Campus Archaeology (CAP) has always been heavily centered around community engagement. We have several standing outreach events that we participate in every year, such as our annual Apparitions and Archaeology Haunted Campus Tour, Grandparents University, various public-school events, and Archaeology Day at the Michigan History …
Identifying the former location of historical features can be an invaluable part of designing archaeological investigations, allowing researchers to tailor survey and excavation plans to spaces in which they are interested in, or assess which features might be impacted by development plans. In many cases, …
Welcome back to our CAP blog! As many of our readers know, CAP has many posts dedicated to the identification of artifacts and their relationship to MSU’s campus. While we love sharing the interesting things we find on campus, this got us thinking a little bit more about the process of identifying artifacts here in the CAP lab. Because how exactly do archaeologists classify artifacts and date sites?
Well, we would be the first to admit that identifying artifacts can be an inexact science; usually, it involves research and a little guesswork, and sometimes we not be able to name the artifact at all. CAP deals primarily with “historic period” artifacts–specifically, materials related to the land MSU has occupied since the university was founded.* However, not all of our CAP fellows specialize in mid-Michigan artifacts or archaeology of the last 500 or so years. Does that limit our work here in CAP? Of course not! Instead, it provides an opportunity for us to learn from each other and better understand each individual’s process to the identification of different artifacts.
Although we realize that we aren’t fountains of knowledge on historical artifacts (all of the time), this got us thinking – how much do we really know off the top of our heads? To demystify the process of artifact identification, we decided to do something fun. We made a quiz using ten artifacts from previous CAP excavations, with four questions related to each:
Question 1: What am I?
Question 2: What’s my time period?
Question 3: What material am I made of?
Question 4: How confident are you in your answers (on a scale of 1-5, 5 being most confident)
We sent the survey to all six of the 2020-2021 CAP Fellows (including ourselves), one alumna, and two CAP Fellow parents. Each participant told us their name, years of experience, methodological training, and background. The rules stated there could be no Googling–just guesses.
First, let’s take a look at the specialities among our CAP fellows, alumni, and parental figures:
Of the nine responses, the majority of participants had more than five years of archaeological experience, but only one individual had more than five years of experience with CAP. As neither parent was an archaeologist, they answered 1-2 for both of the first two answers.
Our participants were trained in bioarchaeology, human osteology, historic archaeology, Pleistocene and Holocene archaeology (~14,000-300 years ago), Linguistics, and Architecture. After each question, we asked the participants to tell us how confident they were on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most confident. Overall we received various answers for each artifact, and a range of confidence intervals between participants.
While we had a lot of fun with all ten artifacts, we decided to highlight three for our blog today:
Artifact 1: Out of the Bathroom and Into A Trash Pit
The Final Word: At the category level, everyone got this right! This piece is indeed a container. Many of our participants correctly guessed the materials as milk glass (an opaque-white glass) and metal. Milk glass came into production in the United States in the 1850s, which provides us a maximum age for the object. The bottom of the jar contained the patent design (Des.) number (No.) 120,421. The patent was not shown to test-takers, but typically provide one of our best means of dating an object. However, as many patents remain in use over time, the patent does not always provide an exact date for an item. In this case, the patent was given to Charles A. Howell in 1930 for the design of a glass jar and lid. We think a time-period estimate of the 1950s seems more likely for this object, based on the emergence of Fresh cream deodorants in the advertising archives, and the change to a metal lid.
Artifact 2: Salad Dressing or Nail Polish, A Bi-Partisan Issue
The Final Word: The bottle bears resemblance to modern plastic nail polish remover bottles. While we weren’t able to identify an exact replica, a simple Google search for, “1950s Nail Polish Remover” reveals Cutex bottles with a similar shape and closure. We can estimate the age of the bottle using the plastic. Plastic was first developed in 1907, but ribbed plastic bottle tops don’t appear in advertising until the 1940s and 50s. Emily took a risk and uncorked the bottle, becoming the first person to wiff the contents in over 50 years. And? It smelled like dish soap. Without a patent or lettered stamping, we rarely know what an item actually contained.
Artifact 3: Sometimes We Don’t Know
The Final Word: This one stumped us all. To identify it, we can start with the material. The object is metal and the green hue suggests a copper alloy, probably brass. Next, we might browse some old sales catalogs to search for possible object IDs (remember SEARS?). Objects of similar shape, size, and material included: bullet casings, lighters, whistles– basically all of the items represented by participant guesses. Another intriguing option was ‘suggested’ to us while browsing Etsy sales of vintage deodorant (see Artifact 1): Lipstick. On closer inspection, the artifact consists of two interlocking metal pieces, the external piece appears to be a cap or casing, and the internal piece a cylindrical holder. Further comparative work could reveal the answer. For now, we’ve estimated the age using site context. This mystery item derives from the 2020 Service Road Excavation, a collection with abundant artifacts dating between the 1940s and 1950s. Therefore, while we don’t know the make-date, we’ve placed the discard of this object 70-80 years ago.
The Takeaway: Research is an essential component of archaeological work! While almost all of our participants correctly guessed the material objects were made of, their IDs were sometimes incorrect. Certainly, handling the object, looking at patents, and looking through the archives make archaeology what it is–a material science!
*Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Anishinaabeg–Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. The University resides on Land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw.
- Source for milk-glass production dates: https://glassbottlemarks.com/summary-what-is-milk-glass/
- 1907 source: https://www.plasticseurope.org/en/about-plastics/what-are-plastics/history#:~:text=Polyvinyl%20chloride%20(PVC)%20was%20first,synthetic%2C%20mass%2Dproduced%20plastic.
Over the next few days MSU will be welcoming some students back and opening up for some in-person and many virtual classes. For CAP, the beginning of a new semester would typically mean welcoming new undergraduate interns, preparing outreach events, and jumping back into our …
In this blog post CAP fellows share our reflections on an anti-racism, anti-bias training we took on Friday October 30th . The training was sponsored by the Society for Historical Archaeology and dozens of archaeologists, educators, and heritage professionals participated in the four hour session. We decided to share out thoughts in a single blog post. This and other recent discussions of anti-racism in archaeology have gained traction and institutional support in part because of the confluence of the Black Lives Matter movement, continued instances of police brutality and the murders of Black women and women by police, the COVID-19 pandemic disporotiantly affecting Black, Indigenous, and communities of color, and increasing numbers of Black archaeologists (Franklin et al. 2020).
The training we attended is relevant because it directly asks how can we as induvial work to make organizations anti-racist? How can we take increased pressure and institutional support of anti-racism and produce social social change within and beyond the discipline of archeology. Additional resources are listed at the bottom of this post.
Each fellow authored their own section in their voice, highlighting what stood out or was important to them. While independent, these reflections represent CAP’s ongoing commitment to ensuring our work and organization is equable and inclusive and that we work to make archaeology a better place for everyone.
The Society of Historical Archaeology’s workshop on “Strengthening Anti-racist and Anti-bias Mindsets” represents a cohesive movement within the field of archaeology to push beyond many of the racist and colonizing notions that shaped the establishment of archaeology, and anthropology as a whole, and still do today. With the current sociopolitical climate, it is beyond time to address these issues that are rampant across the field. I believe this workshop created a valuable opportunity to meet with other professionals in the field of archaeology to exchange ideas and concerns about how archaeology currently functions.
There is a lot to sort through, as it is high time we engage students in all communities so that a career path in archaeology is not accessible to only a portion of the population. But this path is not clear cut and a chance to hear the experiences of others in the SHA brought forth important reminders of ways we can focus our efforts here in Campus Archaeology. We need to identify and confront identity fragility, normativity, neutrality, and privilege already present in our organizations and institutions to ensure archaeology is a welcoming and inclusive environment and career for all. We need to provide engagement opportunities that are accessible and affordable in order to create a space where all students can get involved and develop their own passion and goals for the field. If we ensure that our field and our Campus Archaeology program is fostering a system that welcomes all interested persons, we can move away from the perpetuation of racism and exclusivity.
The Anti-Racism training hosted by the Society for Historical Archaeology on November 30th provided an engaging opportunity to consider how archaeological practice and professional spaces can engage with conversations surrounding restorative justice and reckon with elements of pervasive anti-Black racism. I particularly enjoyed discussions surrounding identity normativity, neutrality, and fragility and how these dynamics impact archaeological practice and conduct in professional spaces. This discussion highlighted the need to address the racist structures and frameworks within the discipline of anthropology, in both the content and practice of archaeological work and the dynamics of professional spaces we occupy (classrooms, conferences, cultural resource management [CRM] job sites, etc.).
Overall, the discussions prompted me to reflect on what CAP could do to ensure equitable access to outreach events and to direct attention to issues of race and discrimination in Michigan State University’s past and present. I think my most important takeaway from the event was the notion that Anti-racist work within archaeology cannot be solved with any straight forward set of steps–it requires sustained and repeated acts of critical self and organizational reflection, as well as planning concrete steps of action that address specific areas of concern. This requires opening avenues for listening to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and their experiences within and outside of the discipline in order to consider how the SHA, and archaeology more broadly, can seek to be actively anti-racist. The document provided as a follow-up to the event will serve as a useful resource to return to throughout my experience in graduate school and beyond.
The SHA webinar on Anti-Racism and Anti-bias held on October 30th was incredibly interesting, informative, and enlightening. It is very easy to say that you will not be racist or biased in your actions or research. However, this workshop highlighted the mass of complexities that go into putting those thoughts into practice. One aspect discussed that I found particularly interesting was the notion of inherent biases in academic conferences. While in my mind, these conferences always appeared as open spaces for free discussion, exchange of ideas, and overall general inclusion. However, it was discussed that even being able to attend these conferences is itself a privilege. They are usually located in large “exciting” cities which are always more costly to eat, drink, and stay in. Additionally, travel costs are usually high. While professors with permanent jobs at research institutions usually have the funds to attend these conferences, graduate students often do not. We usually have to apply for travel funds from a small pool of money within the department and even then, sometimes only minimal costs are able to be covered, meaning that we must make up much of the money for these trips ourselves.
While I always love attending conferences, I now see that even being able to attend one is a privilege I have had over other graduate students, most notably Black, Indigenous, and other students of color. These students deal with inherent structural biases that I have had the privilege of not enduring. This makes it more difficult for them to engage in conferences and networking events which can play a big part in career trajectories and opportunities. The proliferation of digital workshops and webinars in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as this one we attended, is a step towards undoing this unintentional bias. Having more open discussions tackling these issues and just having more opportunities to share our ideas in these digital platforms overall will definitely shape the way academic conferences function in the future. In this way, there will be more equal opportunity for students of color to be in conversations that I now realize were in spaces that could be exclusionary, even if the purpose was for open and unbiased dialogues. However, once we get back to “normal”, it will be up to us to come up with solutions that are not biased against students and researchers of color, even if that bias was unintentional.
The SHA’s anti-racism training we attended on November 30th focused on making our organization anti-racist through individual actions and behaviors. At the beginning the trainers framed the goals of “becoming anti-racist organizations” as ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workspace and in the SHA in general. They recommended that we start by using the tools developed in the training to make small, actionable goals and build off those. The training was also framed by a series of questions: What does it mean to diversity? Why is there pressure now? What are the dangers or challenges in institution-based DEI efforts? Unlike other trainings I have been to, there was a sense of urgency and a commitment from all participants. In answering these questions in the large group in in break out groups one topic that came up was the need for organizations and individuals to step out of their comfort zones when working to be anti-racist. This resonated with me because of how easy it to continue doing things as they have always been done and how uncritically doing that continues structures of inequality and oppression. At CAP we have been reflecting on our youth outreach and which schools we have over-served in the past and which we have underserved. This has been due to access, proximity, connections, and comfort/tradition, not intentional, but it does present a bias in our outreach programing. The training provided added emphasis and tools to reflect on this and to alter out patterns of outreach.
I appreciated that the training ended with a discussion of action items we as participants and members of organizations could commit to. This allowed me to witness and reflect on what we must do to affect change in the discipline of archaeology and in CAP. Sharing and hearing suggestions from other archaeologists gave me a sense of grounding in this, that others were also committed to it and that there were many things to do. While daunting, it also generated lots of hope because people seemed willing to listen and makes these changes.
The recent training through the Society for Historical Archaeology aimed to gather professionals for an engaged discussion on anti-racism and anti-bias in archaeology. The training was largely interactive to encourage open dialogue on the major issue presented throughout the 4-hour seminar. Attendees participated in intermittent breakout groups to present and discuss ideas on how to improve on the major topics and issues in the discipline, fieldwork, academic settings, and conferences. I found the training thought provoking and appreciated the overall sentiment that SHA members are interested in putting anti-racist and anti-biased initiatives into action by creating community-wide conversations. I also found the training urged me to reflect on my own experiences and behaviors in work environments and beyond.
It’s no secret the archaeology is a predominantly white discipline. There have been conversations of how to improve diversity and inclusion in archaeology for some time and the same suggestions are presented every time: “We need to engage more youth” or “maybe we could give out a couple of scholarships for the conference”. While these are valid suggestions and will perhaps make small scale changes over time, the discipline needs to come up with some new suggestions. More importantly, we need to understand why it is critical to increase diversity and inclusion in archaeology to make meaningful headway.
Archaeologists are responsible for unraveling histories secrets and sharing lived experiences with contemporary society. Archaeological investigations by white Americans are conducted across our country and around the world. Each person brings with them their own lived experiences which biases the ways they interpret material culture of past populations. The researcher could combine archaeological and historical evidence to gain perspective of the population. However, they are likely to be blind to some of the potential biases of their interpretations, as well as the implications of their reported findings. For example, in American historical archaeology there is often a story of inequality and mistreatment of BIPOC, which is undoubtedly true for our country. But what if archaeologists also told stories of strength and overcoming adversity in these communities? Participants in the SHA training suggested working with local communities to develop research questions that frame archaeological research within an anti-racist/anti-biased framework. Understanding how our research impacts modern society and allowing communities to partake in uncovering their own history is one way we can encourage greater diversity and inclusion in the discipline which will eventually lead to greater representation of voices, lived experiences, and perspectives to tell the history of past human populations.
- Franklin, Maria, Justin P. Dunnavant, Ayana Omilade Flewellen, and Alicia Odewale
2020 The Future Is Now: Archaeology and the Eradication of Anti-Blackness. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 24(4):753-766. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10761-020-00577-1.
Tobacco, Pipes, and Race in Colonial Virginia by Anna S. Agbe-Davies
The Materiality of Freedom: Archaeologies of Postemancipation Life edited by Jodi A. Barnes
Black Feminist Archaeology by Whitney Battle-Baptiste
The Taphonomy of Disaster and the (Re)Formation of New Orleans by Shannon Lee Dawdy
Toward an Antiracist Archaeology by Mia L. Carey
Assessing Heritage Resources in St. Croix Post‐Hurricanes Irma and Maria by Justin P. Dunnavant, Ayana Omilade Flewellen, Alexandra Jones, Alicia Odewale, and William White
Critical Race Theory and the Archaeology of the African Diaspora by Terrence Epperson
A Black Feminist-Inspired Archaeology? by Maria Franklin
The Rosewood Massacre: An Archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence by Edward González-Tennant
Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance by Cheryl Janifer LaRoche
Archaeologies of Race and Urban Poverty: The Politics of Slumming, Engagement, and the Color Line by Paul R. Mullins and Lewis C. Jones
Archaeology for the Next Generation by Alicia Odewale, Justin Dunnavant, Ayana Flewellen, and Alexandra Jones
The Archaeology of Race and Racialization in Historic America by Charles E. Orser, Jr.
Detroit 139: Archaeology and the Future-Making of a Post- Industrial City by Krysta Ryzewski
Slavery behind the Wall: An Archaeology of a Cuban Coffee Plantation by Theresa A. Singleton
The Archaeology of Antislavery Resistance by Terrance Weik
The Archaeology of Mothering: An African-American Midwife’s Tale by Laurie Wilkie
With COVID-19 still dictating much of our day-to-day lives, Campus Archaeology made the early call to put all of our outreach events for the foreseeable future online or in some digital format. One of our most popular and fun events we put on is the …
In the wake of Black Lives Matter movement, started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in 2013 (Herstory 2020) and the mounting calls to reform and rethink institutions of all kinds, colleges and universities throughout the United States have responded by calling attention …
Happy October! We hope everyone is doing well and is staying safe!
Things are definitely looking a little different here this fall, as MSU has made the decision to stay remote for the entire semester. As our director, Dr. Camp, mentioned in her blog post titled Campus Archaeology In the Time of COVID-19, CAP has had to adapt quickly to a new world where it is not safe to go out in the field or to hold many of our usual events. While this introduces many new challenges, we are extremely lucky that all our CAP fellows are working hard to upload digital content so we can stay active with community outreach!
So, for the first of many new digital events this academic year, we are pleased to introduce:
1. Our new Virtual Haunted Campus Tour: Available now!
2. Our Haunted Tour Facebook Live Q&A Session: 7- 8:15pm on October 28. If you would like to submit a question to CAP and have it answered during the event, fill out this form created by the MSU Alumni Office.
The Apparitions and Archaeology or Haunted Campus Tour has traditionally been a joint effort between CAP and the MSU Paranormal Society to guide interested – and brave! – visitors around sites on campus known for their paranormal activity and archaeological significance.
This year our Apparitions and Archaeology Tour is hosted on Twine – a user-friendly and open-sourced tool with a “choose your own adventure” format. And because of the new digital interface, we are, for the first time ever, able to include ALL of the sites!
1. Beaumont Tower
2. Sleepy Hollow
3. Saints’ Rest
4. 1900 Class Fountain
5. Morrill Hall
6. Mary Mayo Hall
7. Beal Garden
8. MSU Museum
To navigate our Twine Tour, click on each site to first learn a bit about its history as a part of MSU’s campus. Then choose to either learn more about the archaeology of that site – all excavated by CAP – or learn more about the chilling stories that have been passed down throughout the years! But that’s not all! As you scroll through our Twine, click on any word that is colored orange – each of these words will lead you to new pages with more information on the particulars of that site, related buildings, archaeological terms, and much more!
It may be easy to get lost, but never fear – scroll to the bottom of each page to find links to each of the eight sites to start all over again! And as you visit more and more pages, blue words will indicate pages that you have already visited so you won’t lose track.
We hope you enjoy our tour as much as we did making it! Click here to start our Tour!
Even with our new Haunted Tour Twine, we wouldn’t feel complete without an opportunity to engage with all of you! Therefore, we will be hosting a Haunted Tour Facebook Live Question and Answer Session on October 28 so we can answer any questions you might have about the Haunted Tour Twine sites.
To submit questions for the Q&A, fill out this form, comment on this blog post or send a message to our Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter accounts! We will be checking these sites regularly and will compile them all for our event at the end of the month. We are looking forward to your questions and seeing you live!
Although, this may not be the fall 2020 semester we expected, we are terribly excited to release our Haunted Campus Tour Twine and cannot wait to see you all at our Facebook Live Q&A event on October 28th!!
Thank you Autumn Painter, outgoing Campus Archaeologist: As we say goodbye to outgoing Campus Archaeologist Autumn Painter who, in her two years in the position, continued CAP’s legacy of creative outreach, education, and mitigation while also profoundly shaping the future of the program, we welcome …