep
interest in archaeology and its value in understanding the past and present. Her research interests are diabetes, health care models, the experience of illness and health-seeking choices in various countries in West Africa.

The project she will be involved in this year has to do with the idea of the “center of campus,” an idea which has evolved over time as the campus has changed both geographically and functionally. She hopes to create a visual interface of understanding the changes that occurred and what the implications of this have been.

Blair Starnes is a doctoral student in both the African American Studies Program and the Department of Anthropology here at MSU. Her doctoral research focuses on the archaeology of the Old Kongo Kingdom of central west Africa.

As new addition to the Campus Archaeology Program, her role will be to help develop a systematic way of identifying and analyzing artifacts found on CAP excavations. These typologies will be used to assist future students with adding new information to our collections as CAP continues to unearth MSU’s past.

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