CAPBlog

Another day, another mystery in the CAP lab…

Another day, another mystery in the CAP lab…

While cataloguing artifacts from Service Road, we stumbled across an intriguing piece of a milk glass jar featuring an applied color label with bright red and blue hues. I say it was intriguing because many of the artifacts we have left from Service Road are 

Welcome to 2022-2023

Welcome to 2022-2023

Greetings! This is Dr. Stacey Camp, Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program. This past year has been one of constant change for our program. We have a new Campus Archaeologist, Ben Akey, after saying goodbye to our last Campus Archaeology, Jeff Burnett. We have 

A Look Back at CAP’s 2022 Field School

A Look Back at CAP’s 2022 Field School

This past summer, the Campus Archaeology program had the opportunity to offer a field school to archaeology students from MSU and across the state—our first field school since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Directly taking part in ongoing CAP research into life in the mid-century MSU campus, 18 students spent five weeks gaining exposure to a variety of archaeological research techniques including pedestrian survey, shovel-testing, unit excavation, archival research and laboratory work. This blogpost recounts the activities of the field school and provides a brief summary of the results of the fieldwork and research projects undertaken by our students.


Choosing the Research Area

The on-campus component of this year’s field school focused on Cherry Lane Park, an open space on the western edge of campus slated for development of a athletics facility. The Campus Archaeology Program’s interest in this area of campus was two-fold. On one hand, an upcoming construction project in this area of campus prompted CAP to assess what archaeological materials might be disturbed by future development. Secondly, this area of campus fit into CAP’s emergent research interest in the material culture of campus in the mid-twentieth century and postwar era—a period of rapid change for the institution.

Specifically, MSU’s post-war era was marked by rapidly changing demographics—with increasing numbers of women students, greater numbers of children living in campus residences—and concurrent leaps in enrollment and programming as the institution moved from a relatively specialized agricultural college to the university we know today. Many of these changes can be at least partially attributed to the impact of the G.I. Bill, which provided financial support to returning veterans and their families enrolled in higher education.

 In the years following the end of World War Two, campus infrastructure was dramatically expanded to accommodate the influx of veteran students, including a massive ‘temporary housing area’—a patchwork of trailers, pre-furbished structures, and barracks-style apartments—stretching across much of west campus. As many students came to the college with families, this era also marked the beginning of substantial campus investment in family-student housing options that would later become permanent in spaces like Spartan Village and University Village over the coming decades.

An oblique aerial photograph depicting an ordered sprawl of temporary structures across the western edge of Michigan State University campus
An aerial photograph of the temporary housing area taken shortly after residential units were installed, 1946. Photo faces roughly south, center right of frame features the intersection of Harrison Road and Shaw Lane. Image Courtesy of the MSU Archives and Historical Collections

Fieldwork at Cherry Lane Park

Today, a substantial part of this former temporary housing area for veteran students and their families overlaps with Cherry Lane Park, including barrack’s style family apartments and the ‘Faculty Bricks’. CAP’s selection of this area as the site of our 2022 field school thus sought to assess whether deposits from this era would be impacted by upcoming construction and to recover material culture related to this transitional moment in the development of Michigan State University.

A group of undergraduate students gathered around and listening to instructions from course TAs.
TA Reid Ellefson-Frank prepares students to perform a pedestrian survey of Cherry Lane Park.

The summer’s fieldwork began with a pedestrian survey across Cherry Lane Park, through which students learned to systematically comb through the campus landscape looking for surface artifacts and landform features associated with the temporary housing area. While artifacts that could be confidently dated to this period were few and far between, student’s attention to landforms and vegetative changes allowed us to identify the location of structural footprints and former road grades associated with mid-century student and faculty residences, and in turn improved our geo-referencing of historical imagery. This exercise also provided a chance to students to familiarize themselves with the spatiality of temporary housing area and—combined with historical aerial photography and maps—orient themselves within the site.

Photo displays 3 field school students digging a shovel test pit. Foreground center frame, one student actively shovels dirt from shovel-test pit while another sifts dirt through a hand-held screen. Background, another student holds a shovel full of dirt.
Students Izzy Wickle, Celeste Adaway, and Kinsey Skjold shovel-testing in the field.

Following the pedestrian survey, students participated in shovel-testing in a few strategically chosen areas of Cherry Lane Park believed to have been minimally disturbed since their usage as part of the temporary housing area. Despite the importance of within the world of professional archaeology, it is rarely emphasized in field school settings in favor of a focus on unit excavations. Given that we had no knowledge of how intact artifact deposits and features from the temporary housing area would be, this was a necessary step in research but–importantly–also provided us the means to train students in an important field method they would encounter regularly if they choose to pursue archaeology.

Students Stephen Bush and Alex Withey record strata after digging a shovel-test.

While some material culture from the era we were interested in investigating was recovered, the results of our shovel-testing efforts largely indicated a dirth of intact deposits related to the temporary housing area within the tested areas. Though not particularly exciting results, students were thus exposed to one of the inconvenient realities of fieldwork— archaeology is almost just as much about ‘negative’ data and where things are not as it is about where (and what) things are.

Students Levi Webb and Ahnna Swanson practicing mapping skills.

Back in McDonel Hall, students were introduced to methods within historical archaeology laboratory work, including the identification and dating of glass containers and ceramic vessels. Specifically, students worked with artifacts from the Service Road landfill, a 1950s-early 1960s campus landfill along Service Road which CAP staff recovered in the summer of 2020 (see more about the Service Road collection here or here). This collection includes a diversity of refuse from various spaces on campus, including residential, academic, and dining related items. After gaining some experience in the cataloging process, students worked on groups research projects that combined artifact analysis and archival research to elucidate specific aspects of life on the mid-century campus. We hope to integrate the insights of these projects into some of CAP’s digital outreach platforms in the coming months.


Collaborations & Off-Campus Fieldwork

Dr. Duane Quates guides students prior to demonstrating processes associated with geophysical survey.

Outside of our research on the mid-century campus, students also participated in fieldwork off-campus in the vicinity of the Rose Lake USDA-NRCS Field Office. Guided by two professional archaeologists (and Michigan State alumni) Duane Quates and Christopher Valvano, as well as recent MSU graduate Gabrielle Moran, students participated in various phases of research at two sites associated with pre-contact occupations including unit excavations, geophysical survey, and shovel testing. This collaboration allowed us to broaden the scope of our field school and introduce students to additional professional skillsets that we may not have had the capacity to offer in our on-campus research. Multiple field school students have continued to work with Duane and Christopher after the end of the field school to gain further experience and guidance as they explore the possibility of working within professional archaeology—an outcome we view as an abundantly clear sign of an effective collaborative undertaking.

Dr. Christopher Valvano and Gabrielle Moran instruct students in unit excavation techniques.

Our field school was also fortunate to have two representatives of the Gun Lake Tribe Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO), Cultural Resources Specialist Kaila Akina and THPO intern Onyleen Zapata join us to participate and observe our summer fieldwork. We were incredibly fortunate to have their help and perspectives during their visit, and look forward to other avenues of future collaboration and capacity building between the Campus Archaeology Program and the Gun Lake THPO.

Out of the field, the CAP was also fortunate to feature guest lectures from a variety of professionals in the world of archaeology and associated fields, including Michigan State Historic Preservation Officer Dr. Sarah Surface-Evans, Gun Lake Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Lakota Hobia (Gun Lake THPO) and colleagues, MSU NAGPRA Program Manager Dr. Jessica Yann, our collaborators at Rose Lake (Dr. Duane Quates and Dr. Christopher Valvano), UM-Flint Professor Dr. Bev Smith, and then-current MSU Campus Archaeologist Jeff Burnett. Topics of lectures comprised a broad swath of topics, including discussion of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), working as an archaeologist for state/federal agencies, zooarchaeology, and the history of race, racism, ethnicity and gender at Michigan State University.


The Campus Archaeology Program would like to extend our sincere gratitude to everyone who helped make this field school possible and an engaging learning experience for our students, including (but absolutely not limited to) everyone mentioned in this blog post. On a personal level, I’d like to also thank all the field school students who collectively made my first official teaching assistant position at the university a pleasant and rewarding experience, and extend a special thanks to my two fellow TAs Alex Kelley and Reid Ellefson-Frank (note: do not forget to refrigerate your unit stakes).

Meet our 2022-2023 CAP Fellows

Meet our 2022-2023 CAP Fellows

First things first — Thanking our former Campus Archaeologist As we move into the new academic year and welcome a new set of CAP Fellows, we also say our farewells to Jeff Burnett, our outgoing Campus Archaeologist. Jeff oversaw the program in a challenging era, 

Scenes of Summer at Michigan State

Scenes of Summer at Michigan State

Summer in Michigan brings warm weather, thunderstorms, beach days and, for Campus Archaeology at least, shovel testing, construction monitoring, and CAP’s on campus field school. As we head into a new summer of Campus Archaeology we recap some of the great projects our impressive CAP 

SciFest ReCAP: The 2022 Artifact Mystery Quiz

SciFest ReCAP: The 2022 Artifact Mystery Quiz

We knew it was a hard quiz when our director, Dr. Stacey Camp, asked us for the answers. Of course, we couldn’t tell her what the artifacts were–that’s the point of a quiz! 

This year we were back in person for SciFest, one of our favorite outreach events hosted here on MSU’s campus. We were thrilled to engage with our East Lansing community with hands-on activities. This year the line-up of CAP projects included excavation boxes, coloring pages, our fresh and fun Geocaching Tour, and … the 2022 Artifact Mystery Quiz! Like last year’s Guess That Artifact, the quiz features materials from our 2020 Service Road project and is designed to trick and teach.

Don’t worry if you missed the event, you can still take the 2022 Mystery Artifact Quiz. If you’ve already done so and–like Dr. Camp–need some answers, scroll down to learn more. Check out the ‘People’s Choice’ to see the most popular educated guess.

amber glass bottle with interior residue and black plastic cap

Correct Answer: King’s Men Cologne

People’s Choice: Crown Royal Whiskey

Know More: We can certainly understand where people were coming from with this one, there are some similarities between this bottle shape and Crown Royal Whiskey. One hint here is the near lack of a neck below the mouth of the bottle, a feature that is often used to make liquids pour more easily, and is present on most liquor bottles (though the length of the neck on such is sometimes fairly minimal). On cologne bottles, which often feature narrow closures called “sprinkler top” finishes–used to dab the liquid in small quantities–a neck isn’t needed.

The artifact was identified as King’s Men cologne, a product manufactured by 42 Products Ltd., thanks to a maker’s mark (“KINGS MEN/8”) on the base of the container. While no firm end date for this container shape or product line was found, the ‘first-use’ date for the King’s Men trademark suggests that it was in production by 1941. Perhaps predictably, advertising for King’s Men Cologne’s “virile scents” often featured images that drew associations between the product and British nobility, and a refined masculine gentility more broadly.

Text advertisement for King's Men cologne, reading "Inscribed in the stirring pages of British History are the King's Men- whose deeds and colorful tradition inspired Kings Men Toiletries. In their cool, virile scents, their lasting fragrance, Kings Men bring you the character of Saville Row and Bond Street, the spirit of the finest British imports. Handsomely presented in rich, lustrous flagons plate din gleaming 23-karat gold. Featured by fine men's shops and department stores."

small yellow jar with 'Topaze' engraved in the center of the lid with a small yellow gem inset

Correct Answer: Avon ‘Topaze’ Fragranced Cream Sachet

People’s Choice: Neutrogena ‘Topaze’ Face Cream

Know More: This ‘cream sachet’ was part of a wider set of fragrance products under the name ‘Topaze,’ manufactured by Avon Products. According to searches of newspaper ads, the ‘Topaze’ fragrance line was launched in 1959, and no definitive date was found for when this product was discontinued. The plastic gem embedded in the lid of the vessel was a tie-in to the product’s name and advertising campaign, which proclaimed it to be the “jewel of a fragrance”.

An image of the Topaze cream sachet container with the lid taken off and placed on its right. Inside the jar, there is a single hair pin oriented diagonally.
The Topaze creme sachet jar was recovered with a hairpin still sitting inside—perhaps used to scrape the last bits from the container.

a tiny clear glass vial, about the size of the palm of a hand, with a red plastic stopper

Correct Answer: Liquid Medicine Injection Vial

Know More: Container form is helpful in determining vessel function. The short, narrow neck of the bottle–impractical for pouring liquids–indicates that the vessel’s contents would have likely been accessed in some other way. The thin rubber cap, unlike screw-threading caps, permits needles to pass through and access the contents without opening the container and risking contamination.

In this case, we were also aided by partial and faint text printed on the bottle that helped us identify the container’s original contents. The vial contained the hormone oxytocin, a naturally occurring mammalian hormone that helps to regulate a variety of psychological and physiological processes including sociality, memory, pain, intimacy, childbirth, and lactation (Leng & Leng 2021). In medical contexts oxytocin injections are primarily associated with inducing and augmenting childbirth, treating postpartum bleeding, and inducing lactation.

These uses of oxytocin in childbirth have been known in some capacity since Henry Dale experimented with extracts from the pituitary gland in 1906, but it took until 1955 for the hormone to be sequenced and synthesized–becoming the first polypeptide hormone to be successfully manufactured artificially (Magon & Kalra 2011). A marking on the base of the object, “Neutraglas,” was present on glass containers produced by the Kimble Glass Company –a laboratory and scientific glassware venture– between 1941 and 1956, giving us a preliminary date range for the artifact (Harvard University n.d.).

Further research into the manufacturer indicated by the partial label of “Jen Sal” (short for Jensen-Salsbury), a veterinary pharmaceutical company, reveals that the injection vial was not produced for use in human health. This, combined with the context of this artifact’s recovery, may indicate that it was used in veterinary research and/or treatment at MSU.


a round-based clear-glass bottle with ribbed sides and no cap

Correct Answer: Oil/Vinegar Vial

Know More: Unfortunately, we do not know a lot about this bottle, and our identification is primarily informed speculation. The bottle was manufactured by the Knox Glass Company. The unique stylization of the container is meant to simulate the style of Italian wine wicker-covered bottles often called demigiana (Ciappi n.d.), which often contain wine or oil. An additional context clue that we didn’t provide in the photo is the ‘dripper insert’ –similar to what you might find at the top of a hot sauce or soy sauce bottle to control the flow of liquids– that is inserted into the mouth of the bottle. This all seems to suggest that the bottle is likely food-related and contained an ingredient for which controlling the flow of the liquid contents was a helpful feature. Combined with the wicker demigiana-esque vessel form, and the culinary association of Italy with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar, we infer that the bottle likely held some form of oil or vinegar.


small rectangular bottle with light-colored powder lining the interior and a black plastic cap

Correct Answer: Calamine Lotion in Pharmaceutical Bottle

Know More: Several clues help us determine the function of this container. Considering vessel shape in isolation, the relatively small and rectangular form is largely consistent with bottles used for medical/pharmaceutical substances. More definite clues come from several embossed features, including a pharmacist symbol that looks like ‘3iii,’ where the character that looks like a ‘3’ is actually “℥,” a now rarely used symbol for ounces, and is followed by three ‘i’s to represent the number of ounces the container holds. The sides of the container also feature volumetric gradations, a common feature of pharmaceutical bottles used to easily measure doses. The base of the vessel contains the manufacturer’s maker’s mark (“Brockway” in cursive) alongside the term ‘Sani-Glas’ and a circled cross, trademarks of the Brockway Glass company used on pharmaceutical/medicinal containers. CAP fellow Rhian Dunn has dated the artifact between 1940 and 1964 based on the simultaneous presence of the cursive “Brockway” and circled cross symbol, which archaeologist Bill Lockhart suggests coexisted on the company’s pharmaceutical/medicinal bottles between these years (Lockhart et al. 2013).

The identification of the contents within the bottle is admittedly somewhat speculative and is primarily based on its hue. A possible alternative is that the bottle contained bismuth subsalicylate / Pepto-Bismol.


two small irregularly shaped bottles one with a red rubber lid with a slit for glue

Correct Answer: Glue Bottles

People’s Choice: Ink Bottles

Know More: These artifacts were initially pretty confusing, and I’m not sure we would have identified them quickly without the input of Campus Archaeologist, Jeff Burnett, who had used similar containers in school as a re-usable container for glue. This seems to fit with the rather unusual rubber applicator attached to one of the bottles, which allows for the even application of glue along a flat surface. Due to the propensity of American consumers for single-use containers like your typical plastic Elmer’s glue bottle –and perhaps in part the unfortunate reality that school supplies are often purchased directly by teachers out of their own pocket rather than in bulk by underfunded school districts– other CAP fellows had never used a glass glue bottle. The bottle was manufactured by the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company and has been dated between 1920 and 1964.


a round milk glass or opaque white glass container with a blue metal lid with the words "SHAMPOO WITH LANOLIN" written atop

Correct Answer: Lustre Creme Shampoo with Lanolin

Know More: While it may look like an unusual type of container for shampoo by contemporary standards, the squat-glass shampoo jar made of ‘milk-glass’ (a term for opaque-white glass) was common for much of the 20th century, and this container style was similar many other cosmetic products like cold-creams and balms. This type of container may not be practical for the prevailing liquid formulations of shampoo most people use today but made sense in the context of ‘cream-style’ shampoos which dominated the market in the early decades of the 20th century, competed alongside liquid shampoos in the post-war and mid-century, and declined by the 1960s and 70s.

A similar and contemporaneous transition can be seen in deodorant styles, which transformed from primarily cream-based formulations in squat milk-glass containers to elongated colorless glass and plastic containers with the increasing popularity of liquid roll-on and solid-stick deodorants (Bennett 2022b). The wider assemblage of materials from the Service Road Landfill (~1958-1963) contains a mixture of both cream-style and liquid shampoos, though liquid formulations are notably more common. CAP fellow, Benjamin Akey, has elsewhere explored the possibility that the mixture of older and newer styles of such products on campus could represent the increasing age diversity of campus residents in the post-war era, following the increasing provision of family housing options at the university.

Lustre-Creme shampoo was first produced by the Kay Daumit company starting in 1944, and purchased by the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet company in 1947 (Bennett 2022a). While no firm end date of distribution for the product has been found, it ceases to appear in newspaper advertisements in the early 1970s, giving us an approximate date range of 1944-1973 for the artifact.


A clear-glass syringe with cracks down the outer glass

Correct Answer: Glass Syringe

Know More: Identifying this artifact came down solely to its form–the interlocking pieces (‘plunger’ and ‘barrel’) were a pretty clear indication that this was a syringe. We have a little less to explain here, as we could not find any diagnostic features on this artifact to help us date or identify the manufacturer of the item.


a clear-glass salad dressing bottle with no lid

Correct Answer: Wishbone Salad Dressing

Know More: Depending on which salad dressing you reach for at the grocery store, this one may have been one of the easier questions on the quiz–Wishbone dressing continues to use this woven-diamond motif on the sides of their (now plastic) salad dressing bottles. Aside from that continuity, the vessel form does provide some clues. We can assume it is a liquid from the elongated form and neck of the vessel, which both help to maintain a consistent flow while pouring. The long, relatively wide neck of the bottle is ideal for pouring viscous liquids, whereas an elongated narrow neck might suggest a thinner liquid, such as a beverage.

Embossed marks on the base of the bottle (3 [circled-B] 62) indicate that it was produced by the Brockway Glass Company in 1962. While we don’t often get firm one-year dates for artifacts, many glass container companies, including Brockway, employed two-digit date codes on certain kinds of bottles throughout the twentieth century–rendering dating many of the glass containers in the Service Road collection fairly simple. The embossed marks also include the patent number for the proprietary bottle, “Des. Pat. 169344”. You can see the drawing included in the patent record here.


Credits: Emily Milton designed the blog, made the quiz, and photographed artifacts; Ben Akey conducted the research and wrote the artifact Know Mores; Jack Biggs fixed Emily’s photography and made the images look nice.

References:

  • Leng, G, Leng, RI. 2021 “Oxytocin: A citation network analysis of 10 000 papers.” J Neuroendocrinol. 33:e13014.
  • Magon, N., & Kalra, S. 2011 “The orgasmic history of oxytocin: Love, lust, and labor.” Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 15 Suppl 3(Suppl3), S156–S161.
  • Ciappi, Silvia n.d. “The wicker bottle: a long history from its origins to the seventeenth century”. Online magazine article. https://magazine.dichecibo6.it/en/il-fiasco-una-lunga-storia-dalle-origini-al-xvii-secolo/
  • Harvard University n.d. “Kimble Glass Company 1901-1997”. Webpage. Harvard University’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. http://waywiser.fas.harvard.edu/people/5105/kimble-glass-company
  • Lockhart, Bill, Peter Shulz, Beau Schriever, Carol Serr, Bill Lindsey 2013 “Brockway Bottle Machine Co. and Brockway Glass Co”. Hosted by the Society for Historical Archaeology. https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/Brockway.pdf
  • Bennett, James 2022a “Colgate-Palmolive-Peet.” Webpage, https://cosmeticsandskin.com/companies/colgate-palmolive-peet.php
  • Bennett, James 2022b “Deodorants.” Webpage, https://cosmeticsandskin.com/fgf/deodorants.php

The Golden Eagle Promotion: How Sprite Bottles Became a National Park Service Advertisement

The Golden Eagle Promotion: How Sprite Bottles Became a National Park Service Advertisement

While looking through the artifacts recovered from the 2020 Service Road project, the CAP crew found an interesting green glass bottle fragment. After further investigation, I found that this fragment was the remaining portion of a Sprite bottle made by the Chattanooga Glass Company (as 

Visibility of Indigenous Students in Michigan State University’s History

Visibility of Indigenous Students in Michigan State University’s History

It has been nearly 167 years since Michigan State University first opened its doors in 1855. Starting with only three buildings, five faculty members, and 63 male students, it has grown to encompass 5,192 acres and has over 50,000 students enrolled, making it the state’s 

Getting ‘Ghosted’: Calamitous Clay Creations from the Outré Outhouse

Getting ‘Ghosted’: Calamitous Clay Creations from the Outré Outhouse

During archaeological excavations, some of the most ubiquitous artifacts unearthed are ceramic sherds that were once part of bowls, plates, vases, or other decorative pieces. It is relatively easy to appreciate the skills and techniques that go into the creation of meticulously crafted ceramic vessels. Even in the cases of plainer wares whose value comes from their utilitarian style, there is still an immense amount of training and proficiency required by the individual at the potter’s wheel.

Variety of decorated ceramic sherds from Gunson site.
A variety of decorated ceramic sherds from Gunson site (also excavated in 2015) showing some of the more stylistic and detailed artifacts typically found in historical archaeological excavations and on MSU’s campus. Photo by Jeff Painter (http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=5002).

The CAP archaeological collections contain thousands of ceramic sherds that exhibit exquisite designs, motifs, and the utmost finesse in their creation. Within these assemblages are fragments from a few terracotta flowerpots that absolutely do not display any of these characteristics. AT ALL. WHATSOEVER. In fact, these vessels look like they had the “help” of Patrick Swayze as they were on the potter’s wheel, all the while “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers crooned in the background. In other words, these flowerpots look like they got “Ghosted”. Although this description may sound disparaging, it is truly not intended to be as such. In fact, it is the belief of the author that this flowerpot fiasco, this terracotta transgression, this clay catastrophe, this misshapen malady of moistened minerals (I have more) actually brings the human aspect back into the cultural and historical significance of these forgotten faux pas.

These flowerpot fragments were found during the 2015 excavation of the Saints’ Rest privy, the outhouse associated with the first dorm on campus that burned down in 1876. Based on other artifacts found within the privy, it is obvious that it was used as a convenient disposal area for unwanted or broken items, most of which date to the mid-late 19th century (see numerous other blogs on the CAP website discussing the privy finds). It appears that this was the same fate that befell the terracotta flowerpots discussed here, and one in particular. It is unknown whether they were dropped down the privy because of cracks in the vessel walls, or possibly due to disappointment in how they came out of the kiln. However, their presence in the undisturbed midnight soil meant that one of the vessels could be fully reconstructed by the author.

3D model of the flowerpot created by the author, Jack A. Biggs using Agisoft Metashape. You can also access the model on the Sketchfab website by clicking here.

While most flowerpots have straight walls that terminate at the rim, the one seen in the 3D model above clearly bulges near the base, giving it a somewhat lumpy appearance. The bulging indicates that the pot started to collapse while the clay was still wet. Wide and spiraling grooves about the width of a finger can be seen on the internal surface. These grooves probably occurred as the potter tried to pull the clay upwards to both widen the pot and make it taller, but accidentally applied too much force. As a result, the walls near the base became too thin and weak to support the weight of the thicker and wetter clay above. In other words, this sad vessel was doomed to collapse.

Compounding the weakened walls are two areas just above the bulges where the walls are slightly pinched in. These are located roughly on opposite sides of the pot from one another. This suggests that the pot was stuck to the bat (the spinning disc where the clay is thrown) and the potter grabbed it with a little too much force to remove it. Subsequently, indentations were formed with their thumb and another finger on opposite sides of the pot. It is also equally possible that grabbing the pot off the bat caused the bulging in the walls. The already weakened walls near the base were on the brink of collapse, but the catalyst for their failure may have occurred as it was removed too forcefully from the bat.

Screenshots of the flowerpot 3D model. The image on the left shows the external surface of the pot with the bulging wall (indicated by the blue arc) and the indentation just above it (indicated by the red arc). The right image shows the internal aspect of the pot with the indentation just above the red arc. Also notice the spiral grooves on the internal aspect near the base that weakened the overall structure.

Other interesting aspects of this flowerpot are the presence of thumb- or fingerprints as well as (likely) unintentional textures made by the wet hands of the potter that were still covered in sticky clay. This could have been made in the process of removing the pot from the bat or placing it on a shelf to dry. However, as these marks are not all over the pot, it is clear that they were not intentional and could have easily been smoothed off. It is in the author’s honest opinion that after the collapse of the walls, the potter probably saw these fingerprints and other marks and thought “I’m too angry to care about making it look pretty at this point…”

Smudges and fingerprints left over by the potter. The left image shows where hands wet with sticky clay left behind slightly raised lines. The right image shows where the potter grabbed or attempted to smooth an area, only to leave behind striations from their finger- or thumbprints.

Lastly, and despite the numerous ‘unintentional traits’, the rim of the flowerpot has decorative grooves and is smoothed and rounded off. This was likely done in the ‘leather hard’ stage where the clay is still wet so that it can be sculpted, but dry and sturdy enough that it will not collapse (any further). Although not perfect and following the narrative the author is unjustifiably weaving, these finishing touches suggest that maybe the potter had an emotional cooling off period while it was drying. Perhaps they decided to finish and take pride in their work despite the flaws that almost made them want to throw the collapsing pot on the studio floor.

Screenshot of the flowerpot 3D model showing the decorative grooves and smoothed rim.

There is no way of knowing who the individual was that made this flowerpot, but they clearly left their mark. Many of the artifacts we find in archaeological digs so rarely have such a personal touch to them. Artifacts on display at museums generally represent the pinnacle of artistic achievement, unmatched skill, or the finalized and perfected form of an object. The “mistakes” and “works in progress” do not usually receive the spotlight.

It is very unlikely that this flowerpot was ever sold or even given as a gift (unless it was to a family member…a very close family member who loved it because of who made it…not necessarily because of the way it looked…). This means it was possibly used by the actual person who made it, specifically because it looked “Ghosted” (i.e. no one else would probably want it). Accompanying this misshapen flowerpot are the emotions that the potter could have felt had while making it. They may have been just learning how to work with clay, so this vessel represented the exploration of a new hobby and the joy of being able to create something. Conversely, it may represent anger and frustration as they saw their hard work begin to collapse in front of their eyes. The author can also confirm that both these emotions occur simultaneously as a very similar scenario played out when they took a beginner’s ceramic class many years ago. Whatever the case, this frumpy little flowerpot has a much more human connection than the vast majority of the artifacts in the CAP collections. This is especially true because it has the literal fingerprints of its creator on it.

While this misshapen goblin of a flowerpot might not have the sophisticated execution compared to some of the more artisanal examples in the CAP collections, it undoubtedly has much more personality. Its life history can be more readily interpreted since its flaws are closely connected to the emotions its maker likely felt. Whatever the reason for being unceremoniously placed (or perhaps ritually deposited) in their final resting place, these ceramics with spunk bring a fun and more easily understood human component to the cultural history of Michigan State University.

CAP Update: Spring 2022

CAP Update: Spring 2022

Here at Michigan State we welcome winter as we return to classes and our labs. I would like share what we have been up to over break and provide a preview of what CAP will be working on this semester. What We Did Over The