MSU @ SAA 2017

Next week, from March 29th – April 2nd, the 82nd Annual Society for American Archaeology meeting is taking place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  This year we have many MSU faculty and students presenting their work.  Make sure to swing by their talks, posters, and lightening session. The full meeting program can be found here.

CAP director Dr. Lynne Goldstein is receiving two SAA Presidential Recognition Awards.  One for her work on the Task Force on Gender Disparities in Archaeological Grant Submissions, and the other for her work on the Task Force on Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure in Diverse Academic Roles.  Congratulations Dr. Goldstein!  Learn more about each task force in the full meeting program. The award ceremony follows the annual business meeting, Friday March 31st at 5:30 PM.

Rebecca Albert (undergraduate)

Thursday –

  • Symposium: Some Like It Hot: Analytic Diversity and Complementarity in the Exploration of Past Cooking and Cuisine
  • Time – 9:45 AM
  • Room: East Meeting room 18 (VCC)
  • Paper: A-Maize-ing: Phytolith Evidence for an Early Introduction of Maize in the Upper Great Lakes Diet
  • Co-authors: Caitlin Clark, Susan Kooiman, and William Lovis
  • Note – this paper won the Institute for Field Research  (IRF) and SAA Undergraduate award

Autumn Beyer

Saturday –

  • Symposium: General Session, Archaeology in the American Midwest II
  • Time- 10:30AM
  • Room: East Meeting Room 20 (VCC)
  • Paper: Power and Purpose: The Role of Animals in Ritual Context at a Mid-Continental Site in the Fourteenth Century
  • Co-authors: Terrance Martin and Jodie O’Gorman

Lisa Bright

Saturday –

  • Poster Session: North America – California
  • Room: East Exhibit Hall B Poster Entrance (VCC)
  • Time – 10:30AM – 12:30PM
  • Poster: A Different Kind of Poor: A Multi-Method Demographic Analysis of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Historic Cemetery
  • Co-author: Joseph Hefner

Sunday –

  • Lightning Rounds – Institution for Digital Archaeology Method and Practice Project Reports.
  • Time – 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
  • Room: East Meeting Room 7 (VCC)
  • Role: Discussant

Brian Geyer


  • Symposium: Methods and Models for Teaching Digital Archaeology and Heritage
  • Time – 8:30 AM
  • Room: East Meeting Room 8 (VCC)
  • Paper: “LEADR at MSU: A Lab Approach to Digital Cultural Heritage in the Classroom”
  • Co-author: Brandon Locke

Dr. Lynne Goldstein:

Thursday –

  • Symposium: Archaeological Epistemology in the Digital Age
  • Time – 8:00am
  • Room: East Meeting Room 17 (VCC)
  • Paper: “Thinking Differently? How Digital Engagement, Teaching, and Research Have Influence My Archaeological Knowledge”


  • Lightning Rounds – Institution for Digital Archaeology Method and Practice Project Reports.
  • Time – 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
  • Room: East Meeting Room 7 (VCC)
  • Role: Moderator

Susan Kooiman

Thursday –

  • Symposium: Some Like It Hot: Analytic Diversity and Complementarity in the Exploration of Past Cooking and Cuisine
  • Time – 8:00AM – 11:00 AM
  • Room: East Meeting room 18 (VCC)
  • Role: Chair
  • Paper: Cooking and Cuisine: Culinary Clues and Contexts in the Archaeological Record (8:00 AM)
  • Paper: Beer, Porridges, and Feasting in the Gamo Region of Souther Ethiopia (9:15), co-author

Alice Lynn McMichael (LEADR Assistant Director)

Sunday –

  • Lightning Rounds – Institution for Digital Archaeology Method and Practice Project Reports.
  • Time – 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
  • Room: East Meeting Room 7 (VCC)
  • Role: Discussant

Jeff Painter

Thursday –

  • Symposium: General Session, Archaeology in the American Midwest I
  • Time – 3:30PM
  • Room:East Meeting Room 4 (VCC)
  • Paper: Foodway Variability in the Oneota Tradition: A Pilot Study of Cooking Pots
  • Co-author: Jodie O’Gorman

Dr. Jodie O’Gorman

Friday –

  • Symposium: Blood in the Waters: Violence in the Mississippian and Late Prehistoric Eastern Woodlands
  • Time – 10:45AM
  • Room: East Meeting Room 8 (VCC)
  • Paper: Life during Wartime: Children, Violence, and Security at Morton Village
  • Role: Co-author (Jennifer Bengtson, Jodie O’Gorman, and Amy Michael)

Dr. Heather Walder

Saturday –

  • Lightning Rounds: Enduring Culture History: Constructions of Past Communities and Identities in the Twenty-First Century
  • Time – 8:00AM – 10:00AM
  • Room: East Meeting Room 15 (VCC)
  • Role: Moderator & Discussant
  • Poster Session: North America, Midwest I
  • Time – 2:00PM – 4:00PM
  • Room: East Exhibit Hall B Poster Entrance (VCC)
  • Poster: Compositional Analysis of Copper-Base Metal Artifacts from Michigan

Dr. Ethan Watrall


  • Symposium: Methods and Models for Teaching Digital Archaeology and Heritage
  • Time – 8:00am – 11:00 AM
  • Room: East Meeting Room 8 (VCC)
  • Role: Chair
  • Paper: “Building Scholars and Communities of Practice in Digital Heritage and Archaeology” (10:30 AM)

Saturday –

  • Forum: Current Challenges in Using 3D Data in Archaeology
  • Time – 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
  • Room: East Meeting Room 5 (VCC)
  • Role: Discussant

See you in Vancouver!





Rhapsody in Flow Blue: the History of a Plate

Whenever we at CAP come across an interesting artifact, it sparks the inevitable, if inelegant question, “what was this thing doing on our campus?” It’s a simple question, but I’ve often found as I delve into researching an artifact that the journey of that object to our campus is connected not only with MSU’s history, but also with broader themes in American and even world history. This blog post explores how a broken dinner plate in an MSU professor’s trash pit is connected to a larger story of global trade, the rise of the middle class, and the beginnings of consumer society.

In his last blog post, Jeff discussed some of the decorated ceramics from the Gunson assemblage, the large collection of artifacts unearthed during excavations near Hannah Administration building. These artifacts date from the 1890s to the mid-1920s and are likely from a trash pit associated with the remodel of Professor Gunson’s house. One of these artifacts was a dinner plate decorated with a blurry, blue pattern on a white background.

Early 20th Century Flow Blue Johnson Brothers "Montana" Pattern

Early 20th Century Flow Blue Johnson Brothers “Montana” Pattern

As it turns out, this blurriness is not due to a manufacturing error or the effects of the elements, rather it is a decorative style known as “flow blue.” The name refers to the blue glaze that “flowed” as it was fired, giving patterns a characteristic blur. Flow blue was widely popular from about 1830 to 1915, and several pieces have been found on MSU’s campus.

Chinese export porcelain vase. Image courtesy Peabody Essex Museum

Chinese export porcelain vase. Image courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

Flow blue pottery was first manufactured in England sometime in the 1820s, but its origin story begins in China over a century earlier. In 1700, the East India Trade Company had recently secured England’s first successful trading post in Taiwan. As trade between China and England increased, so did exports of Chinese porcelain to Europe. Chinese porcelain was strikingly beautiful with rich, blue patterns hand-painted on stark white vessels. It was also delicate and subject to high tariffs, making it expensive and difficult to transport. Only the wealthiest could afford to import porcelain, adding to its allure.

English potters spent the next 100 years trying to replicate Chinese porcelain to meet demand for such a product. The difficulty lay in producing vessels that matched the bright white of porcelain. After many attempts including salt-glazed earthenware, creamware, and pearlware, the desired effect was achieved in the early 1800s with ironstone, a white-glazed stoneware.

While Chinese porcelain was hand-painted, transfer printing technology developed in the mid-18th century created an opportunity for potters to market their products to a wider audience. Transfer printing uses ink and damp tissue paper to transfer designs from an engraving to a piece of pottery. This method allowed for quick and easy application of designs, which reduced the cost per item. The result was an affordable luxury that could be sold to the emerging Victorian middle class.

Flow blue plate featuring Oriental motifs. Image from

Flow blue plate featuring Oriental motifs. Image from

Transfer printed pottery became a highly successful early form of mass production, and precipitated some of the earliest mass marketing efforts. Transfer printed products could be produced cheaply and in large quantities, but in order to drive up demand, potters employed new marketing techniques such as catalogues, traveling salesmen, and showrooms in major cities. Items that were once primarily seen as utilitarian became decorative, collectible status symbols for the middle class.

One slight disadvantage to transfer-printed items is that they tend to have an overly crisp look that makes them appear obviously manufactured, rather than hand-painted. No one likes to look cheap, so potters had to come up with a way of disguising this quality.

Enter: Flow Blue. Cobalt oxide, the compound responsible for the blue color in transfer printing inks, tends to bleed slightly when vessels are glazed and re-fired. The bleeding produced designs that appeared handcrafted, hid minor cosmetic defects, and thus looked more expensive. The blue could be made to “flow” even more with the addition of lime or ammonium chloride.

Flow blue factory second. Image from

Flow blue factory second. Image from

It was sometimes difficult to control the amount of “flow.” Manufacturers ended up with large stocks of factory seconds rejected because the patterns were too blurry. Factory seconds were shipped to the US and sold cheaply in the American market. Here, flow blue became especially popular with the middle class who could now afford to buy these decorative items.

Flow blue was printed on a variety of mediums, but ironstone was particularly popular in America because it was durable and impermeable, which made it more sanitary than earlier, more porous ceramic wares. However, ironstone could only be decorated in a limited number of ways because few glazes other than the blue transfer-print could withstand the heat of firing. This meant that a lot of 19th century ironstone was decorated in flow blue—tea sets, dinner plates, and even dog bowls—and potters had to get creative with their designs.

By the late 1800’s, more than 1500 patterns were available in flow blue. Early flow blue patterns mimicked Chinese imports, featuring imagery such as pagodas, temples, and mountains. Later, English pastoral scenes and floral motifs became fashionable. The plate recovered from Professor Gunson’s trash pit features a floral “Montana” pattern manufactured by the Johnson Brothers.

The Montana pattern found on the plate in the Gunson assemblage dates to about 1913, which means Professor Gunson may have had some of the last flow blue exported from England. Around 1915, most English manufacturers stopped making flow blue. The cobalt used by English potters came from Saxony in Germany, and World War I effectively cut off this supply.

As I researched Gunson’s dinner plate, I couldn’t help but think about how this object connects MSU to a whole range of historical events. Flow blue pottery is the result of a century of English attempts to replicate Chinese porcelain, the demand for which was created over hundreds of years of trade between Western Europe and China. The transfer printing technology used to produce flow blue pottery is one example of long-term trends in mass production and mass marketing. Even the fact that such a plate made it here to a rural Michigan campus relates to the growth of a middle class able to select and purchase items like decorative dinnerware for use in their homes. Sometimes a broken is just a broken plate, but with a little bit of context, sometimes a broken plate reveals a (literal) piece of history.




Hanging Out with Uncle Tommy: Decorated Ceramics from the Gunson Assemblage

Professor Thomas Gunson c. 1910. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Professor Thomas Gunson c. 1910. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

During this semester, I have been working through some of the decorated ceramics that were found in the Gunson assemblage (Find more information about the excavation here). Working toward the goal of generating a better picture of what types of vessels were found and the number of different stylistic types, I have been working on refitting the many decorated sherds that were found in this particular assemblage.  Finally, I am nearing the end and am ready to present some of the results.  But first, a bit of background.

Excavated in the summer of 2015 by a Campus Archaeology field school, this assemblage is one of the largest that CAP has ever excavated.  Thousands of artifacts were found, ranging from ceramics to glassware, building materials, lab equipment, and a number of more personal items.  Dating to the 1890’s thru the 1920’s, this assemblage is likely associated with the home of Thomas Gunson and his family, who lived on campus near this location.  Of the many ceramic sherds recovered, most were plain whitewares, but some were decorated in many ways.  A number of sherds had the thin green bands typical of industrial wares.  Other, more delicate pieces, were plain whitewares with embossed rims or were whiteware or porcelain dishes with various colorful decorative motifs.  For this project, I focused only those sherds with colorful decorative motifs.

Variety of decorated ceramic sherds from Gunson site.

Variety of decorated ceramic sherds from Gunson site.

Between the 100-200 sherds examined for this project, 56 different decorative designs were present.  Few designs were repeated on more than one dish.  While many different designs were represented, they fit into only a few different general categories.  The vast majority of designs consisted of various types of floral patterns, while a few vessels contained geometric motifs, different everyday scenes, or were abstract designs formed by blocks or bands of color.  These different designs were executed in a myriad of colors.  While many were common blue-on-white or grey-on-white color schemes, many were multicolored, including tones of green, pink, yellow, blue, red, orange, or even black.  Many dishes also had gold leaf/gilding present, either composing the entire design or as an accent on the edge of the vessel’s rim.

Early 20th Century Flow Blue Johnson Brothers "Montana" Pattern

Early 20th Century Flow Blue Johnson Brothers “Montana” Pattern

Of the many vessels represented in this assemblage, the vast majority were teacups, saucers, small plates, or fragments of serving dishes.  Only a couple of the plates are large enough to be considered dinner plates.  Based on their decorations, sizes, and vessel types, these dishes were clearly meant for entertaining, functioning as serving wares for drinks and light refreshments.  In this context, they also would have been the dishes most likely to be broken.

Early 20th Century Mercer Pottery Co. "Bordeaux" Pattern

Early 20th Century Mercer Pottery Co. “Bordeaux” Pattern

Homer Laughlin Gold Floral Plate. Pattern Name Unknown.

Homer Laughlin Gold Floral Plate. Pattern Name Unknown.

T. Elsmore and Sons, Lily & Vase Pattern Plate. Produced May 14th 1878.

T. Elsmore and Sons, Lily & Vase Pattern Plate. Produced May 14th 1878.


In doing some archival research into Gunson’s background, it became a little clearer as to why his family may have owned and used so many different dishes for entertaining.  Over his nearly 5 decades of service at MSU, Thomas Gunson, or “Uncle Tommy” as students would often call him, was a beloved part of campus life and frequently engaged with students, alumni, and local residents.  According to small articles written about him in the M.A.C. Record, he was an outgoing individual with a flair for fashion and life, enjoying his time with students and others on campus.  He was typically very well dressed, and his family home served as “a cosmopolitan haven for undergraduates and graduates alike” (M.A.C. Record vol. 46, no. 2, 1941).  He was so well liked that he was considered by many to be a campus institution and returning alumni would often seek him out in order to reconnect with one of their favorite faculty members.  As such a gregarious and fashionable man, it is not surprising that his home would be stocked with quality ceramics for entertaining his many visitors, with an emphasis on tea or other drinks that could be served during short social calls.  If only, on a chilly day like this, we could go back in time and join Uncle Tommy for a cup of tea.


MAC Record

1941   “Thomas Gunson, 1858-1940”.  Vol. 46, no. 2, January.

So We Meat Again: Species and Meat Cut Purchasing Records for Early MSU

During Susan Kooiman and I’s research on the early foodways of MSU’s campus, we scoured our way through a number of purchasing records in the MSU Archives. After Susan’s blog post on the seasonality of food purchased, we realized that it might be interesting to see if there were any patterns of meat purchasing through time! To accomplish this, I reorganized all of our data from the 1861 to 1874 archival records by meat type (i.e. ham, chicken, salt pork, lamb, whitefish, etc.). While we have a few lost years, 1864-1866, I was able to see a few changes through this period of time.

In the beginning, during the early 1860s, the purchasing records were very specific, not only recording that MSU purchased “fresh fish”, but the specific species as well, including trout and whitefish (sometimes even listed as Lake Superior White fish; read more about this here). Through the entire period I analyzed, they also recorded specific cuts of meat, instead of just beef or pork. The types of meat that were listed in detail include bacon, beef shanks, coined beef, beef steak, beef roast, corned beef, shoulder, salt pork, and salt beef.

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While there are no clear patterns of changes in purchasing preferences in these early years, the records became much more difficult to interpret during the late 1860s into the 1870s. During the 1870s, it becomes more vague, sometimes only listing from whom the meat was purchased from and not always including the type of cut or even species! This lack of detail makes it much more difficult to recover any changes in meat purchasing and use over time, meaning that other means of gathering information, such as the bones themselves, will be critical for looking at meat use over time at MSU.

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While I am unable to uncover any changes in meat use at this time, I did find a few fun entries in the purchasing records as I was compiling the data. The first comes from 1867, citing the specific purchasing of meat from the MSU farms. While it doesn’t say what type of species, it is one of the few accounts that we have come across that specifically cites the purchasing of meat from our very own farms! Second, lists the purchasing of chickens in 1869, not for everyday consumption, but for winter commencement. Commencement would have been one of the larger events held on campus every year, so the college had to buy a lot of food specifically for this event. Lastly, one of my personal favorites, were listings over multiple years for the purchase of steak as well as beef and pork roast, not for the boarding halls, but for President T.C. Abbot. The purchasing records do not list the occasions that the meat was destined for, but from the pounds of meat purchased each month, one may assume that it was purchased for sharing at small functions… unless President Abbot really loved his steak.



MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. “Agricultural boarding hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 82. Folder 11, Box 2531. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account with Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 108. Folder 11, Box 2533. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account With Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 32. UA17.107. “Accounts 1867-1873”

The Udderly Legen-dairy History of Dairying at MSU: Part I

I am a Midwestern stereotype: I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. We sold our milk to a creamery in the Cheese Curd Capital of the World (Ellsworth, WI). Milk runs through my veins. I admire my vegan friends for their ability to resist the creamy deliciousness of cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, without which I would languish in despair. As you can guess, my interest in anything dairy-related is rather high.

Therefore I was delighted upon my arrival in East Lansing to discover the MSU Dairy Store. Most of you who have spent any time at MSU are familiar with the delicious flavors of the ice cream and cheese produced here on campus. Since we are in the middle of project documenting early foodways of the college, I thought it would be fun to explore a topic integral to both my personal history and the agricultural origins of MSU. This first in a series of two blogs about the history of MSU dairying will chronicle dairy production and manufacturing on campus.

Prized cows of the early MSC dairy herd. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Prized cows of the early MSC dairy herd.E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

In the earliest days of the College, the only cows on campus were kept by the families of the professors. Frank S. Kedzie, a former MSC president, was the son of one of the first professors, recalls that his mother made the first cheese on the campus grounds (UA 17.107, Folder 1, Box 2411). In 1867, Dr. Manley Miles, Professor of Practical Agriculture, bought the first dairy cattle for the college, which were Ayrshires. Jerseys were added to the herd in 1871, and the first Holsteins, the black and white standard dairy cattle, arrived in 1880 (Anthony 192: 12-13). Brown Swiss and Guernseys were slowly added into the mix, as well. We know from the early account books that the boarding halls were acquiring milk from the early herds of the  Farm Department by 1871, if not before.

MSC dairy barns built in 1900 and 1929. E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

MSC dairy barns built in 1900 and 1929. E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The first dedicated Dairy Barn was built in 1900 and held 100 cows. A new barn was constructed in 1929, which could house almost 150 heads of cattle and contained the most up-to-date equipment of that time (Anthony 1929:19). While updates were part of the reason for this move, another reason was disease. Tuberculosis wiped out most of the herd in 1904 (Anderson 1929), and contagious disease continued to plague the herd in the decades after. Those in charge of the dairy hoped the move to a new, sanitary location would break the disease cycle (Anthony 1929:16).

The first building containing a plant dedicated to dairy manufacturing was constructed in 1913. Known as the Dairy Building, it was located on the north end of Farm Lane and cost $55,000 (Anthony 1929:16). It contained a well-equipped creamery for the practical training of the students. The original Dairy Store was opened in this building, although the exact date of this event is unknown.

MSC Dairy Store in the Dairy Building (post-1913) Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

MSC Dairy Store in the Dairy Building (post-1913). Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Ice Cream Bar wrapper Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Ice Cream Bar wrapper
Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

The Dairy Department and Plant remained in the Dairy Building until 1954, when Anthony Hall was constructed. Letters from the Michigan Agricultural Conference (1948), Michigan Purebred Dairy Cattle Association (1950) and Michigan Livestock Improvement Association (1952) to the state complained about the poor facilities and outdated equipment of the Dairy Building plant and called for improved agricultural, livestock, and dairy facilities at MSC (UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 8). Following the construction of Anthony Hall—which was named after Ernest L. Anthony, the former head of the Dairy Department—the new dairy plant was highly productive. They provided milk to all of the residence halls, and made products such as chocolate milk, cream, half-and-half, sour cream, cottage cheese, buttermilk, dry milk, butter, and, of course, cheese and ice cream (including ice cream bars).

Milk cans outside of the Dairy Building awaiting delivery to campus dorms. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Milk cans outside of the Dairy Building awaiting delivery to campus dorms. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

M.S.C. Dairy Plant milk can Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Plant milk can. Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge









Dr. John Partridge, an emeritus faculty member of both the Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition and the Dept. of Animal Science, could be considered the Oral Historian of dairying on campus. He showed me and Lisa, our Campus Archaeologist, his stash of old dairying equipment, packaging, and photos from the mid-century era of the Dairy Plant. It provided us insight into the type of things we might encounter during our archaeological investigations on campus, such as historic milk bottles, bottle crates, and milk cans.

According to Partridge, the high level of productivity during the 1960’s become a point of contention with local private dairies, who did not feel it was fair that the MSU Dairy should have a monopoly on the campus milk market. Therefore, the dairy plant closed in 1968. In the meantime, local dairies found out how difficult it was to handle the fluctuating demands for milk of a college campus, and the dairy plant opened up again in the early 1970s. After this time the plant ceased to distribute fluid milk. The plant was gutted in the early 1990s and refitted with updated equipment.

M.S.C. Diary Plant worker making ice cream bars. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

M.S.C. Diary Plant worker making ice cream bars. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Historic apparatus for making ice cream bars in M.S.C. Dairy Plant Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

Historic apparatus for making ice cream bars in M.S.C. Dairy Plant
Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge








John Engstrom, the Dairy Complex Manager, kindly gave Dr. Goldstein and several CAP fellows (myself included) a tour of the dairy plant in early February. The facilities are spacious, shiny, and clean, and we saw the production of the curd for cheeses take place, which thrilled this Cheesehead. Some of those curds were bagged and sold the following day in that form, while the others were packaged into box forms to be pressed and aged and sold as various kinds of block cheese later on.

MSU Dairy Plant Facilities today

MSU Dairy Plant Facilities today

Diary Plant facilities soon after the construction of Anthony Hall Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

Diary Plant facilities soon after the construction of Anthony Hall. Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge











The Dairy Plant currently focuses on producing shelf-stable cheese and ice cream. They produce 40,000 gallons in 40 different flavors of ice cream each year and 40,000 lbs of cheese in 11 different types or flavors. The milk is supplied by the 180 cows milked on campus in the Dairy Teaching and Resource center, as well as those milked in the Pasture Dairy center in the Kellogg Biological Station (although cream is acquired from another source). The MSU Dairy Store is both locally and nationally renowned, and you can even order their products online here.

Making cheese in the Anthony Hall Dairy Plant, Image courtesy of Dr. Partridge.

Making cheese in the Anthony Hall Dairy Plant, Image courtesy of Dr. Partridge.

Making cheese in Anthony Hall today.

Making cheese in Anthony Hall today.








While the long history of diary production and manufacturing on the Michigan State Campus is intriguing, the role of dairy in our institution extends far beyond just the delicious output of the Dairy Store. Part II of this series will explore the illustrious history of diary research and education and MSU, so stay tuned!



Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

Madison Kuhn Collection. UA17.107, Folder 3, Box 2411
E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA17.107, Box 2411, Folder 2
A.C. Anderson, “The Dairy Herd” (1929)

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Folder 1, Box 2411
F.S. Kedzie, Letter to Mr. G.A. Bowling, Graduate Assistant in Dairy Husbandry, ca. 1955.

UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 8

A Closer Look at the Berlin Swirl Ceramic Pattern

Happy Fat Tuesday! After flocking to the nearest paczki-filled bakery, I hope that you sit down and enjoy your Polish donut on some fine china. Perhaps, if you’re historically or archaeologically inclined, you might want to enjoy your treat on a nice British ceramic plate. Enter: the Berlin Swirl pattern.

"Berlin Swirl" pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

“Berlin Swirl” pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

Here at CAP we’ve encountered the Berlin Swirl pattern in both the West Circle Privy, and the Saint’s Rest trash area.  Lisa Bright has researched the specifics of the Berlin Swirl fragments found in the historic privy on campus. The ceramics found in the privy are all characterized as institutional whiteware. The following is taken from Lisa’s summary of the privy assemblage from the forthcoming West Circle Privy Report:

“The Berlin Swirl pattern is characterized by a series of paired plumes following the rim of the plate, or around the body of cups.  Interestingly there are two different manufacturers of this plate represented; Mayer Brothers & Elliot, Mayer & Elliot, and Liddle Elliot & Son. Although the pattern was produced in a wide variety of  vessel types, the privy only contains dishes of varying size, and handless cups and sauces.  Plates were produced in dimensions from 6” to 10 ½”. The privy contained many ceramic fragments, but many of the ceramics could be reconstructed.  Of those with half or more of the vessel present include: 3 handless cups, 2 saucers (6” diameter), 1 small bowl (5.3” diameter), 1 small plate (6.3” diameter), 1 medium plate (7.5” diameter), and 2 large plates (9.5” diameter).

A Berlin Swirl plate bears a British registered design mark indicating a production date of December 18th, 1856; It was produced by Mayer Brothers & Elliot.  Mayer Brothers & Elliot produced ceramics under that name between 1855-1858.  They changed the name to simply Mayer & Elliot and continued production between 1858-1861.  In 1861 the        name was changed to Liddle Elliot & Son, which produced ceramics from 1862- 1869.  After 1869 the name was once again. This provides a narrow date range of 1855- 1869 for the production of the Berlin Swirl plates recovered from the privy.  There are additional illegible stamps on the base of the plates.”

We’re still in the midst of re-analyzing the ceramics from the trash pit, but it appears that additional Berlin Swirl forms may be present such as the soup tureen or tea set!

"Berlin Swirl" Plates recovered from West Circle Privy dating to 1860s.

“Berlin Swirl” Plates recovered from West Circle Privy dating to 1860s.

In the late 1800s, Americans were thought to favor “plain white vessels with comparatively unobtrusive molded decoration” (Lawrence and Davies 2010:304). By contrast, countries within the British Empire chose transfer prints with bright colors over the whiteware of their American counterparts (Lawrence and Davies 2010). By the 1840s, the first “Berlin Ironstone” appears under the maker’s mark T.J. & J.Mayer. This article provides a brief history of the progression of this style leading up to the Berlin Swirl pattern found on campus. The embossed style and edging of the Berlin Swirl pattern illustrates the craftsmanship involved in the molding of these pieces. One researcher even hypothesized that the stylistic curvature of the mold, in addition to the tall jugs and posts with paneling, may have been designed by persons involved with some familiarity with architecture.

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy.

The Civil War disrupted the trade of British-manufactured ceramic wares to the American market and Brooks (2005) has hypothesized that the rise in exports of white Berlin Swirl patterns to Australia is a response to the declining American demand. Archaeological excavations in Australia demonstrate that Berlin Swirl is found at various sites during the American Civil War (Lawrence and Davies 2010). The Berlin Swirl pattern is noted in a volume with a title that really says it all, “Good Taste, Fashion, and Luxury: A Genteel Melbourne Family and Their Rubbish” (2014), a detailed review of a wealthy family with a large collection of ceramics. Clearly, the Berlin Swirl was considered desirable enough to make it to the dinner table of a wealthy Australian family. However, the pattern also occurs at sites associated with decidedly lower class families. The Museums Victoria Collections has a wonderful review of the archaeology of the “Little Lon” working class district, a poor mid to late 19th century neighborhood in Melbourne, where many lower income and transient individuals took up residence. Fragments of Berlin Swirl ceramics were found during an excavation in the late 1980s but, interestingly, many of the ceramic pieces feature patterns or designs that are flawed in some way. Perhaps the rejected wares not suitable for sale to the American market were making their way to the working class neighborhoods in Australia.

Liddle Elliot & Sons makers mark from Berlin Swirl Dish - recovered from West Circle Privy

Liddle Elliot & Sons makers mark from Berlin Swirl Dish – recovered from West Circle Privy

The maker’s marks on the bases of the Berlin Swirl fragments in the privy provide tight date ranges for deposition and use. While researching this blog, I was reminded of how powerful maker’s marks are for historical archaeologists, not just in terms of dating but also in thinking about trade relationships around the globe. The Australian examples from both high and low income neighborhoods also remind us that ceramics can speak to aesthetic choice/selection as related to social class. I found it interesting that the working class neighborhoods were incorporating elegant china into their households likely as a result of a decline in the American market due to the Civil War! Archaeological analysis proves, yet again, the interconnectedness of consumer demand for products, status-related items, and increasingly global economies.


Works Cited

Brooks, Alasdair. “An archaeological guide to British ceramics in Australia 1788-1901.” (2005).

White Ironstone China Association Inc. White Ironstone Notes Vol 5 Issue 3 – Winter 1998.

Hayes, Sarah. Good Taste, Fashion, Luxury: a genteel Melbourne family and their rubbish. Vol. 5. Sydney University Press, 2014.

Lawrence, Susan, and Peter Davies. An archaeology of Australia since 1788. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010.

The Great Oyster Craze: Why 19th Century Americans Loved Oysters

In the 1800s, people loved oysters so much they wrote books on them. Courtesy of MSU Special Collections

In the 1800s, people loved oysters so much they wrote books on them. Courtesy of MSU Special Collections

As part of her research on historic campus cuisine, CAP Fellow Susan Kooiman visited the MSU Library’s Special Collections Department to peruse their collection of historic cookbooks. As you can (and should!) read about in her blog post, she came across several interesting recipes while looking through regional cookbooks for dishes popular in the Midwest during the late 19th century. Curiously, every cookbook she encountered seemed to include dozens of oyster recipes: fried oysters, broiled oysters, stewed oysters, escalloped oysters, fricasseed oysters, pickled oysters, oyster croquettes, oyster patties, oyster pie, oyster soup, oyster toast. Nineteenth century Americans apparently ate oysters with beefsteak, oysters stuffed in turkey, oysters with scrambled eggs, even oysters with frog legs and Parmesan cheese. If they could think of a way to prepare oysters, they tried it. By all accounts, during the 1800s America was swept up in the midst of a “great oyster craze” (1).

In this blog post, I address the question you never knew you needed answered: why were 19th century Americans so obsessed with oysters?

Today, oysters are a somewhat divisive subject. Some love them, some hate them, and some refuse to try them. No matter how you feel about them, the fact is that Americans have a long-standing history with oysters. Oyster shells recovered from middens—or trash pits—indicate Native Americans have been eating oysters for almost 9,000 years. In the United States, one of the largest oyster-producing bodies of water is Chesapeake Bay. Reefs of eastern oysters (Crassotrea virginica) once dominated the area so prominently, legend has it that early colonists nearly ran aground on them. When European colonists arrived in the 17th century, they began to harvest oysters from Chesapeake Bay at a voracious pace.

Until the 1800s, wild eastern oysters were typically harvested and eaten locally. Since oysters do not preserve long once out of their shells, oysters harvested from Chesapeake Bay rarely made it further than could be transported in a day. Nineteenth century advancements in food preservation and transportation transformed the oyster industry. Newly built railways connected the coast with inland cities and made it possible to ship oysters further west. Canning technology made its way to the U.S. in the early 1800s. By the 1840s, oyster canning became a booming business in coastal cities such as Baltimore. Canned oysters and fresh oysters packed in ice were shipped inland to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and other Midwest cities.

Innovations in harvesting allowed for more efficient collection of oysters. Historically, oysters were collected by hand or with special tongs . In the 1800s, however, fishermen began to use dredges, iron mesh bags that were dragged across the ocean floor to collect oysters too deep for tongs. From 1880 to 1910, oysters were harvested in massive quantities. During this time, as much as 160 million pounds of oyster meat was harvested per year. This intensive exploitation did irreparable environmental damage, but it did create an ample supply of oysters.

The fact that oysters were so abundant made them inexpensive, which only boosted their popularity. In 1909, oysters cost half as much as beef per pound. Oysters were used to add bulk to more expensive dishes such as meat pies. They were eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and by rich and poor alike. People even owned special plates for serving and eating oysters, shaped and painted like oyster shells.

Oyster plates for serving oysters. Image Source

Oyster plates for serving oysters. Image Source

Because oysters were cheap, they were often served with alcohol at taverns and saloons. Essentially, oysters in the 19th century were served like burgers and fries today. Every town had its own establishment for serving oysters. Oyster parlors, oyster saloons, oyster lunchrooms, and oyster cellars lined the main streets of cities. These establishments became prominent and fashionable gathering places across the East Coast and Midwest.

The consumption of oysters was immensely trendy during this era. Americans could not get enough of them. As one 19th-century author raved,

“The oyster, when eaten moderately, is, without contradiction, a wholesome food, and one of the greatest delicacies in the world. It contains much nutritive substance, which is very digestive, and produces a peculiar charm and an inexplicable pleasure. After having eaten oysters we feel joyous, light, and agreeable—yes, one might say, fabulously well” (Murray, 1861:13).

We can only speculate on what he means by “inexplicable pleasure” and “fabulously well,” but who could resist such a fervent endorsement?

A page from a historical cookbook compiled in 1890 by St. Paul’s Guild of the Episcopal Church of Lansing, MI. Oyster recipes abounded. Courtesy of MSU Special Collections

A page from a historical cookbook compiled in 1890 by St. Paul’s Guild of the Episcopal Church of Lansing, MI. Oyster recipes abounded. Courtesy of MSU Special Collections

Oysters were so popular and so ubiquitous that they were even eaten by students at MAC. As Susan found while looking through account books, canned oysters were purchased for students on occasion, including oysters and jelly at commencement, and 18 cans of oysters for students’ supper during the Week of Fires in 1871.

So, there we have our answer: 19th century Americans loved oysters because they were trendy, cheap, and readily available for questionable culinary experiments.

But this begs another question—why aren’t oysters as popular today? Whereas New Yorkers in the 1800s ate an average of 600 oysters per year, today Americans eat an average of less than three oysters per year.

One factor affecting oyster popularity is that they are less abundant and more expensive now than they were historically. A combination of overharvesting and disease has depleted once-plentiful Atlantic oyster beds, decreasing the supply. Apart from reduced availability, public perception of oysters has also played a role in the oyster’s decline. At the turn of the century, the public began to take notice of the less-than-sanitary conditions in the oyster industry. In 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which required more stringent regulations for hygienic handling, packing, and shipping of food items. However, conforming to these new regulations raised costs so much that many oyster-packing houses went out of business.

Bad press was another factor. In 1924, typhoid outbreaks in Chicago were tied to oysters exposed to sewage pollution. After this event, demand for oysters fell between 50 and 80% across the country. The 1920s also brought Prohibition, which took its own toll on the oyster industry as the saloons and bars that once sold large quantities of oysters closed. Between the loss of these establishments and various health scares, oysters fell out of fashion and have never fully regained their former status.

As an oyster skeptic, I have mixed feelings about the prospect of oysters regaining the popularity they enjoyed in the 1800s. As for me, the next time I order bar food, I’ll take a bite of my burger and consider myself lucky I’m not slurping oysters between sips of beer.


  1. MacKenzie, Clyde L. History of Oystering in the United States and Canada, Featuring the Eight Greatest Oyster Estuaries. Marine Fisheries Review, 1996. 58(4):1-79.
  7. Murray, Eustace Clare Grenville. The Oyster: Where, How, and When to Find, Breed, Cook, and Eat It. London, Trubner & Co., 1861.

Where are you registered? Understanding British Registered Design Marks

Liddle Elliot & Sons maker's mark from West Circle Privy.

Liddle Elliot & Sons maker’s mark from West Circle Privy.

There are many different ways that we can date a site or specific artifact.  We can look broadly at the contextual history of the area, look at how a glass bottle was constructed, or use construction material like nails to create broad date ranges. Specifically with ceramics there are several ways to establish a time frame for the artifact including: paste thickness, decoration style, rim construction, colors used, as well as size and shape.  Sometimes we get really lucky, and a ceramic sherd will have a maker’s mark.  Most ceramic companies have well documented records for the changes made to their unique marks, making it relatively simple to establish a date range for most marked ceramics.  But sometimes with 19th century British ceramics we get every more lucky and can establish the specific date the ceramic was produced on.  This occurs when we are fortunate enough to have a British Registered Design mark.

Registered Design Mark on plate from West Circle Privy.

Registered Design Mark on plate from West Circle Privy.

Beginning in 1842 England begin offering “registered designs” for ceramics.  This is akin to a patent or copyright trademark today. The ornamental design act of 1842 expanded design protection into new types of materials, such as ceramics.  This allowed for manufacturers to protect not only the functional design of their products, but also their aesthetic design as well.

Each of these diamond marks contain very specific information that tells us what class of material the object is, the day, month, and year it was produced, and the bundle number.  There are two ways this information can be arranged.  The first configuration was used from 1842-1867.

Labeled registered design mark (1882-1867).

Labeled registered design mark (1882-1867).

There are published tables that identify what each of these letters and numbers mean.  A good example can be seen here, but there are also published books where the same information appears.  Based on those tables we know that the ceramic pictures above was produced December 18th, 1856:

  1. IV = ceramic
  2. L = 1856
  3. A = December
  4. 18 = 18th
  5. We don’t need to worry about the bundle number

If we were in England we could go to the British Archive and view the specific design that corresponds with this information.  However, even without a trip to England, there’s still even more information that this mark can tell us.  By knowing the specific date it was produced, you can look this information up in books, and sometimes figure out who the manufacture was of the ceramic. This is useful if you have a sherd that contains a registered design mark, but not lucky enough to have the maker’s mark.

Registered Designs from 1868-1883. Image Source.

Registered Designs from 1868-1883. Image Source.

The design changed slightly for ceramics produced between 1868-1883. During these years the arrangement of the symbols changed. The year and day marks have switched places, as have the month and bundle.

Post 1883 registered number mark. Image source.

Post 1883 registered number mark. Image source.

In 1884 England switched from the diamond registered date mark to a new registry number system where a numerical mark designated a specific year. Similar to the registered date marks, this information can also be found in published tables. The dates in the tables are the lowest/first number recorded for each year.  So for example let’s look at the registered number in the above image, 49221. This number falls between the 1906 number (471860) and 1907 number (493900) so we know it was produced in 1906.

So sometimes diamonds are not just a girls best friend, they’re an archaeologists best friend.



2017 Anthropology Day Videos

Yesterday was the American Anthropological Associations Anthropology Day.  Campus Archaeology participated by posting a series of short videos showcasing some of the projects and outreach we had conducted over the past week.  Here are the permanent links to those videos:

  1. CAP Fauna with Autumn Beyer:
  2. CAP Ceramics with Jeff Painter:
  3. CAP Outreach with Susan Kooiman, MAS talk on prehistoric site:
  4. CAP Director – Inside Dr. Goldstein’s Office:
  5. CAP – Campus Archaeologist with Lisa Bright:


From China to Historic MSU: A Not-so-Short History of Porcelain Part 2

In Part 1, I introduced how porcelain is produced and its long history in Asia and Europe.  Today, after centuries of history, porcelain finally comes to the Americas (what a surprise!).  Porcelain first came to the Americas not long after it made its appearance in Europe in the 17th century.  By the late 1600’s, porcelain became part of the colonial machine, brought over as part of the trans-Atlantic trade by many European powers.  The demand for porcelain, like in Europe, was based in a desire to emulate the rich and powerful of European society.  Especially for colonists, who were often portrayed as unsophisticated, owning porcelain was a way for them to prove that they could afford to maintain a fashionable household.  It also helped to demonstrate that “they had risen beyond their colonial roots to achieve the status of sophisticated, cosmopolitan consumers of the 18th century” (Leath 1999:59).  In colonial Charleston, for example, some wealthy colonists owned as much as £200 sterling or more in porcelain, which is worth over $44,000 today.

By the mid to late 1700’s, Chinese porcelain began to decline in popularity.  By this time, European potters had perfected the production of porcelain and were able to produce it at a lower cost.  They also were able to situate their porcelain within current Western traditions of style and aesthetics, such as the rising neoclassical movement.  As access to porcelain had become more widespread, it also lost its favor with the European aristocracy.  It was no longer a treasure that only the extremely rich could afford, so the aristocracy found new ways to materially establish their social position.  Porcelain was now a sign of the upper middle-class, of those attempting to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Instead of Chinese porcelain, European porcelain, such as that made by Josiah Wedgwood, became the desired dishware of the day.  Advances made by Wedgwood potters in both refining the materials needed and in mechanizing part of the manufacturing process helped to make Wedgwood ceramics a superior product that could be bought at a more affordable price.  During the 1770’s, while the colonies of North America were on the verge of revolution, potters in Philadelphia also began to make “true” porcelain.  Possibly produced by the short-lived American China Manufactory, porcelain was produced in the Americas in an attempt to become less reliant on imports from Europe.

Original bottle kilns at Wedgwood Etruria workshop in England circa 1952

Original bottle kilns at Wedgwood Etruria workshop in England circa 1952. Image Source

The use of porcelain continued into the post-Civil War Gilded Age, a time of industrialization and major economic growth in the United States.  During this time, the middle class was growing and people had more expendable wealth while, at the same time, certain items became less expensive, leading to consumerism as a method of demonstrating one’s social status.  Not only did the purchase and use of desirable objects demonstrate a person or family’s wealth, but it also provided physical evidence of their skill and taste in the decorative arts, another means by which people judged one’s level of class and sophistication.  While this conspicuous consumption of goods had taken place in the past, it reached rampant levels at this time and major portions of society took part.  Porcelain, both as dining wares and as displayable vases or figurines, played a large role in this social consumerism.

It was during the Gilded Age that MSU had its beginning.  For decades after the founding of the university, full-time faculty members lived on campus in homes built by the university on the north side of campus.  What would become known as Faculty Row originally consisted of 4 houses, but by 1899 it included 12 faculty houses and an apartment building for non-tenured professors.  In the late 1800’s, during the height of the Gilded Age, a number of faculty members lived in these buildings, just a short walk away from the dorms that housed their students.  Given this close proximity and the smaller number of students and faculty at that time, many faculty would entertain students at their home.  The Abbot’s especially entertained a number of students, often hosting regular receptions on Saturday nights and parties for special occasions.  Aside from students, other faculty, staff, and members of the local community also likely attended some of these functions.  Into the early 1900’s, faculty and staff continued to live on campus, both in Faculty Row and in other locations such as the Gunson/Bayha House farther south, but this would change as faculty began slowly moving into East Lansing at around this time.

Faculty Row circa 1874. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Faculty Row circa 1874. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

As faculty were the social entertainers of the campus area and were enmeshed in the middle-class ideals of the Gilded Age, it is no surprise that they followed some tenets of the United States new found consumerism.  While ceramics provided by the university for student use were affordable, undecorated stoneware, the faculty had more refined tastes.  This taste can be seen archaeologically, as porcelain and other elaborately decorated ceramics reach their peak during the time when faculty commonly lived on campus.  These ceramics would have been essential for entertaining within the fashions of the day, and they also helped establish the social class of the faculty.  As I have argued in past blog posts, mealtimes and other events were also believed to be learning opportunities for students, a way to teach them about proper behavior and decorum.  As such, it was important that these events be held in a proper environment stocked with fashionable and tasteful material culture that would guide the students in learning values appropriate for the middle class at that time.

Assorted porcelain from the Gunson site.

Assorted porcelain from the Gunson site.

Porcelain, while it had changed much over the centuries, continued to be a valued item.  From 13th century China all the way to 19th century MSU, porcelain influenced cultures across the globe and became a major part of people’s lives.  From its royal beginnings, porcelain traveled far and became a key aspect of the middle-class American culture that permeated the lives of students at early MSU.




Campus Archaeology Project

2009   “Faculty Row: The Homes of MSU’s Founders” Online Exhibit


Finlay, Robert

2010   The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History.  University of California

Press, Oakland.


Leath, Robert A.

1999   “After the Chinese Taste”: Chinese Export Porcelain and Chinoiserie Design in

Eighteen-Century Charleston.  Historical Archaeology 33(3):48-61.


Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections

1868   Alfred G. Gulley Reminisces.  UA17.107, Box 1140, Folder 7.

1875   R.P. Hayes Papers.   Madison Kuhn Collection, UA17.107, Box 1140, Folder 12.


Mullins, Paul R., and Nigel Jeffries

2002   The Banality of Gilding: Innocuous Materiality and Transatlantic Consumption in the

Gilded Age.  International Journal of Historic Archaeology 16:745-760.


Salisbury, Stephan

2016   “Holy Grail of American Ceramics” Found in Dig at American Revolution Museum.

Online Resource,



Shulsky, Linda R.

2002   Chinese Porcelain at Old Mobile.  Historical Archaeology 36(1):97-104.