Color Me Excited! Munsell visits MSU Campus Archaeology Program

Color Me Excited! Munsell visits MSU Campus Archaeology Program

During the last week of our undergraduate archaeological field school, Art Schmehling and Laura Weeks from Munsell came out to visit our excavation, show us a few of their products, and see how we typically use their soil color book. The products they brought and […]

Looking Forward to 2019-2020

Looking Forward to 2019-2020

As the end of my first year as the Campus Archaeology Program Director is coming to a close, I wanted to share some reflections and thoughts about our work. First, I wanted to say that I have been very lucky to work with our CAP […]

The most interesting artifact from MSU’s historic campus? The “Moor” artifact, 10 years later

The most interesting artifact from MSU’s historic campus? The “Moor” artifact, 10 years later

If you’ve been following CAP for a while you’ve probably seen us post about the “Moor” artifact: a small piece of mortar sporting the letters “Moor” in handwritten cursive script. Despite its unassuming appearance, what makes this artifact so fascinating is the incredible story behind it.  If you haven’t heard the story, you should really stop here and read Terry Brock’s blog post, because he tells it best.

In spring 2009 CAP surveyed the area of Beal Street near the Sparty statue ahead of planned tree planting. The survey uncovered a large amount of construction material, but the origin of this material was initially unclear. Chris Stawski, then a graduate student archaeologist on the CAP team, pulled the now famous “Moor” artifact out of the backfill.

In short, through the discovery of this artifact and some solid detective work in the MSU Archives CAP archaeologists were able to link an unidentifiable pile of rubble uncovered during a survey of Beal Street south of the Red Cedar River to the ruins of College Hall, the first academic building on campus.

Ten years since this artifact was first excavated during the Beal Street Survey, we interviewed CAP alumni Dr. Terry Brock and Dr. Chris Stawski about their key roles in its discovery. This is what they had to say:

On the background of the Beal Street Survey and College Hall projects…

TB: My favorite project [with CAP] was definitely College Hall. It was the first academic building on campus, right below Beaumont Tower. It was tied to another project, the Beal Street Survey across the river by the Sparty statue, though we didn’t know it at the time. We did the Beal Survey first because they were planting trees there. As we were digging we found tons and tons of brick that had been dumped in that area. There weren’t supposed to be any buildings over there, so it was clearly some sort of fill that was dumped to deal with erosion [near the Red Cedar River].  

CS: Early on in Campus Archaeology we were still trying to understand the landscape. Whenever we would go out and do surveys we never knew what we were going to uncover because the landscape has so drastically changed. We had to really change our thinking of campus. Today the Beal Street location is at the heart of campus but back then it was on the outskirts. The other thing we thought was that it wasn’t merely getting rid of things. That area is all flood plain and so it might have been very intentional to modify the landscape by using these materials to build a higher embankment. 

Terry Brock digs a unit at the Beal Street Survey in 2009. The large amount of brick and construction material rubble is visible all around him.

On the discovery of the artifact…

CS: Honestly I found the artifact when we were backfilling. In this case the deposition turned out to be just a huge pile of construction material. We had to go through a lot of brick. I remember going through the piles and just putting the stuff back because as you know, if you don’t make the area you excavated look perfectly pristine you’re going to get in trouble [laughs]. We became experts in cosmetic sod replacement.

I was just going through and I picked up this piece of plaster that had this really elaborate M drawn on it. I could tell it was handwritten. I handed it to Terry and was like, “Take a look at this!” It was a pretty wild discovery but at the time we had no idea what it was or what it meant. It was sheer luck that I happened to take it out of this pile of backfill and that it wasn’t smashed into little pieces. 

TB: We were like, “Well, that’s amazing, we have no idea what to do with this.” Because we had wire and cut nails we knew it was probably a building that was built on the 19th century campus and continued to be used in the 20th century, but there were a number of buildings it could have been the remnants of.

On making the connection…

TB: We weren’t really able to figure out what it was until we were working on the College Hall project. I was in the archives doing preparatory research and learning about the history of that building. It was in such bad shape that it fell down during marching band practice in 1918, but everyone was trying to save it because it was this symbol of the birth of the college. When they finally took it down around 1927 they went through and took pictures of the insides. One of the photographs was this picture of an interior wall that had signatures all over it, the phrase “Darn Hard Job,” and a date [May 13-20, 1887]. All of the students who had done restoration work on the building that summer had signed their names on this basement wall. When I found this picture I said to the archivist, “I’m gonna be right back…”

It wasn’t until the fall of 2009 that then-Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock came across a photo in the MSU Archives that connected this piece of plaster to the first academic building on campus. The photo showed that the letters “Moor” were actually part of a signature a student, Alexander Moore, had left on the wall when he and his fellow MAC students helped with repairs on College Hall from May 1887.  

I ran from the archives to my office in McDonel because I’d had this piece of plaster just sitting on my desk. I picked it up and I ran back, and lo and behold it matched one of the signatures! It was the link that connected this brick rubble from one side of campus to College Hall. We had actually found College Hall before we found College Hall and were able to tie these two sites together. With that piece of knowledge the whole timeline fell into place about what was happening over near Beal Street. It ended up being this really neat history about how the campus was changing. 

On their reactions…

TB: That was by far the coolest find. I’ll never forget when I was showing my advisor like the picture and the piece of mortar and he said, “Your career is all downhill from here. This is never going to happen again.”  

CS: How often do you get that direct correlation between what you’re finding and an archival photograph that can date within such a tight timeline as well? We knew exactly what building it was, what happened to the building, and how it got there. It filled in all of the blanks that we had.

Chris Stawski digs a unit during the Beal Street Survey in 2009.

On what it all meant…

CS: In and of itself it was an amazing artifact. But my favorite thing about archaeology is that it provides the human story behind the artifact. Without that, the artifact either can’t tell us much or it’s just a piece of plaster with some writing on it. But by making that connection you get that very human element behind the artifact.

I think the biggest takeaway was the real need for doing kind of the multidisciplinary approaches especially in Campus Archaeology. It’s never just about the archaeology; it’s about the community, it’s about the history behind the landscape. Understanding the trajectory of Michigan State from the agricultural college all the way to now. What made this find possible was Terry’s work in the Archives. Really early on we saw the value of that connection, as well as talking to the community, to alumni who have a very different understanding of what campus looked like and their experiences as students. In many ways our student experiences are vastly different, but it’s the physical entity of the campus that links us all together. We all have this map made from memory of our experiences tied to specific buildings, specific locales – that’s the one thing that creates this interlinked trajectory for all the alumni at Michigan State.   

The above interview excerpts were taken from two interviews. Current CAP Director Dr. Stacey Camp sat down with Dr. Terry Brock when he visited the CAP Lab in March to discuss his experiences, and current CAP fellow, Mari Isa, interviewed Dr. Chris Stawski via Skype in April. Some material was edited for length and clarity.

MSU Science Fest 2019: CAP at Expo Day

MSU Science Fest 2019: CAP at Expo Day

The MSU Science Festival Expo Day was filled with hundreds, if not thousands of visitors! This year we decided to switch up a few things to try some new ways of reach audiences of all ages. Continue reading to learn about the new additions and […]

MSU at the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting 2019

MSU at the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting 2019

Interested in hearing what MSU graduate students and professors are presenting at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology? Below is a list compiled including the names, title of presentation/poster, date, time, and location for each MSU scholar! We hope to see […]

Furthering Open Archaeology: Development of the CAP Digital Repository

Furthering Open Archaeology: Development of the CAP Digital Repository

In our previous blog, Jeff Bennett introduced the concept of Open Archaeology and some of the ways that Campus Archaeology (CAP) is maintaining and furthering our position within the framework of Open Archaeology. One of the ways in which we plan to further our efforts in Open Archaeology is to develop a digital repository for all CAP projects and artifacts. A digital repository is essentially a database for storing and managing digital data. Development of the digital repository will be a long-term project that requires cataloging artifacts housed in the CAP lab in a standardized way and importing a large amount of information in the repository. Our aim is to develop a public interface so that all of our data is freely available.

We have met with Dr. Ethan Watrall, Associate Director of the Matrix Lab, who is helping with the technical aspects in developing the repository. Matrix has created their own open-source content management system, known as KORA, with the intention of curating digital humanities projects. Two special features of KORA highlighted by Matrix are its ability to be accessed from a web browser and the flexibility in customizing the type and style of metadata associated with the objects. This means that CAP will be able to control how the public interacts with the data and, essentially, the narrative we would like tell about MSU’s history through our artifacts. KORA is currently undergoing updates with the intention of releasing KORA3 in the upcoming months. CAP is working closely with Dr. Watrall to learn the new system and we plan to begin developing the project as soon as the new version is released.

Currently, much of our data is stored in a series of excel files specific to each project. The CAP digital repository will create a central location for all data associated with past and present CAP projects, including site records (e.g. site forms, images, and maps) and artifacts. Further, by creating standardized forms for inputting data, we will create a completely standardized collection and a requirement for recording data in a standardized way in the future. This project will require that all artifacts be cataloged following standards set by the Society for Historical Archaeology so that all artifacts are being identified with the same terminology and have the same type of data recorded, such as weight and other measurements.

The way in which we structure the user interface is a critical component of the project. KORA projects are structured using a series of data entry levels, including the Project, Entity, and Record. The largest data level is Project, which contains all of the entities and records within it. The Project for our digital repository will simply be the “CAP Digital Repository”. This means that all of our data will be encompassed within this single project. Next, we will create the entities. The entities will be what we want to be the central focus of the repository. In this case, each CAP project, or site, will be an entity so that all data (site forms and artifacts) will be organized based on the site with which it is associated. Therefore, the entity would likely be a site report, such as “Saints Rest” or “Beal Street”. The final structure level is the most refined level of data known as records. Records are contained within entities. Our repository records will be any site forms and/or artifacts associated with a site, or entity. Records will have standardized forms with dropdown menus to select from a set list of terms in order to create an efficient and effective searchable database. We will also be able to link images and scanned documents with each record form so that users will be able to view the tangible record.

The CAP digital repository will create a central location of all data associated with CAP projects improving the overall quality of our collection and making future research easier as future CAP fellows, as well as public users, can easily search and view our entire collection. We believe that Open Archaeology is the future of archaeological science by creating complete transparency between archaeologists and the public, as well as between researchers and institutions. Having a digital presence will allow the public to explore MSU’s history in a unique fashion through tangible artifacts.

An Introduction to Open Archaeology

An Introduction to Open Archaeology

Figure 1: The Campus Archaeology Program’s virtual exhibit of MSU History An example of how archaeologists can share material culture with a broad public. For this week’s blog post I wanted to give an introduction to open archaeology as it ties to public outreach and […]

Alumni Highlight: Terry Brock

Alumni Highlight: Terry Brock

Dr. Terry Brock is a historical and public archaeologist, and is currently the Assistant Director of Archaeology at the Montpelier Foundation in Orange, Virginia. He served as the first Campus Archaeologist from 2008 to 2010 while a graduate student at MSU. As someone who was […]

Just a Pipe Dream: The use of Wooden Water Pipes at MSU

Just a Pipe Dream: The use of Wooden Water Pipes at MSU

One of the most important infrastructural aspects of buildings today is how to get water to and from the building. Plumbing, of sorts, has been archaeologically visible and investigated at sites throughout the world. The earliest evidence of plumbing dates back to the civilizations of ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley in India, each at around 4000 BC. Since then, plumbing innovations and techniques have been refined into the elaborate systems we see today, such as using AI and Machine-Learning technologies in water management. However, it might be surprising to learn that just over 100 years ago, many water pipes on MSU’s campus were constructed of wood.

Different views of a 3D model of the Wyckoff wooden water pipe found during Faculty Row excavations.
Different views of a 3D model of the Wyckoff wooden water pipe found during Faculty Row excavations. (3D model will be view-able 3-18-2019)

Former MSU Campus Archaeologist Dr. Terry Brock excavated one of these wooden water pipes in 2008 along Faculty Row and wrote an initial blog post about it, linked here [1]. Dr. Brock analyzed the water pipe and concluded that it was a specific type of water pipe called a Wyckoff pipe, from the Wyckoff Pipe and Creosoting Company. Moreover, this pipe was likely manufactured at the Michigan Pipe Co. in Bay City, Michigan, one of the largest producers of wooden pipes in the entire country. Wooden water pipes using the Wyckoff augur started being produced in Bay County, Michigan in 1871 with the Northwestern Gas and Water Pipe Company. Ten years later, this company was succeeded by the Michigan Pipe Company [2]. Since buildings on Faculty Row were constructed throughout the last half of the 19th century, it is likely that the college bought their wooden water pipes from the Michigan Pipe Company.

Sketch of the North Western Gas & Water Pipe Company (that eventually became the Michigan Pipe Company) in Bay City, MI, ca. 1870s. Image from “History of Bay County”.

Other CAP excavations have revealed water pipe fragments, most commonly made of salt-glazed ceramic material. So why would the college have been using wooden water pipes? The answer likely lies in what was happening at the college at the time as well as Michigan’s climate.

As the (then called) State Agricultural College greatly expanded in the last quarter of the 19th century, partly as a result of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, cheaper materials were favored in some areas of construction to aid in this rapid expansion. Wooden water pipes were generally thought to be out of use or favor by this time, having their hey-day in the early to mid-19th century. However, the Michigan Pipe Co. was actually flourishing. They claimed that their improved Wyckoff wooden water pipe was cheaper in terms of material and upkeep, resistant to frost due to the thick nature of the pipes (the logs), maintained cleaner water due to their tarred insulation, and being constructed of wood made the pipes more elastic and less resistant to burst or breaking [2,3]. It appears that this sales pitch was convincing enough for the college at the time as these pipes were installed along Faculty Row. The overall cheaper nature of the wooden pipes compared to iron pipes were no doubt a positive for the rapidly expanding college. Additionally, Michigan’s harsh winters meant that water pipes needed be able to flow in some of the coldest conditions. The claim that the wood water pipes decreased the likelihood of frost within the pipes would have also been a major draw.

Wyckoff Wooden Water Pipe advertisement an 1896 edition of ‘The Michigan Engineers’ Manual’. Original image linked here.

Despite the upsides to these cheaper and seemingly more efficient wooden pipes, the college decided to put them out of commission just a few years into the 20th century. Former CAP Fellow Nicole Raslich posted a blog on water sanitation at the university (linked here [4]), and reported that members during a board meeting in 1902 discussed that the wooden pipes did not provide safe water during the warmer months when water was most in demand. The minutes from this meeting show that they wanted to “replace the present system of wooden water main which have been in use about twenty years, with new iron pipes” [5]. They argued that in warmer months, the wood led to a constant danger of bacteria in the water unless it was boiled after coming out of the tap. So despite the fact that these wooden pipes may have been better for frost prevention, it made the water unsafe over time as the wood aged!

The iron pipes would have been much more expensive to buy and install (and would later lead to problems of their own – many of which the university and the city of Flint are still dealing with), but would have been a better investment overall. This just goes to show that even though water pipe technology is about 6000 years old, this doesn’t mean we’ve perfected it. Technological advances are all trial-and-error, and we will no doubt continue to uncover evidence of this early practice in MSU’s archaeological record.

[1] – Brock, T. Wood Pipes. 2008. Blog post (URL:

[2] – The Michigan Pipe Company, InHistory of Bay County, Michigan with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers. 1883. Chicago: H.R. Page.

[3] – Wooden Water Pipe. The Manufacturer and Builder, Vol. 18, Issue 1, pp. 4-5, 1886.

[4] – Raslich, N. Water Sanitation at MSU. 2016. Blog post (URL:

[5] – Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes – 1902, p. 66. (Link to meeting minutes:

Prepping for Summer 2019 Field Work

Prepping for Summer 2019 Field Work

Archival research is one of the backbones of archeological work, especially in historical archaeology. Not only do we conduct archival research to find more information about the people who lived at a particular site and how the site was used, but it is also a […]