The Real Scoop on Why Station Terrace Housed a Shovel

High School volunteer Spencer holding the shovel blade from Station Terrace

High School volunteer Spencer holding the shovel blade from Station Terrace

While archaeologists are trained in a number of different skills and techniques, there is one thing that all archaeologists know and love: shovels. Shovels are just as much a part of archaeology as the ubiquitous trowel, and even lend their name to the title of hard working archaeologists who dig for their supper, shovel bums. Every archaeologist can recognize many types of shovels, and we all know what situations they are best for during excavation. So, it is always fun when we get to use a shovel to dig one up.

During CAP’s 2017 field school at Station Terrace, just such an event occurred. In Unit F, placed within the interior of the building, a large shovel blade was recovered by students (Bright 2017). At about 14 inches wide, 17 inches long, and 4.5 inches deep (give or take a quarter of an inch or so of rust), this was a large metal shovel that, based on its deep well, was designed for scooping (McLeod n.d.). Due to its scoop appearance, this shovel may have been a large-scale mover of things, such as coal, grain, gravel, mulch, etc. But this begs the question: why was this type of shovel in Station Terrace?

Station Terrace in the winter, date unknown.  Note the walkways cleared of snow around the building

Station Terrace in the winter, date unknown.  Note the walkways cleared of snow around the building. Image source

Station Terrace, which stood on campus from the early 1890’s until 1924, served many functions during its relatively short life as part of MSU. Early on, it was used as housing for visiting researchers and then for unmarried male instructors, during which it received the great nickname of “the Bull Pen.” From 1903 to 1923, Station Terrace was used as the East Lansing Post Office, while a front room served as a trolley car waiting room. In 1921, the waiting room was turned into a small café, known as the Flower Pot Tea Room (Bright 2016; Michael 2017). Thanks to a house fire in 1903, exterior photographs and the one existing photograph of one of the bedrooms, we know that the building had at least one chimney pre-1910 and two post 1910 expansion(Bright 2016); indicating it had fire places and possibly some other source of internal heating, but there is no mention of a large coal-burning stove that would have required a large shovel for moving coal. It also does not appear that any of the buildings many functions would have required the movement of large amounts of scoop-able materials, unless the post office moved letters and packages by shovel.

Photo of the room of F.B. Mumford c. 1894. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

So why was this shovel kept in Station Terrace? To me, the mystery of how objects were used in the past can be just as much fun as uncovering tidbits of history that have been lost for thousands of years. Humans are an amazingly creative bunch, meaning that we use objects in many different ways. For example, my wife uses a high-ball glass not for drinking, but for cutting dough to make pierogis. We rarely use this glass for anything else at home; it is reserved for a purpose that many people would not expect. I think the Station Terrace shovel was used in a similar manner. While it may have at one point served to shovel coal, grain, or other materials, I think it was used as a snow shovel at Station Terrace. Being located in Michigan, MSU gets a lot of snow. As Station Terrace served as a post office and trolley stop, moving vehicles, people, and mail carts would have regularly needed access to the building. Snow and ice would have impeded this accessibility, so snow removal was, and still is, essential. As this blog by Tim Heffernan attests, old coal shovels make great snow removal devices thanks to their weight and their metal blades. In the end, it is very difficult to know exactly how this object was used, but context clues suggest that it might have completed a number of jobs in its life, some that are easier to imagine, others that will continue to be a mystery.

References Cited

Bright, Lisa
2016   “Station Terrace: A Building with Many Identities.” Campus Archaeology Blog.

2017   “2017 Field School Recap: Station Terrace.” Campus Archaeology Blog.

McLeod, Danielle
n.d.   “Types of Shovels: Your Complete Guide to What Works Best Where.”

Michael, Amy
2017   “The Flower Pot Tea Room: A Female-Run Student Business on the Early Campus.” Campus Archaeology Blog.

Picking out Kitchenware: Large Scale Purchasing at MSU

Where did the kitchenware at MSU come from during the early years of the school? As it was not economical to purchase dinnerware sets in the same way families purchased dishes for their home, the college most likely turned to catalogue companies, the Costco of the past. Evidence for this large scale purchasing of dinnerware and kitchenware items lies in purchasing logs and archaeological evidence. As discussed previously, the college purchased many different types of plates, bowls, cookware, and glassware in order to accommodate the students living in the dormitories on campus. Several ceramic sherds have been uncovered through Campus Archaeology excavations at the Brody/Emmons site, the first East Lansing dump, with the makers mark present showing that they were from “Albert Pick & Company.”

In 1857, Albert Pick and his brother Charles founded ‘Albert Pick & Company’, based in Chicago, as a kitchenware and furniture supplier for hotel and restaurant markets (Clayman, Made in Chicago Museum). The company grew steadily, and by the early 1900s, it had become a major supplier for hundreds of leading hotels, selling tables, chairs, silverware, linens, dinnerware, and even the first dishwashers! While most of the earliest ceramics purchased by MSU were from England, ‘Albert Pick & Company’ wares became more popular in the United States during the 1910’s, 20’s, and 30’s, corresponding well with the time period in which the Brody/Emmons dump was in use.

Among their many items for sale, Albert Pick and Company offered a wide variety of dishes, as can be seen in the photos below from their 1913 catalogue. Not only were different types and designs of dinnerware available, but a range of sizes were also provided. For example, six different sizes of plates were advertised in ‘The Green Newton Pattern,’ allowing the purchaser to tailor their choices based on their specific needs.

Albert Pick & Company catalogue

Albert Pick & Company catalogue

Albert Pick & Company catalogue

Albert Pick & Company catalogue










Pictured below is an example of one type of Albert Pick and Company plate or saucer bought and used in the East Lansing area. Unfortunately, we are currently unable to narrow down the manufacturing date of this dish, or find the name of its pattern, but future research may be able to address these questions. The makers mark below states:

Albert Pick & Company
Vitrified China


Albert Pick & Co. ceramic sherd

Albert Pick & Co. ceramic sherd

Albert Pick & Co. ceramic sherd

Albert Pick & Co. ceramic sherd










While there is no direct evidence that this specific dish was purchased by MSU, as it was recovered from the first East Lansing dump, it is possible that it was bought for use on MSU’s campus or at a restaurant or hotel in East Lansing.


References Cited

Sheridan Plaza Hotel Silverplate Creamer by Albert Pick & co., c. 1920; Andrew Clayman –

Trade catalogs from Albert Pick & Co.

The Archaeology of Shopping: Variations in Consumerism in the Past

From China to Historic MSU: A Not-so-Short History of Porcelain Part 1

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

Aren’t Bowls Just Bowls? Not for the First Students at MSU


The Ritual Landscape of Michigan State University

Last week I attended the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting, held this year in Washington D.C. This was a particularly pertinent meeting for Campus Archaeology because a symposium was held in honor of Dr. Lynne Goldstein. As she nears retirement and the end of her tenure as professor and CAP Director, it was evident from the symposium that her influence on the field of archaeology is far from over. The impact of her mentorship to students and the collaboration with colleagues was felt throughout every paper.

One theme that prevailed throughout the symposium was landscape and the ritual use of space. Dr. Goldstein has written extensively about mortuary patterns (how, where, and why people bury their dead) and regional analysis to evaluate patterns of settlement and ritual land use. Papers from MSU’s own Dr. William Lovis and Dr. Jodie O’Gorman, in addition to former Campus Archaeology fellow Dr. Amy Michael, all paid tribute to Dr. Goldstein’s legacy by considering their own research from this spatial perspective.

This got me thinking: what is the ritual landscape of Michigan State University, both past and present? And how might we see this archaeologically?

Dr. O’Gorman discussed how migrating populations may maintain certain rituals from their place of origin, while also engaging in new rituals in order to integrate both into the social and natural environment of their new homes. This is reflected in the environment of a college campus. Students come to MSU from across Michigan, the US, and abroad bringing their own rituals and personal items with them. However, once students arrive on campus, they form and engage in a united identity: that of an MSU student. This identity can then be enacted through rituals that are often closely tied to specific locations across the campus landscape.

Football Revelry ca. 1910

Football Revelry ca. 1910. Image Source

MSU tail gaiting today. Image source.

MSU tail gaiting today. Image source.

Sports comprise an important part aspect of MSU identity. Football games and tailgating are important rituals at MSU. While football itself might not leave behind the much in the way of archaeological remains (besides a giant stadium), tailgating certainly might. Archaeologists often find refuse pits with large amounts of food refuse and broken pottery, the remnants of ancient feasting events, or large meals accompanying special occasions or ceremonies. Many ancient societies held community-wide events that left significant archaeological signatures, such a large amounts of broken pottery and food refuse. Today, the area around the tennis courts on the MSU campus are the hub of student tailgating, a form of feasting, and will likely someday be a treasure trove of interesting finds (at least those items missed by MSU’s otherwise stellar clean-up crews). If tailgating or other sport-related revelries were historically held elsewhere on campus, we may find evidences of these activities during our campus surveys.

Sacred Space during the early days of the campus

Sacred Space during the early days of the campus. Image source

Sacred Space today

Sacred Space today. Image source

The “Sacred Space” is the large open area north of Beaumont Tower, which is the unofficial “center” of campus.  New construction has been banned in this area since the 1870s. Although students certainly use this space, and in the future we may find refuse of their presence there, we would not expect to find much in the way of trash pits or construction refuse dating to after fits establishment (although the pre-1870s archaeology of this area is quite rich). This is common of many ancient city center plazas, where city-wide ceremonies were held. Sometimes the absence of structures or other archaeological evidence is the strongest indicator of ceremonial space as they are kept clean and clear of structures to allow room for ceremonies and their participants.

Sparty Statue - Image Source

Sparty Statue – Image Source

Graduation is arguably the most significant ritual enacted on a college campus. Graduates routinely get their pictures taken next to the Sparty statue on north campus, and may even hold more significance in this milestone than the location of the actual graduation ceremony. Sparty is what archaeologists call a “monument,” or large, immovable objects that visually mark space with significance and meaning. Monuments are common in the ancient world, from the burial mounds of the Midwest, to the obelisks and temples of ancient Egypt and Greece.

The Rock.

The Rock. Image Source

The Rock, a more informal monument on campus, is a large boulder which various student groups take turns painting, either promoting their student group or serving as a way to express solidarity, protest, and/or discontent with current events. It is so much a symbol an important symbol of MSU heritatage that someone wrote a whole book on it! Students sometimes camp out to ensure their chance for painting the rock, so we may one day be able to see this refuse archaeologically. A few years ago, a chunk of the hundreds of layers of paint fell off, revealing an enthralling stratigraphy representing decades of student voices and creativity. One artist made “Spartan Agate” jewelry from it, allowing alum to wear a piece of MSU archaeological history around their necks.

 Mary Mayo Hall, a stop on the Apparitions and Archaeology Tour, is said to be haunted

Mary Mayo Hall, a stop on the Apparitions and Archaeology Tour, is said to be haunted. Image source

CAP’s yearly Apparitions and Archaeology Tour is inspired by ghost stories associated with various buildings and features across the campus. These spectral legends are closely tied to landmarks on the landscape but leave no archaeological trace. These represent aspects of the past that archaeologists want to know but struggle to uncover: myths and legends. Reflective of a culture’s ideology, oral histories and myths often prove elusive to archaeologists unless recorded in the written records. Even in the age of print and social media, these ghost stories might have simply been passed down from generation to generation of students without official recordation, eventually forgotten, had they not been recorded by CAP for our famous tour.

One way oral history and archaeology can converge is through public outreach. So, I turn the rest of this blog over to you, dear readers! If you are a current or former student, faculty, or staff member, what are the places on campus that are most special to you? Are there areas of ritual or ceremonial significance that you know of (used by a specific student group, etc) from the past or present that Campus Archaeology should know about or document? Share your stories in the comments!

The Mount Clemens Pottery Co. Plate Sherd from the Brody/Emmons Complex

One of the best parts about doing research on artifacts we find during CAP excavations is coming across incredible stories or histories that stem from what some people would consider mundane and ordinary objects.  Such is the case with a seemingly ordinary piece of a plate recovered from the Brody/Emmons Complex.  The plate sherd (Figure 1) is about 15cm long and 7cm deep and is a from a pleasant jade-colored plate.  Since only the rim and part of the base are present, the portion with maker’s mark (which is usually centrally located on the underside) is not there.  However, the design of the plate itself hints at its origins.  Around the rim of the plate is what appears to be a petal design such that when whole, the plate would quasi-resemble a big flower.  Based on this rim design, it is most likely that this plate is part of the Petal style from the Mount Clemens Pottery Co., made right here in Michigan.

Figure 1 – Petal plate from Mount Clemens Pottery Co. from the 1930s found in the Brody/Emmons Complex excavations

Figure 1 – Petal plate from Mount Clemens Pottery Co. from the 1930s found in the Brody/Emmons Complex excavations

The Mount Clemens Pottery Co. has its origins back in the 1910s in the aftermath of an area-wide economic depression in the Mount Pleasant area [1, 2, 3].  A local businessmen’s association looked to economically boost the area and traveled to pottery factories in Ohio and Pennsylvania and looked at how these different companies produced their wares.  After a few years preparation, production officially started in 1915 in a warehouse built on an old farm.  By the end of the first year, over 36,000 pieces per week were produced [1].  The Petal style seen by the plate discovered at the Brody/Emmons Complex was mostly produced during the 1930s.  Right after this period, the company became embroiled in a legal battle that still has ramifications today.

Workers at the Mount Clemens Pottery Co. producing casserole dishes, 1924. Image source:

Workers at the Mount Clemens Pottery Co. producing casserole dishes, 1924. Image source.

In 1941, workers were being docked pay for the time between when they clocked in and when they started work due to long prep time before they would actually start working.  Workers had to clock-in, walk a long way down to their work stations (the factory was 8 acres large), and prepare their work station before finally starting work [1, 4].  The workers filed a class-action lawsuit (Anderson v. Mount Clemens Pottery Co.) claiming that the company was unfairly docking their wages and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The district court ruled mostly in favor of the company and that it was up to the employees to prove that needed to be compensated for their prep time, although they did require the company to pay the workers over $2000 in back-pay.  The workers then appealed the decision which made its way all the way up to the United States Supreme Court [4].  They remanded the case back to the lower courts with the strong recommendations that it was up to the employers, not the employees to provide the proof for such decisions.  This led to the creation of the “Portal to Portal Act” in 1947 which defined work time as the time you entered the workspace to the time you leave it, and it is then up to the employer to justify docking wages within that timeframe [4].  These court cases have been revisited and used over the years, most recently in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo in 2016 where workers claimed that the company was unfairly docking wages for the time it took them to put on the protective gear needed for processing pork.

After the case was settled in 1946, Mount Clemens Pottery Co. still had issues with workers but things eventually stabilized.  The factory permanently shut its doors in 1986 after sales plummeted. Researching these histories lets us rediscover the stories that otherwise are unknown to us.  What seems to be just a normal plate is actually symbolic of workers’ right that still have lasting effects into the 21st century.



[1] MCPL (Mount Clemens Public Library), 2008. Mount Clemens Pottery Company – Local History Sketches, pp.1-3

[2] Doll, C.E., 1993. The Mount Clemens Pottery Company: History and Memories.


[4] Goldberg, H.M. et al., 2014. When Does Compensation for “Time Spent Under the Employer’s Control” Include Pre and Post Shift Waiting and Other Activities?. Southern Journal of Business and Ethics; vol. 6:33-45.


This week two major anthropology annual conferences are overlapping: The Society for American Archaeology and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.  Because of the overlap (and presenters being split between the conferences) we present here for your handy dandy quick reference a list of current MSU professors and students presenting their research at both conferences:


Wednesday Evening, April 11th, 2018

Opening Session – What Have We Learned?
6:30PM – 8:30PM
Lynne Goldstein – Discussant
Thursday Evening April 12th, 2018

Symposium: Chasing Hunter-Gatherers and Early Farmers in the Great Lakes and Beyond – 45 Years of Research Dedicated to Understanding The Dynamics Between People, Environment, and Behavior: Papers in Honor of William A. Lovis.
6:00PM – 10:00PM
6:00 Susan Kooiman – Foodways and Technological Transformation in the Upper Great Lakes: A Multidimensional Analysis of Woodland Pottery from the Cloudman Site (20CH6)
6:30 Kathryn Frederick – Identifying Subterranean Storage Features: A Cautionary Tale
9:00 Lynne Goldstein – discussant

Poster Session: A Beer in the Hand is Better with an Oculus Rift On the Face: A Multimedia “Posters After-Hours” Session Featuring Hands-On Interactive Stations and Immersive Virtual Reality Technologies
Time 5pm-7pm
101-a Gabriel Wrobel – The Maya Cranial Photogrammetry Project

Friday Morning, April 13th, 2018

Session: Lightning Rounds – Engaging “Alternative Archaeology” in Three Minutes or Less!
Time: 8:00am-10:00AM
Ethan Watrall – Discussant

Friday Afternoon, April 13th, 2018

Symposium: Celebrating Lynne Goldstein’s Contributions to Archaeology of the Past, Present, and Future
Time: 1PM -4:30 PM
1:00 William Lovis – Landscape Marking, the Creation of Meaning, and the Construction of Sacred and Secular Spaces: Rethinking the Birney “Mound” in the City of Bay City.
1:30 Jodie O’Gorman – Migration, Ritual and the Dead
2:30 Joseph Hefner and Michael Heilen – Establishing Cultural Affinity through Multiple Lines of Evidence
3:45 Ethan Watrall – Towards an Approach to Building Mobile Digital Experiences for Campus Heritage & Archaeology

Symposium: Beyond Engagement: Archaeologists At The Intersection of Power
Time: 1pm-3:30 PM
2:15PM – Stacey Camp – Public Archaeology in Remote Places


Thursday Morning

Session 10: Thinking computationally about Forensics: Anthropological Perspectives on Advancements in Technologies, Data, and Algorithms
Time: 8:30am – 12:00PM
Poster Presentation: Kelly Kamnikar, Nick Herrmann, Amber Plemons – New approaches to juvenile age estimation in forensics: Application of transition analysis via the Shackelford et al. method to a diverse modern subadult sample

Thursday Afternoon

Session 15: Going Beyond the “Biocultural Synthesis”: Bridging Theory and Practice in Bioarchaeology
Time: 2:30-6:00
2:45 Lisa Bright and Joseph Hefner – Structural Violence and Disease: Epistemological Considerations for Bioarchaeology

Session 24: Human Skeletal Biology: Forensic Anthropology
Time: 1:30-2:30 and 6:00-7:00PM
Poster Presentation: Amber Plemons, Joseph Hefner, and Kelly Kamnikar – Refining Asian Ancestry Classifications via Cranial Macromorphoscopic Traits

Friday Morning

Session 31: A Community of Care: Expanding Bioarchaeology of Care to Population Level Analyses
Time: 8:00AM-12:00PM

Poster Presentation: Colleen Milligan and Lisa Bright – Population level approaches to differential caregiving at a historic hospital

Saturday Morning

Session 61: Human Reproduction
Time: 7:00AM-8:00AM and 12PM – 1:00PM
Poster Presentation: Masiko Fujita, Nerli Paredes Ruvalcaba, M. Corbitt – The evolutionary ecology of breast milk folate among Ariaal agro-pastoralists in Kenya




Archaeology and the Age of Plastics: Bakelite in the Brody Dump

Mirror from the Brody/Emmons complex.

Mirror from the Brody/Emmons complex.

Take a moment to think about what kinds of materials you’d expect to find in a garbage dump from 2018. Did plastic immediately spring to mind? About 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, only about 10% of which is recycled (1). Since mass production of plastic took off around 1950 an estimated 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste has been produced, much of which has ended up in landfills (1). We don’t encounter much plastic at the oldest sites on MSU’s campus. At sites dating to the 19th century, like Saints’ Rest and College Hall, we more frequently find glass, metal, and ceramics. At more recent sites, however, we begin to see more plastic in the archaeological record, reflecting the increased availability and use of plastic in everyday items. Several plastic artifacts were excavated at the Brody-Emmons Complex, the site of the East Lansing city landfill in the early 20th century.

Humans have long used natural substances with plastic properties, such as rubber and shellac, but man-made plastics are a fairly recent innovation. The first man-made plastic is attributed to British chemist Alexander Parkes (2). In 1856, Parkes acquired a patent for a product made from a plant material called cellulose treated with nitric acid and other chemicals. The product, called Parkesine, exhibited many useful properties: when hot it could be easily molded into various shapes, but when cool it was sturdy and durable. Unlike rubber, it could be industrially produced in large quantities (2).

Early plastics such as Parkesine and its successor, celluloid, involved the addition of chemicals to naturally occurring polymers (3). The first fully synthetic plastic wasn’t invented until 1907 when American chemist Leo Baekeland produced a plastic material through a condensation reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. He called his phenolic resin “Bakelite,” polyoxybenzylmethyleneglycoanhydride to the chemistry nerds out there. Unlike celluloid, Bakelite is thermosetting; once molded, it retains its shape even if heated again (3).

Baekeland patented Bakelite in 1909 and formed the General Bakelite Company around 1910 (3). The company adopted the infinity symbol as its logo to match its slogan “a material of a thousand uses.” In fact, Bakelite did prove to have many uses. Due to its resistance to heat and electricity, it was particularly useful in the automotive and electrical industries. The earliest commercial use of Bakelite was in insulating bushings manufactured for the Weston Electrical Instrument Corporation in 1908. During World War I, Bakelite was used in everything from electrical systems to airplane propellers. As plastic began to be incorporated in electronics such as telephones and radios, these products became cheaper and thus more widely accessible (3). There were also many decorative and aesthetic uses for Bakelite. Blocks of Bakelite could be carved to create items like pipe stems, cigarette holders, and even jewelry (3). The look, weight, and sound of Bakelite pieces struck together are similar to ivory (4). For this reason, phenolic resins are still used in items such as billiard balls, dominos, and chess pieces (3).

One of the plastic artifacts associated with the East Lansing landfill is a small hand-held mirror we suspected might be made of Bakelite. People who have handled a lot of Bakelite can make an assessment based on subtle clues like sound and feel. Since I have not handled much of it myself, I turned to some of the other “tests” for Bakelite.

Testing with Formula 409

Testing with Formula 409

First I tried the smell test. This method involves heating the object – either by running it under hot water or rubbing it vigorously–and sniffing. Bakelite gives off a telltale formaldehyde smell (4). As I wanted to avoid damaging the artifact, I tried the rubbing approach. The mirror definitely smelled “weird” to me, but it was too faint for me to discern a specific scent.

Next I decided to try one of the visual methods for testing Bakelite. These methods involve swabbing a Q-Tip or white cloth dampened with certain chemicals against the object in question. If the object is Bakelite, it will turn the Q-tip yellow (4). Other early plastics, such as Lucite, do not produce this result. Chemicals typically used for testing Bakelite are Formula 409 and Simichrome metal polish (4). I couldn’t find Simichrome at my local hardware store, so I opted to try Formula 409. After gently cleaning the mirror to remove any dirt, Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright and I swabbed a Q-Tip sprayed with 409 against the back of the mirror. The Q-Tip turned faintly yellow, which seemed promising. After a bit of research, I discovered that some people have successfully used baking soda to test for Bakelite (5). I decided to try this method too, and added a bit of baking soda to a damp white paper towel. Voila! The paper towel turned yellow where it contacted the plastic. These tests seem to indicate that the mirror is Bakelite, which makes it the second Bakelite artifact identified in the Brody assemblage. A Sengbusch Self-Closing Inkstand with a Bakelite lid was also recovered in 2011.

Testing with baking soda

Testing with baking soda

Bakelite was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society in 1993 (3). As the world’s first synthetic plastic Bakelite is credited with ushering in the Polymer Age, also called the Age of Plastics (3). It is interesting to observe that we can see this landmark—and evidence of the dawn of the Age of Plastics —in the archaeological record of our campus.





The Many Faces of Cowles House, MSU’s Oldest Building

This summer, Cowles House, MSU’s oldest standing building, is due to get a facelift. As part of this remodeling, crews will remove a few trees from around and inside the building and expand the west wing.  In preparation for this work, I have been researching the history of this building, as well as what previous CAP excavations have recovered in the area.

Completed in 1857, Cowles House was one of four homes built to house the earliest faculty members and administrators of MSU.  Some of the most prominent individuals in MSU’s history, such as Williams, Abbot, Beal, Bessey, Hannah, and McPherson, all lived in this house during their tenure at the college (Brock 2009; Kuhn 1955).  From 1857-1874, Cowles House served as the residence of the college president.  After 1874, Cowles House, then known as Faculty Row No. 7, functioned as the home of the professor of Botany (Beal 1915:35, 267;

A View of Cowles House ca. 1920

A View of Cowles House ca. 1920. Image Source.

During these early decades, Cowles house was not only a place of residence, but was also a hub of campus entertainment. Early on, no organized social life existed on MSU’s campus.  Students instead gravitated towards faculty homes, where faculty and staff would regularly host small get-togethers (Kuhn 1955:127). The Abbot’s, who lived in Cowles House during their time at the college, frequently invited students and guests into their home. As documented by Kuhn, Abbot had students come to his home weekly to read and discuss literature.  They also entertained on the weekends: “On Saturday nights the Abbot home was open to students; twenty or thirty would gather about the fire to eat apples and to talk of politics, of ethics, and of literature” (Kuhn 1955:90).

By the early 1900s, Cowles House had been repurposed to serve a broader function.  On a 1927 map of campus (MSU archives:, Cowles House is labeled as “Secretary’s House,” indicating a switch from residential space to a more administrative one.  I have not been able to discover more about what this label entails, such as if the house was entirely office space during this time, but it is clear that the space was no longer reserved for faculty use.

In 1941, under the Hannah administration, Cowles House once again became the home of the president of the university.  As such, the building underwent major renovations after the end of World War II, during which much of the building was rebuilt and a new wing was added to the west end (Kuhn 1955:402).  Recently, Cowles House has functioned as an entertainment and banquet space, as recent presidents have decided to live off campus (Brock 2009).

A View of Cowles House Today

A View of Cowles House Today. Image source

Artifacts from south of Cowles House, Shovel Test Pit G1

Artifacts from south of Cowles House, Shovel Test Pit G1

Cowles House has been of great interest to Campus Archaeology due to its location within the Sacred Space.  As little has changed in this part of campus, this area has the potential for preserving intact archaeological deposits from the earliest days of campus.  CAP has conducted numerous surveys around the building, including in 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2014 (CAP Reports 7, 11, and 15), but we are yet to find any clear features or concentrations of materials. Instead, only a diffuse scatter of artifacts has been found around the building. Brick fragments, window glass, nails, and other construction debris are the most common objects found, while a few ceramic sherds, animal bones, bottle glass, and two golf balls have also been recovered. In general, this record is likely the result of construction and remodeling episodes, mixed in with trash from everyday life.  While CAP has tested extensively around the building, we have not investigated every area, and plan to survey and monitor intently as renovations take place this summer.  We are always on the look-out for that rare deposit that can provide us insights into the lives of the early MSU faculty and presidents!

References Cited

Beal, W.J.
1915   History of the Michigan Agricultural College and Biographical Sketches of Trustees and Professors.  Michigan Agricultural College, East Lansing

Brock, Terry
2009   “Survey Spot: Cowles House”  Blog posted on CAP website, Sept. 9, 2009.

CAP Report 7
2009   Music Building and Cowles House Survey.  Campus Archaeology Program.

CAP Report 11
2011   Walter Adams Field Survey: Archaeological Report.  Campus Archaeology Program.

CAP Report 15
2012   West Circle Steam I Survey: Archaeological Report.  Campus Archaeology Program.

Kuhn, Madison
1955   Michigan State: The First Hundred Years.  The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.

MSU Archives and Historical Collections:

Gone but Not Forgotten: Campus Buildings that No Longer Exist.  Online Exhibit.

Map of MSU Campus and Buildings, 1927.

Continuing Preparations for Summer Construction on Campus

As the weather warms and summer gets closer, the Campus Archaeology Program is gearing up for yet another busy season.

While our excavations occur primarily in the summer, months of planning and preparation take place before the first trowel is stuck in the dirt. Many different factors come into play when planning for an archaeological field season, particularly in Michigan during the Spring. Continue reading

Campus Archaeology “On-The-Go”: Delivering Historic Meals to the Public

As our regular readers know, the Campus Archaeology Program has been deeply engaged in chronicling the culinary past of our forebears at Michigan State University. Our work involving archaeological analysis of food remains found on campus and archival research detailing historic foodways on campus culminated last year in an 1860s MSU luncheon reconstruction (detailed here and here). Prepared by MSU Culinary Services and MSU Bakers, we had a delectable spread of historically-based dishes upon which to dine and enjoy.

Cod fish balls and potato croquettes served at the luncheon.

Cod fish balls and potato croquettes served at the luncheon.

The one downfall of the historic luncheon was the limited guest list. While we were able to invite people from across the campus, our budget limited us to about thirty guests. One of the primary objectives of the Campus Archaeology Program is public outreach, and although we documented the luncheon on our blog and on other social media (such as Facebook and Snapchat), this still deprived the general public of the opportunity to taste these dishes and interact with the past on a sensory level. Chef Jay Makowski, who helped prepare the luncheon, came up with the brilliant idea to feature certain dishes in the MSU ON-THE-GO Food Truck. We thought this was a modern, trendy, and accessible way to help MSU students, faculty, and other members of public connect with the past.

Eat at State On-The-Go Food Truck. Image Source

Eat at State On-The-Go Food Truck. Image Source

Therefore, in collaboration with MSU Culinary Services, we are excited to announce that variations of historic dishes will be available as options of the MSU Eat At State ON-THE-GO Food Truck. These “Throwback Thursday” and “Flashback Friday” special lunch events will feature versions of some of the foods served in the 1860s luncheon.

The menus include a few favorites from last year’s lunch: potato croquettes (deep-fried balls of mashed potatoes), codfish balls (basically potato croquettes with cod mixed in), and chow-chow (a delicious sweet vegetable relish).

A new menu item is the “shooter sandwich” with roast turkey, a pressed meat sandwich that was a popular during the early 1900s. We featured roast turkey with oyster stuffing at the original historic luncheon, and this is a convenient “on-the-go” version of the dish. Another new dish includes a pressed beef epigram. An epigram is traditionally a breaded and fried cutlet of lamb; our version features a twist by using pressed beef, a popular dish that was served at 19th-century MSU banquets. Other hearty, traditional foods featured include smoked chicken drumsticks and a pork sausage roll.

Check out the MSU Food Truck and picnic like it's 1909

Check out the MSU Food Truck and picnic like it’s 1909! Image source.

We hope this will be a great way to engage with the public and make learning about the past an exciting experience. If you would like to “taste the past,” then come by the MSU ON-THE-GO Food Truck for some Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday fun!

The ON-THE-GO Food Truck serves lunch from 11:30am – 1:30pm. The Rock is located just north of the Red Cedar River on Farm Lane, and 1855 Place is located at 550 S Harrison Rd, East Lansing. The menu schedule is listed below:

ON-THE-GO Food Truck “Throwback Thursday”/“Flashback Friday” Schedule

Thursday, March 29 (at the Rock)
Potato Croquette with Chow Chow
Shooter Sandwich with Roast Turkey
Smoked Chicken Drumstick with Herb Roasted Red Skin Potato

Friday, April 13 (at 1855 Place)
Potato Croquette with Chow Chow
Shooter Sandwich with Roast Turkey
Fresh Pork Sausage with Chow Chow on Pub Roll

Thursday, April 19 (at the Rock)
Codfish Balls with dipping sauce
Pressed Beef Epigram
Smoked Chicken Drumstick with Herb Roasted Red Skin Potato

Friday, April 27 (at 1855 Place)
Codfish Balls with dipping sauce
Pressed Beef Epigram
Fresh Pork Sausage with Chow Chow on Pub Roll

(And don’t worry – if throwback foods aren’t your thing, the Food Truck will also feature their famous smoked cheddar burger each of these days.)

Archaeology Post-Natural Disaster

Flooding at the baseball stadium

Flooding at the baseball stadium. Image Source

Flooding over Red Cedar Road with Spartan Stadium in the background. Image Source

Flooding over Red Cedar Road with Spartan Stadium in the background. Image Source

Water levels nearly reaching the bottom of the pedestrian bridge to the library. Image source.

Water levels nearly reaching the bottom of the pedestrian bridge to the library. Image source.

A few weeks ago, at the end of February, areas surrounding the Red Cedar River flooded causing substantial damage to many homes, businesses, and areas of MSU. The combination of unseasonably warm weather (which melted the prior weeks heavy snow) and heavy rains resulted in the Lansing area experiencing some of its heaviest flooding in 40 years (the Red Cedar River was nearly 4 feet over flood stage). Roads were closed, states of emergency were declared, and on campus IPF worked to mitigate the flood impact to critical buildings on north campus. No structures on campus were critically damaged, but the floodwaters did leave a substantial amount of damage. At least 4 inches of additional silt along the riverbanks was deposited and unfortunately due to the contaminated nature of flood water (from drainage overflow and system purges from upriver) the debris has the potential for some biological contamination. I was out of town at a conference so when I heard about the flooding my first thought was “is my house ok?”, and the second was “what is this flood going to do to archaeological sites in the area?”.

This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time the Red Cedar River floods. Floods and storms can add to the areas ground surface (like the silt deposition did along the Red Cedar) or can erode away river banks and cliff sides.  This can expose new parts of previously known sites, uncover unknown archaeological resources (like this historic canoe that washed up after Hurricane Irma, or the skeleton found under a tree knocked over by Hurricane Ophelia), or the alluvial deposition can bury sites.

The river floods in 1904. Old Wells Hall can be seen in the background. Image Source.

The river floods in 1904. Old Wells Hall can be seen in the background. Image Source.

Students play baseball in canoes during the 1948 flood. Image source.

Students play baseball in canoes during the 1948 flood. Image source.

Manzanita covered hillside cleared of green vegetation after the American Fire. Photo credit: Kristina Crawford

Manzanita covered hillside cleared of green vegetation after the American Fire. Photo credit: Kristina Crawford

Although we thankfully haven’t had to deal with this on campus, wildfires are a common occurrence in the Western United States. Wildfires can damage archaeological sites by physically damaging the artifacts or features, or by exposing sites to the elements and erosion. Fires are also known to expose undocumented sites and expose new portions of previously recorded sites. With the increase in wildfires across the western United States, many archaeologists are finding themselves studying fire archaeology ( It’s important for archaeologists to survey areas of fire damage to record and sometimes recover artifacts before looters arrive, or animals, people, or the elements further damage the objects/site. The recovered artifacts also help to establish the boundaries of a site.

Fire also clears areas that may have previously been too densely covered by vegetation to survey. For example the American Fire in August of 2013 (located in Northern California) burned away Manzanita (an incredibly dense brush that is absolutely horrible to survey through) allowing for the documentation of the late 19th century trash scatter and gold mining prospectors pits (as seen in the photo). The fire also exposed this historic cabin (seen below and also from the 1800s), but the fire didn’t burn the foundation timbers because they were covered in a thick layer of vegetation. Additionally the fire was fast moving and cool in this area. The fire also uncovered a large trash scatter around the cabin that was previously unobservable.

Foundation of a historic cabin that was further revealed by the fire. Photo Credit: Kristina Crawford

Foundation of a historic cabin that was further revealed by the fire. Photo Credit: Kristina Crawford

This picture shows the tea cup and saucer as well as two complete bottles found at the cabin site that would never have been found except the fire burned off the brush and overburden debris.

This picture shows the tea cup and saucer as well as two complete bottles found at the cabin site that would never have been found except the fire burned off the brush and overburden debris. Photo credit: Kristina Crawford

Sunken ferry boat exposed by record low river levels in 2008. Photo credit: Kristina Crawford

Sunken ferry boat exposed by record low river levels in 2008. Photo credit: Kristina Crawford

Archaeologists have also been working to document the impact of climate change on archaeological resources.  Changing water levels due to drought can expose objects previously covered by water, like this ferry boat in California.  The poles and brush in a row at the toe of the levee (where the vegetation ends) was where normal water flow levels hit.  Conversely the rising sea levels are putting costal sites in danger of destruction.  Archaeologists are racing to document and salvage these important resources, such as this commission in California. Thawing permafrost is also exposing and damaging sites caught in the melt.

Here at CAP much of our work focuses on planned campus construction, so this flood serves to remind us to always be prepared for the unexpected.  Stay turned to the blog and our social media pages as we conduct a pedestrian survey of the flooded area later this month.


Bagwell, Margaret 2009 After the Storm, Destruction and Reconstruction: The Potential for an  Archaeology of Hurricane Katrina. Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 5(1):280-292.