To Valhalla and Beyond: Plans for CAP for 2014-2015

Viking Ship Funeral by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia
Viking Ship Funeral by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia

Greetings gentle readers. I have admittedly procrastinated the writing of this blog post. In my procrastination, I stumbled upon a post (link below) referencing a recent interview with actor Nick Offerman in which he was asked about his preplanned funeral arrangements. His brilliant response involved an elaborate, if inventive, recreation of a Viking burial ritual, flaming arrows, and Chris Pratt. Last year I read a book chapter that cited a detailed eyewitness description of a Viking funeral, but one which included neither fiery missiles nor a burning longboat welcoming the deceased to the Great Beyond (Parker Pearson 1999). I am a touch disappointed that history seems to lack this dramatic theatrics, but I digress. I was reminded of the never-ending discussion among archaeologists regarding the public’s perception of archaeology and the past. We are often mistaken for paleontologists or are asked even more frequently if we own a fedora and/or bullwhip.

The Campus Archaeology Program at MSU has consistently maintained a visible presence, whether by social media or fieldwork on campus. By frequently updating the website with our findings or participating in events such as the annual Michigan Archaeology Day, we not only inform the public about what it is that archaeologists do, but also generate interest in MSU’s rich history. I remember my excitement at learning about CAP when I first came to MSU. My undergraduate institution did not have a similar program, nor have I heard of other universities having archaeology programs that focus work specifically on university history. I have only conducted fieldwork with CAP a few times and was initially a bit surprised but always excited when passersby visited our work areas. Some would briefly stop and ask if we had found anything exciting before continuing their day, but many would stay for several minutes and ask questions about what we were looking for, why we were excavating in a given space, etc. A few even participated in screening soil for artifacts. It was always apparent that students and non-students alike take a special interest in Michigan State’s heritage and hold it as a source of university pride.

My primary project for CAP this year involves determining a suitable location to hold the 2015 Campus Archaeology field school. The project will involve a combination of archival research and shovel testing across campus. Current areas of interest include the botanical gardens, the Forestry Cabin once located at People’s Park, and an area of the River Trail near the administration building that yielded what appears to be a large trash pit comprised mostly of discarded lab equipment. In the weeks to come, you may see us around campus with our shovels and screens digging away. If you do, feel free to stop by with any questions or if time permits you could even help us uncover, preserve, and share our university’s heritage.

We hope to see you soon.

Author: Josh Burbank


Parker Pearson, Mike. 1999. The Archaeology of Death and Burial. Texas A&M University Press,

College Station.

Link to Buzzfeed article:

*Disclaimer: The Offerman interview includes a single instance of profanity at the end.

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