In the lab… Establishing a CAP Type Collection

We are now deep into the throws of creating a typology for the CAP artifacts from across campus to establish a system for adding new objects during future work. In archaeology this set of artifacts is called a type collection which allows us to be able to potentially identify new objects based on similarities of objects that have already been found on a specific site. Type collections are ideal for acclimating new students to the variety of objects found on the site. The collection will then be used as a reference point for identifying objects as they discover new items in the ground. With a combination of Bethany’s organization skills and my knowledge of historic artifacts we hope to establish a useful collection of artifacts found on a typical mid-west campus.

CAP, as you know, has had quite a few excavations and surveys since its inception in 2006. Although those artifacts are all cataloged and stored, we needed to develop a system that allows us to identify and manage new artifacts in an orderly fashion and that can build on and expand our work, rather than duplicating the work of previous years. Thus far, CAP has artifact assemblages from across campus including, Beaumont Tower, the Brody Neighborhood, the historic site of Saint’s Rest, Beal Street and the collection continues to grow as MSU changes and expands its footprint over the next few years. Bethany and I have begun to unravel the multiple types of artifacts found within these assemblages to identify which ones represent basic archaeological finds on campus settings from the 19th, 20th and now 21st century.

Why are we going through all of this trouble? Well part of the systematic examination of objects from the past requires establishing a set of characteristics that frames how we interpret new data. This process can be done at several different levels; at the level of specific sites, activity zones, or by time of use. Our aim is to focus on the level of types as sites as these sites maintained a variety of functions throughout the expansion of MSU. We will focus on classifying the types of object we find with reference to their identifiable material, form, and use. Therefore when future archaeologists find similar objects in the ground on campus, they can make appropriate relationships with the similar objects we already found in previous years. We can then use these similarities and compare them to make interpretations about past human behavior here on campus.

We began our typology with sorting out the Brody collections. These collections take up a significant portion of the CAP collections and it contains a variety of artifacts ranging from whiskey bottles to construction nails. Our strategy used the same artifact identification instrument as the ones from the field schools so that we stayed close to the needs of the students.

First, we separated all of the artifacts into various types: metal objects, ceramics, glass bottles, and the like. The Brody Complex collection had a significant amount of full intact bottles which allow us to be able to gather shapes, form, makers marks, body type, manufacturing style and often times actual usage information. We identified very good examples of some alcohol, druggists, and household forms such as this medium size milk jug shown on the right.

Rockingham Ware from CAP Collection

The collection also contains a very good example of “rockingham” pottery. This style was largely popular in the 19th century and although in the US it refers to the thick brown glazed earthenware, the name actually refers to a British rococo style of the same era. The US version shown below on the left, was typically made in a pottery factory in Ohio.

All laid out in the lab, the collections makes some very cool statements about life on campus. The pieces we pulled from the entire collection will provide a snap shot of the types of objects typically found at MSU and what campuses assemblages can potentially contain. As we just finished the Brody, College Hall/ Beaumont Tower, and Beal Garden collections, we know that the Beal Street collections will surely add to expanding our typology. Stay tuned for more photos and information about the typical artifacts found in our collections!

Author: Blair Zaid

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