Wow! Our summer season in 2021 was a complete turnaround from the 2020. The MSU graduate student archaeologists who joined CAP Crew this year worked on four major field and laboratory projects. From May to late-August members of the CAP Crew completed a federal compliance …
Photo by ©Nick Schrader, All Rights Reserved In September Michigan State’s Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) archaeologists wrap up our summer field work here on campus and return to the routine of classes, personal research, and teaching that each semester brings. The start of a new …
This blog invites you to participate in Garbology–the practice of looking at modern trash to understand how archaeological deposits are formed (Rathje 1992). Go to your bathroom and take a look around. How many hygiene products do you have? What is the packaging made of? How many of these products come in a container that can be recycled, and how many have to be thrown away?
In the of summer 2020 our CAP Director and Campus Archaeologists monitored the Service Road Construction Project; work that revealed a historical archaeological site dating from the 1930s to the early 1960s (http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=8577). The assemblage, a former MSU trash dump, contains children’s toys, food containers, science equipment, and a vast array of hygiene products: shampoo, cologne, soap, nail polish, deodorant, cosmetics–the list goes on. With only a few exceptions, all of the bathroom products were packaged in glass containers, which, once used, were disposed of by their owners to end up at the Service Road dump.
Now, think about the items you’ve found in your own bathroom. Most of them are hygiene products, yes? A survey of two CAP Fellow bathrooms revealed that the overwhelming majority of hygiene products from the 2020s are stored in plastic and come in all shapes, sizes, and types. In consulting the bottom of each container (a favorite pastime for archaeologists, even when we’re not in the lab) we found numbers 1, 4, 5, and 7. What did you see?
The number is important to the garbology our personal lives because it allows us to understand the lifecycle of the item. Most plastics are not recycled (or non-recyclable) because we lack an efficient or effect ways of breaking down these materials (Shen and Worrell 2014). For example, the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center only accepts Nos. 1 and 2 plastics–and so containers used and disposed of on campus with a number great than “2” will travel to dump (https://msurecycling.com/pages.php?pageid=9).
Unlike plastics, glass items, especially those associated with household activities, are generally recyclable. Let’s briefly return to the Service Road dump. The presence of glass hygiene containers (albeit with plastic or metal lids) reflects both a history of standard packaging in the 1950s and the waste disposal practices of the time period. Widespread use of plastics for household products did not emerge until the 1960s, and our dump site pre-dates recycling in the U.S. and on campus (Subramanian 2000). Recycling emerged in the United States in the 1970s and acquired national attention in the 1980s, following concerns that we were running out of space for landfills. Mindful waste management began at MSU even later, in 1990, after two years of petitions from students (https://msurecycling.com/our-story/); and it wasn’t until 2009 that the Surplus Store and Recycling Center was built, with material drop-offs open to the public.
For CAP Fellows, the hygiene products at Service Road are fascinating from both archaeological and garbology standpoints. Many of the artifacts still contain product, which promises a future opportunity to conduct chemical residue analyses, e.g., what toxic chemicals were people using on their bodies in the mid-1900s? Similarly, it may be possible to compare items from different time periods to try to understand if and how consumption has changed through time, e.g., do people become more wasteful as products become cheaper and more widely available?
Simultaneously, historic garbage gives us the opportunity to consider our own lives through the products we purchase, use (or don’t!), and dispose of. Like glass bottles pre-dating recycling, most plastics in our bathrooms today have no place to go except the archaeological record of 2070.
Land Acknowledgement: 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.
Rathje W. 1992. The Garbage Project, University of Arizona.
Subramanian, P.M. 2000. Plastics recycling and waste management in the US. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 28. 253-263.
Shen, L. and E. Worrell 2014. Plastic Recycling. Chapter 13. Handbook of Recycling.
This week marks the start of CAP’s 2021 summer field season; we have completed trainings, designed survey and outreach projects, and finished our academic year. This all means we can now get out into in the field! Over the next few months, we will be …
The presence of international students on campus began early in MSU’s history. Not even two decades after MSU’s founding, four international students were enrolled for the fall semester in 1873. Two of these students were from Japan, one from Holland, and one from Canada . …
We love the work we do through MSU’s Campus Archaeology. While our primary purpose is to mitigate and protect the archaeological and cultural resources on MSU’s campus, CAP goes above and beyond to also engage with our public audience and local community through outreach and social media. We truly believe outreach is essential because our aim is to share the history of MSU to the entire Greater Lansing area so that we can all answer questions about its past and better understand what has shaped the development of MSU and its students. And this is a similar feeling across archaeology, as Watkins and colleagues (2000:40) argue that “the products of our research belong to the public.”
However, we must be careful in our outreach to adhere to ethical guidelines and standards. We work with historical artifacts that do not belong to us, but to those that came before us. Several laws have been enacted for this purpose (and for the preservation of archaeological sites), such as the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, and the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Messenger 2014). But, these require the active cooperation and support of archaeologists to ensure that cultural resources are properly protected and cared for in a timely manner.
We also have to be aware of potential implications of sharing artifacts with the public. One such example is that by openly sharing information about our excavation sites, we are sharing locations from which artifacts can be found and be taken out of context. We are lucky here at MSU that we work on university grounds and do not always have to worry about potential risk or looting, but this is not the case at every excavation site. When we are working with artifacts recovered outside of MSU, or outside of Michigan, we must make sure we have the permissions to share those artifacts, and if we can, we must think carefully about how to display such information.
But, what rules apply when we showcase artifacts found on MSU’s campus? This does depend on the time period of the artifact, but if they are related to college life, like the majority of our CAP collections, and they are found on MSU’s campus, we are employees of MSU and so we are able to legally showcase our artifacts to the public. Of course, this does not hold true for artifacts that are potentially Indigenous or the cultural patrimony of another entity in Michigan. In these cases, it is our responsibility to work with the appropriate governing bodies in order to ensure artifacts are maintained properly and returned. In other words, we always work to properly identify an artifact before it is used for outreach in order to ensure we are adhering to legal and ethical standards that have been clearly defined through years of practice.
In terms of sharing artifacts on social media, many debate the use of digitized artifacts, such as those that have been photographed or scanned and are freely available online, because the question of authenticity comes into play. If we are able to fully digitize a site, what does this mean for site conservation? If we are able to fully digitize an artifact, should we keep the original? And if we are digitizing artifacts, how can we ensure their security, while maintaining data transparency? And how should digital artifacts be maintained and shared with the community? Richter and colleagues (2013) bring up these questions and sources of debate in archaeology in an effort to raise awareness to these new issues and how they might impact and change the field. Technology does not mean an end to archaeology, but certain opens up new questions about how we use it for our work.
While we do digitize artifacts in CAP, we focus on historic artifacts that can clearly tell us about MSU’s past, or that of the Greater East Lansing area. Additionally, digitization of artifacts and sites are extremely useful in our case, as we work on a university campus that is ever growing and changing. Therefore, some sites were already destroyed long before CAP began in 2007 and others cannot be fully protected. In these cases, we focus on artifact curation and how digitization can play its own role in this process. In terms of outreach, we maintain data transparency by striving to use technology that is open sourced with open code in an effort to provide resources that are accessible to all. We want to use digitization of appropriate artifacts so that we can best connect with the public and we feel that this has been especially essential this past year without any face to face events.
All in all, this blog is meant to show that CAP takes its outreach and cultural resource management roles seriously. For example, all of our CAP fellows recently attended a webinar on NAGPRA and its role at MSU. And soon, we will all begin SHIPO and NPI training for work this summer so that we can maintain safety and ethical standards in all of our work. We always want to engage with our local communities, but we will continue to do so as ethically as possible so that we are able to best serve all of you.
We would like to to take this opportunity to highlight a three part discussion of archaeological ethics presented in the Society for American Archaeology March 2021 Newsletter: http://onlinedigeditions.com/publication/?m=16146&i=700116&p=56&ver=html5. The discussion responds to 2020 archaeological ethics survey. Interestingly enough, this set of articles was released the same day as this blog and, as such, the blog does not mention it. However, we believe this to be an important part of ongoing discussions of ethic in archaeology and felt it would be good to share it here.
- Fouseki, K. & Vacharopoulou, K. (2013). Digital Museum Collections and Social Media: Ethical Considerations of Ownership and Use. Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies, 11(1), p.Art. 5. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/jcms.1021209
- Messenger P.M. (2014) Ethics of Collecting Cultural Heritage. In: Smith C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2_1175
- Richter A.M., Petrovic V., Vanoni D., Parish S.M., Kuester F., & Levy T.E. (2013) “Digital archaeological landscapes & replicated artifacts: Questions of analytical & phenomenological authenticity & ethical policies in cyberarchaeology.” In: Digital Heritage International Congress (DigitalHeritage), Marseille, France, 2013, pp. 569-572, doi: 10.1109/DigitalHeritage.2013.6744826
- Society of American Archaeology Statement on Ethics in Professional Archaeology. Accessed at: https://www.saa.org/career-practice/ethics-in-professional-archaeology
- Society of Historical Archaeology. Statement on Ethics Principles. Accessed at: https://archaeologicalethics.org/code-of-ethics/society-for-historical-archaeology-sha-ethics-principles/
- Watkins, J., L. Goldstein, K.D. Vitelli & L. Jenkins. 2000. Accountability: responsibilities of archaeologists to other interest groups, in M. Lynott & A. Wylie (ed.) Ethics in American archaeology: 40-44. Washington (DC): Society for American Archaeology.
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.