Dr. Kate Frederick, a recent MSU graduate, worked with Campus Archaeology for two years, where she says she gained wide range of skills sets. She stated that though she had a decade of archaeological experience, there was a steep learning curve in the role of […]



        Chris Stawski was involved with Campus Archaeology at its inception, beginning as an archaeological technician in the summer of 2008.  Chris also held the position of Campus Archaeologist during the 2010-2011 academic year.  During his tenure with CAP, he was a […]

A Close Shave: Personal Grooming and Social Interaction during the Early History of MAC

A Close Shave: Personal Grooming and Social Interaction during the Early History of MAC

The Saints’ Rest excavations conducted by the Campus Archaeology Program have been well-documented and researched not only because this was the inaugural project for CAP, but also that it is one of the earliest buildings on campus, giving us a rare glimpse into how students lived during the formative years of the institution. Due to the many posts written about his site, I will not attempt to synthesize the vast amount of information we have gathered here, but will focus on a particular artifact that that I feel is particularly pertinent for this time of the year.

Screen shot of the 3D model of the shaving mug recovered from Saints’ Rest in the 2005 excavations.

During the 2005 excavations of Saints’ Rest, CAP unearthed (and expertly reconstructed) a mid-19th century shaving mug. Given that the close of No-Shave-November is upon us, it is only appropriate that I delve into the history of personal hygiene and social interactions through the lens of cumbersome facial hair. The mug in question was possibly a deep or royal blue color during its use-life, but was likely damaged in the fire that consumed Saints’ Rest, thereby distorting its true color and any decoration applied after it was fired in a kiln.

1908 catalog page from the Koken Barbers’ Supply Company showing the uniform and cylindrical shape but highly decorative nature of shaving mugs. Image source.

Facial hair hygienic practices have archaeological roots indicating that before the adoption of metallic shaving devices, sharpened shells were likely used (1). Once copper began being utilized for various other reasons, the metal was manipulated into rudimentary shaving implements. During the 18th century, the straight razor is known to have been manufactured in England (2). Yet shaving mugs, and its not far-off cousin the shaving scuttle, were not officially patented until 1867 (3). Shaving mugs (and scuttles) were used mainly for mainly two functions: 1) to hold hot water used to heat up the brush, and 2) whip up a large lather from the shaving soap. Traditional shaving soaps were hardened soap discs, not the canned foams or gels we know today.

The mug would be filled with water that had been heated over a stove and then let the soap brush sit and warm up in the water. After the water was dumped out and the brush had coated in the shaving soap, the mug was then used to create a lather by whipping the soapy brush until a thick foam appeared.

This is obviously a much more laborious process than we know today, especially since the straight razor was the most popular shaving implement until the invention and patent of the safety razors in 1887 (although the most popular was designed by King C. Gillette in 1895), although it still took some time before these razors were widely used (4). The safety razor changed the culture of shaving by making it less time-consuming, less intimidating, and an overall easier process since the razors were designed to be discarded after one use.

Given the date of both the patent of the safety razor (1887) and the date when Saints’ Rest burned down (1876), this mug would have been used during the hey-day straight razor shaving. Additionally, since no other shaving mug pieces have been found or identified from the Saints’ Rest assemblage, this might indicate that shaving may have been a social bonding experience between students as well as a representation of social identity. The modification of any type of appearance on the body is both a reflection of the self as well as a reflection of the culture in which one exists (5). Although the vast majority of men do not let their facial hair grow wild and untouched, grooming by means of shaving off all facial hair or implementing certain styles is a social communication that produces, reproduces, and emphasizes a sense of self within a cultural system.

1895 ad from the Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog for the safety razor emphasizing its convenience and ease. Image source.

In order for these excavations and artifacts to have any meaning, we must root them within the cultural context from which they were found. Only then do we go beyond the description of an object, such as a simple shaving mug, to the interpretation and social importance that the object can convey. So as the end No-Shave-November is creeping near, grab your shaving mug, your shaving soap, and your straight razor and participate in the culturally communicative body modification process and express your social identity! (or keep the beard, it matters not to me)

Be sure to check out our 3D photogrammetry model of the shaving mug linked here!


  1. Sherrow, V. (2006). Encyclopedia of hair: a cultural history. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  2. Brown,K. (2009). Foul bodies: cleanliness in early America. Yale University Press.
  3. Brooks, J. P., & McGrady, J. (1867 – July). Improvement in shaving-cups. U.S. Patent 66,788.
  4. Thorpe, S. C. (1953). Practice and science of standard barbering, Milady Publishing Corp.
  5. Turner,T. S. (2012). The social skin. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2(2),486-504.
Final ReCAP: A Fellow’s Farewell to Campus Archaeology

Final ReCAP: A Fellow’s Farewell to Campus Archaeology

Hello, old friends. It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye. It is a bittersweet farewell: I’ve finished my Ph.D. (a good thing),and it is therefore time for me to end my tenure with Campus Archaeology (a sad thing). The past three-and-a-half years […]

Alumni Highlight: Amy Michael

Alumni Highlight: Amy Michael

Dr. Amy Michael is a biological anthropologist whose research examines the microstructure of human bones and teeth in order to address questions ranging from health and social identity in the ancient Maya to the effect of lifestyle factors on skeletal age. She is currently a […]

The Sweet, Sweet Science of Maple Syrup: An Update on the MSU Sugar House Project

The Sweet, Sweet Science of Maple Syrup: An Update on the MSU Sugar House Project

While Jack and I plan our field research on the old sugar bush that once stood in Sandford Woodlot, we have continued to do background research on the site.  With help from Whitney Miller, the good folks at the MSU Archives and Historical Collections, and archaeologist Matt Thomas, we have found out a great deal more about this past MSU facility.

Built in 1915, the Forestry Department established this sugar house in order to make better use of the Sanford Woodlot, educate students about the process of creating maple sugar and syrup, and to conduct experiments in order to make the process more productive (1915 Dept. of Agricultural Education Report to the MI Board of Agriculture). While this sugar house clearly had educational and economic purposes, learning about the scientific research that took place there has been one of the most interesting and eye-opening aspects of this project.

Image of Sanford Woodlot sugar house, date unknown. Image from May 1973 Michigan Science in Action periodical, pg. 12. Document on file at MSU Archives (MSU info files,, Sanford Natural Area folder).

When you think about making maple syrup, the process seems pretty straight forward: you tap a tree, collect its sap, and then boil the sap down to make maple syrup. This process has been used for hundreds of years, yet there are many factors that can be explored to improve one’s ability to make maple syrup. Investigating these factors was the job of those who ran the sugar house at MSU.

While documentation from the first few decades of research at the Sanford sugar house is scarce, one of the early projects was conducted to understand the effects of different numbers of taps and collection buckets on a single tree’s sap production and health (1916 Forestry Department Report to MI Board of Agriculture).

In later years, under the direction of Putnam W. Robbins, a number of different projects were launched. Robbins and his students continued research on tree tapping, examining what areas of the tree are most productive when tapped and when tapping should begin (Douglass 1955; Robbins 1948). In the early 1940s, they also collaborated with the MSU Weather Bureau to study the effects of weather on sap runs. Through this study, they not only narrowed down what types of weather affect sap runs and when it is best to start tapping, but also began broadcasting maple sap-related weather reports on the radio to assist farmers in planning their sap collection.  It is these radio broadcasts which are credited for an increase in production compared to other parts of the state and country during this time (Robbins 1954).

Plate 3 from Robbin’s 1948 thesis (pg. 13) exploring the effects of tap placement on sap production. This image shows trees with taps and collection buckets focused on the side of the trees that received the most sunlight.

Another research project undertaken during this time investigated the role of micro-organisms on both slowing the run of sap from tap holes and their subsequent impact on the quality of the maple syrup produced. Through this work, researchers identified the impacts of micro-organisms and developed a method, paraformaldehyde pellets, to introduce a germicide into a tap hole, helping to increase the amount of time that sap would run and eliminate contaminants that reduced the quality of maple syrup made from that sap (Costilow et al. 1962; Sheneman et al. 1958). In subsequent years, research conducted by other organizations have found that the use of these pellets affected the healing process in trees, leading to a ban on their use (Perkins 2010), but the effects of micro-organisms outlined in these studies is still an important factor to consider for those trying to profit from maple syrup production today.

Because of this research focus, the Sanford sugar bush was a central player in the broader sphere of the maple products industry during the early- to mid-1900s.  It was one of the few sugar bushes in the country that served primarily as a research laboratory, and research conducted within its boundaries had wide reaching impacts across the upper Midwest and Northeast. Who knew that such a small building could have so big an impact.


1915   Dept. of Agricultural Education Report to the MI Board of Agriculture. MSU Archives and Historical Collections, MSU info files,, Sanford Natural Area folder.

1916   Forestry Department Report to MI Board of Agriculture. MSU Archives and Historical Collections, MSU info files,, Sanford Natural Area folder.

Costilow, R.N., Putnam W. Robbins, R.J. Simmons, and C.O. Willits
1962   The Efficiency and Practicability of Different Types of Paraformaldehyde Pellets for Controlling Microbial Growth in Maple tree Tapholes. Michigan Agriculture Experimental Station Quarterly Bulletin 44:559-579.

1955   The Effect of Date of Tapping on the Yield of Maple Sap from Sterile and Non-Sterile Tap Holes. Thesis, Michigan State College. Document on file at MSU Archives and Historical Collections, UA.16.51, box 527, folder 26.

Perkins,Timothy D.
2010   Antimicrobial Silver in Maple Sap Collection. Maple Syrup Digest22:11-20.

Robbins,Putnam W.
1948   Position of Tapping and Other Factors Affecting the Flow of Maple Sap. Thesis, Michigan State College.

Robbins,Putnam W.
1954   “Maple Sap Weather Forcasting: An Aid to Greater Production of Maple Syrup.” Paper presented to the Academy of Sciences Meeting. Document on file at MSU Archives and Historical Collections, UA.16.51, box 527, folder 18. 

Sheneman, J.M., R.N. Costilow, Putnam W. Robbins, and James E. Douglass
1958   Correlation between Microbial Populations and Sap Yields from Maple Trees. Food Research 24:152-159.

Apparitions & Archaeology: 5th Annual Haunted Campus Tour

Apparitions & Archaeology: 5th Annual Haunted Campus Tour

Happy Halloween! Yesterday we hosted our 5th annual Apparitions & Archaeology: A Haunted Campus Tour. For this year’s tour, we decided to change several of the stops and the MSU Paranormal Society added stories from their investigations of each area! If you weren’t able to […]



Michigan State’s Campus Archaeology program has provided fellowships for a number of graduate students in anthropology. These fellowships are awarded to enthusiastic, motivated students who are interested in gaining a unique learning experience. The fellows dedicate a lot of time and energy into conducting research […]

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

Modeling the Past: Photogrammetry and Anthropological Research

Modeling the Past: Photogrammetry and Anthropological Research

For my CAP project this year, I decided to do something at which I feel I’m particularly good: creating 3D models of artifacts found during CAP excavations. I have been using digital technologies to render 3D models for about three years now and have created […]