An Interview With A CAP Fellow: Former Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright

An Interview With A CAP Fellow: Former Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright

As a new member of the Campus Archaeology Program and as someone starting my first year in the anthropology program, I have not yet chosen a project, so I was delighted when the opportunity to interview a former member of CAP came up. As I had hoped, the interview and my preparation for it taught me a lot about CAP that I do not think I would have picked up otherwise. This blog post is share that what I learned and to promote Lisa Bright, the former MSU campus archaeologist who graciously took time out of her busy life to talk to me about her experiences with CAP. Lisa may be the only MSU graduate to work in so many capacities for CAP. As an undergraduate Lisa worked on the 2005 CAP field school at Saint’s Rest, and after returning to MSU to pursue her PhD. Lisa worked as a CAP fellow (2014-2015) and later as the Campus Archaeologist (2015-2018). In these different capacities, Lisa was able to grow with CAP and to grow the program’s presence on the campus throughout her tenure. I was very lucky to speak with Lisa Bright about these experiences and to gain some insight on how the Campus Archaeology Program helped her become a successful and employed archaeologist.

Lisa Bright is a PhD candidate at Michigan State University.  She is currently finishing her dissertation, focusing on the health/pathology of a historic era California potter’s field, with an anticipated graduation in 2019. Lisa is also the District Native American Consultation Coordinator/Archaeologist for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 3 and an adjunct Anthropology instructor.

Lisa started with CAP in her first year in the PhD. program in 2014, she became campus archaeologist in August of 2015 and remained in that position until leaving CAP for her job with Caltrans, teaching at California State University, Chico, and dissertation writing in May of 2018. Needless to say, Lisa has remained busy since leaving MSU and CAP.

2015 West Circle Privy Excavation- Lisa Bright

Lisa is also the only campus archaeologist whose tenure lasted three years, most hold the position for two. I asked her how she felt about being campus archaeologist for this length of time and she told me three years was fine, not a problem at all, but that the campus archaeologist position does take a lot of work. Although I never worked with Lisa, my brief experience as a CAP fellow has shown me how much work being the campus archaeologist at MSU can be. I have seen Autumn Painter, the current campus archaeologist, coordinate and assist with all the current projects CAP fellows are working on, as well as being the one to respond when ever archaeological materials are uncovered during construction on campus.

During her tenure as campus archaeologist Lisa oversaw several significant projects, including the Abbot’s entrance rejuvenation project which discovered the Station Terrace basement, finding the soon to be excavated sugar shack foundation, the excavation of nearly 350 shovel tests pits for the Wilson Road survey, creative outreach projects like the MSU food reconstruction project, and working to ensure all collections were accessioned and projects reports were being finished.

In 2015, Lisa’s first year in the position, CAP’s main objective was to sort, catalog, and accession the artifacts from the Gunson excavation. The field school earlier that summer dug five excavation units, none of which hit sterile soil, the excavations were forced to stop at seven feet below surface where they hit the water table. Out of those five units came roughly 46,000 artifacts, an enormous amount of data to be sure, but also a daunting task for any curator. Thanks to the efforts of Lisa, the CAP fellows, and undergraduate volunteers in 2015 the artifacts from Gunson were preserved. Lisa suggested that the collection would make a great research project for anyone interested.

In 2017, Lisa oversaw the Campus Archaeology field school which excavated six 2 x 2 meter units at the Station Terrace site, no small task in just four weeks! Lisa is very proud of her role in implementing the field school project and of all the undergraduates and volunteers who worked to make the project possible.

Station Terrace, Unit A, North Profile

To get a sense of how all these various projects helped Lisa to develop as an archaeologist I asked her if she could mention a few of the most useful skills she learned from her time as campus archaeologist. Unsurprisingly, Lisa listed a great number of these. The foremost was what she learned acting in a management position. This role sees a project through from conception to implementation and curation processes and also acts as mediator and public face of a program. She pointed out that this is a unique role in archaeology, mostly reserved for project managers or owners of cultural resource management firms. Very seldom do students get an opportunity to develop these necessary skills, giving Lisa and other campus archaeologist a competitive edge when applying for jobs. In fact, Lisa credited this experience as a major reason she beat out many other archaeologists for her current job. I can think of no higher praise for CAP’s training than stories like these.

I also asked Lisa about the challenges she must have face in her years as campus archaeologist. The first she mentioned was developing her authority in the position. Her background was in osteology and mortuary studies, not historical archaeology, yet Lisa committed to connecting her knowledge base to historical archaeology throughout her tenure as campus archaeologist. This is a challenge we all face when starting a new job, integrating out skill sets into existing frames and hopefully learning new skills along the way. Lisa also mentioned challenges with learning all the systems of the program and learning as she encountered new issues. A lot of her success in adapting to these systems came down to knowing what the previous campus archaeologists did and how they organized things and solved problems.

To close out our conversation, I wanted to ask Lisa what she most enjoyed during her time in CAP and as campus archaeologist. The first that has to be mentioned is when Lisa was excavating the West Circle Privy as a graduate fellow and uncovered the now famous doll head affectionately know as Mabel. This event is made more serendipitous because Lisa eventually returned to MSU and to CAP. Lisa and Mabel are forever connected to the Campus Archaeology Program.

Mabel in pieces

The raspberry seeds were another favorite. Though slightly less of a cosmic coincidence, Lisa led an effort to use Beal’s techniques to germinate and grow the privy seeds and even though the experiment did not work out, Lisa takes a positive outlook, enjoying the effort and attempt. One a more successful note Lisa mentioned that working with the organic farm and the food truck was another highlight of her time as campus archaeologist. When you look through Lisa’s numerous blog posts a dedication to creative public archaeology and outreach through it all. CAP’s potential and Lisa’s goals came together in this aspect and a real connection between the public and the university formed.

Lastly, Lisa told me that the best part of her four years with CAP and three years as campus archaeologist was constantly working with wonderful people. It was clear that she valued the relationships she developed with everyone she worked and studied with. I also want to thank Lisa Bright for allowing me to interview her for this blog post. I hope that this provides some insight not only into Lisa’s time with CAP, but also what it is like for all the fellows and the current campus archaeologist to work in MSU’s Campus Archaeology Program.


Burnett, Jeff Interview with Lisa Bright 10/5/2018 Notes taken by hand

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