The Cold Days of Archaeology

Generally when you think of archaeology, you think of slinging dirt in 100 degree heat with the sun’s rays beating down on your broad rimmed hat. While I’ve had many a summer excavations like this, Campus Archaeology does not always have the option of scheduling our excavations around good weather and sun tans. Archaeologists that work Cultural Resource Management (CRM) do not have the luxury of waiting for summer months, we have to work in all seasons, and in all types of weather in order to preserve and protect our history. Campus Archaeology had a busy winter break doing just that.

This is how I felt most days. Courtesy:
This is how I felt most days. Courtesy:

CAP monitored several construction projects taking place around MSU’s campus during the holidays. From frigid temperatures to ice storms, we were working to document the history of MSU. The construction projects all took place around West Circle, the oldest part of campus; which made monitoring the projects all the more important.

Chittenden Hall is being renovated to be used as the new home for the Graduate School and as a resource for graduate students. Chittenden Hall was originally constructed in 1901 and was known as the Dairy Laboratory. Since this is one of the oldest buildings on campus, CAP has made sure to closely monitor this project, and conduct subsurface analysis (shovel testing) where possible. During our monitoring, CAP fellow Adrianne Daggett came across some historic text books and film reels in the basement of Chittenden. This material probably dates to the 1950’s (though more research is necessary) and may offer some useful insight in MSU’s history.

Film reel found at Chittenden. Photo courtesy Adrianne Daggett
Film reel found at Chittenden. Photo courtesy Adrianne Daggett

CAP also monitored the continuing steam pipe replacement projects, which broke more ground over the holidays. This long-term project is useful to CAP research because it requires excavation of large areas, which allows us a more in-depth look at the archaeology. The long trenches needed for replacing the steam pipes gives us a huge profile that we can analyze and understand. Over break, the steam project excavated the area from Old Botany all the way over to Agricultural Hall. Shovel testing could not have given us such a complete picture. We did not find any unknown structures, but the artifacts we did find can tell us about the early days of the University.

And if these two construction projects didn’t keep us busy, and cold enough, continuing projects at Olin Health Center and Munn Ice Arena were also monitored throughout winter break. CAP was never short on archaeology.

Though conducting archaeology in the dead of winter is not ideal, it makes you appreciate the unbearably hot days a little more.  After spending several days of my holiday break, donning several layers of warm clothing and shivering next to a bulldozer, I will think twice the next time I start to complain about the heat.


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