Campus as Museum: A Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience

Here at CAP we think a lot about different ways of sharing our research. We can—and do—present at conferences, give public lectures, and publish site reports and journal articles. While these avenues are great for communicating our work to other experts, they are probably not the most effective ways of engaging the MSU community and the public. This blog is one way we communicate with the public about the campus heritage we uncover through our work. But how can we take this one step further and make the connection between campus heritage and campus space? One idea is to create an experience that turns MSU’s campus into a museum anyone can visit, with exhibits that not only showcase what we’ve discovered through archival and archaeological research, but also the processes involved in uncovering this knowledge.

The first iteration of this idea of campus as museum was msu.seum, a free mobile app that uses geopositioning to identify a user’s location on campus, point them to the nearest site of interest, and provide information on the history and archaeology of the site. Msu.seum was the outcome of collaboration between the Campus Archaeology Program, the Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Initiative, and MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Science. The app was first designed and developed as part of the 2011 CHI Field School led by CHI director and MATRIX associate director Dr. Ethan Watrall. Content for msu.seum was developed by Dr. Goldstein and former Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock.

For my CAP project I have been working to update and help build a Campus Archaeology mobile experience on a new and improved platform that alleviates technical issues with the original msu.seum app and offers exciting new features. The new platform we are using is mbira, an open-source tool specifically designed for building and managing location-based and mobile cultural heritage experiences designed by MATRIX. The site we are building in mbira can be accessed as an app for Android and Apple devices, on mobile web browsers, and as a browser-based web app.

A screenshot of the editor view of the interactive map showing five location points organized within the permanent exhibit "Beginnings." This exhibit covers the first era of MSU's history from 1855 to 1870.

A screenshot of the editor view of the interactive map showing five location points organized within the permanent exhibit “Beginnings.” This exhibit covers the first era of MSU’s history from 1855 to 1870.

So, what exactly will the new Campus Archaeology mobile experience look like? The site has three major levels of organization: locations, exhibits, and explorations. Locations are the most basic level of organization. They appear as pins on an interactive map and are tied to real locations, including past and present campus buildings and sites CAP has excavated. When a user selects a location pin, they are provided with a description of the site’s history, similar to an artifact label in a traditional museum. Unlike traditional museums, locations also include a “Dig Deeper” section exposing the archaeological research that helped generate knowledge about that location, as well as a comment section. Our hope is that eventually users will be able to participate in conversations with us and other users to ask questions, share reactions, and contribute to our knowledge of campus sites.

A historic photo of College Hall, the first building erected on campus and one of the locations users can explore on the Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience. It held classrooms, labs, a museum, a chapel, and administration. This photo taken in 1857 shows the landscape of felled trees that had to be cleared to build campus. (Photo courtesy of MSU Archives, A000157.jpg).

A historic photo of College Hall, the first building erected on campus and one of the locations users can explore on the Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience. It held classrooms, labs, a museum, a chapel, and administration. This photo taken in 1857 shows the landscape of felled trees that had to be cleared to build campus. (Photo courtesy of MSU Archives)

Exhibits provide one option for users to experience locations. Exhibits connect several locations together based on an underlying theme. To date, we have created five permanent exhibits for the mobile experience. Four of these correspond to eras in campus history including Beginnings (1855-1870), Foundation (1870-1900), Expansion (1900-1925), and Legacy (1925-1955). Our fifth permanent exhibit, Discovery, includes locations associated with CAP’s archaeological investigations from 2005 to the present. Explorations provide another way for users to experience locations. Unlike exhibits, explorations join together locations intended to be experienced in a particular sequence. This feature could be used to create a self-guided tour.

A photo of the foundations of College Hall, excavated in 2009 during sidewalk replacement around Beaumont Tower.

A photo of the foundations of College Hall, excavated in 2009 during sidewalk replacement around Beaumont Tower.

So far, my work on this project has primarily focused on building the permanent exhibits. Last semester I updated content previously featured on msu.seum with findings from new investigations. I have also created new content that reflects more recent field schools and sites excavated since 2011. I am now putting the finishing touches on the permanent exhibits including attaching historical photos from MSU Archives and photos of artifacts and archaeological investigations to each of the 27 locations currently added to the site.

As we develop this Campus Archaeology mobile experience, we are continuing to think of new ways to build and expand. We hope to create temporary thematic exhibits and explorations that can be featured at different times throughout the year. One idea is to highlight and connect current CAP research—including research on sustainability, food, and gender—to locations on campus. Another idea is to create a Halloween exploration to coincide with the Haunted Tour Campus Archaeology cohosts with the MSU Paranormal Society.

While this project is still in development, we are looking forward to launching the site soon. In March, Dr. Watrall will be presenting a beta version at the Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries conference in a paper titled “Towards an Approach to Building Mobile Digital Experiences for University Campus Heritage and Archaeology.” He will also be presenting on building mobile experiences for heritage and archaeology in this invited lecture. Stay tuned for the full launch of the CAP mobile experience later this year!


Anthropology Day 2018 – What do we study?

Today is World Anthropology Day, sponsored by the American Anthropological Association.  This year we have decided to highlight the non-CAP research our director(s) and fellows conduct.

Lynne Goldstein

Dr. Goldstein at the 2017 CAP field school

On this World Anthropology Day, I am doing archaeology, but differently than I have done it in the past. I am going to retire this year – I still plan to do archaeology, but will no longer be teaching or digging. This shift in focus means that I have a lot of things to wrap up, as well as new projects to plan – it is important to organize our data and information so that others can carry on and go in new directions. For Campus Archaeology, I am trying to make sure that I leave new Director Stacey Camp with a program that is well organized, with few loose ends. For other projects, I am trying to accomplish much the same outcome. When we think about doing archaeology, we often think about the active parts – digging, analyzing artifacts, organizing data. All of those parts are critical, but the part that takes the longest is synthesizing, interpreting, and writing. When done well, these tasks are perhaps the most rewarding, if not always as much fun as digging and looking at cool artifacts. As you can see in the posts below, all of us at MSU Campus Archaeology are spending World Anthropology Day doing anthropology in very different ways. However, given that we are in Michigan, none of us are outside digging today.

Stacey Camp

Dr. Camp in Ireland c. 1998-1998

Dr. Camp in Ireland c. 1998-1998

My career in archaeology started when I enrolled in an archaeological field school as an undergraduate. The field school was in Ireland, and it was my first opportunity to travel abroad. There, I learned basic archaeological skills, such as how to excavate a unit, how to identify and date historic artifacts, and how to operate a transit used to map archaeological sites. I was fascinated by Ireland’s rich but contested history, and wanted to find a way to get back there after the field school ended. I applied for a competitive grant and received it, which allowed me to spend three months traveling around Ireland to analyze and interpret the presentation of Ireland’s prehistory at heritage sites and museums. It was a formative moment in my career, one that took me out of my comfort zone and gave me the chance to experience what it was like to do independent research in a foreign country. Since then, I have continued to examine sites with nuanced, dark pasts, ones that tell stories of racism and inequality so often ignored in the history books. My current research looks at the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and I hoping to expand this project to look at how individuals of Japanese heritage were treated in other countries during World War II.

Lisa Bright

Lisa Bright

Lisa Excavating at VMC Historic Cemetery. Image Source: Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group

My research focuses on the health and nutrition of individuals buried in a later 19th/early 20th century indigent cemetery in San Jose, California.  This cemetery is associated with the county hospital, and construction of a new hospital building in 2011 necessitated the exhumation of over 1,000 individuals in the path of the construction.  This cemetery presents a rare opportunity to study the lives of individuals in Santa Clara County during this time period as few large historic cemeteries have been excavated in the United States. The information that can be gained from the study of this collection will inform social scientists on the health, social status, demographic makeup, and medical practices encountered by this population. Specifically, the people buried at this cemetery were members of lower socio-economic communities, represented by many different ethic backgrounds. My dissertation research examines the impact of public health policy, and issues of institutional/structural violence on the health outcomes of these individuals.

Susan Kooiman

Susan Kooiman

Susan Kooiman

My research revolves around how humans interact with food and the ceramic vessels they crafted to cook, serve, and store food. Food is a biological need but is also inherently social, tied closely to our daily routines and cultural traditions. Pottery was crafted by people for the purposes of cooking, storage, and serving, both for in the home and in public contexts. The shape and other physical properties of vessels provide insight into which function a vessel was made to serve, while alterations to pottery vessels provides clues to how people used them. Both food choice and ceramic vessel form and style indicate social relationships and are subject to change over time in response to environmental, social, and/or political changes.

I study diet and pottery use of pre-European contact Indigenous groups in the Upper Great Lakes of North America. Specifically, I am looking for possible changes in food and cooking habits through time at the Cloudman site in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which was occupied from AD 100 to AD 1600. My dissertation explores these topics through burned food residue patterns (which can indicate cooking styles) and examination of food residues for microscopic plant remains and chemical signatures of plants and animals. Ultimately, I hope to understand the how and why the occupants of the Cloudman site made subsistence decisions in the context of environmental and social factors.

Autumn Painter

Autumn sorts bones in the cap lab.

Autumn sorts bones

Happy World Anthropology Day! My name is Autumn Painter and I study foodways in the prehistoric Midwest. My current research looks at the Morton Village site, located in west-central Illinois. This site was occupied contemporaneously by both local Mississippian people and Oneota migrants, and is an excellent case study to learn about subsistence strategies, social interaction, and food sharing. I specifically focus on analyzing animal (faunal) remains to answer my research questions.


Jeff Painter

Jeff Painter records a ceramic sherd.

Jeff Painter records a ceramic sherd.

My name is Jeff Painter and my research examines migration and social interaction in the late prehistoric Midwest.  Specifically, I focus on Morton Village, located in west-central Illinois, as a case study.  This site was occupied contemporaneously by both local Mississippian people and Oneota migrants, and was an excellent example of post-migration social interaction.  At this site, as well as at a comparative Oneota site in Wisconsin and another Mississippian site from west-central Illinois, I examine cooking practices and the context of cooking to examine how food practices changed due to migration and the role these practices played in negotiating life in this multi-ethnic community.

Jack Biggs

Jack Biggs

Jack Biggs peaking out of a sinkhole

My name is Jack Biggs and I am a 4th year anthropology graduate student at Michigan State University. I am a physical anthropologist and bioarchaeologist and my research interests are human growth and development and the impacts that the outside world has on these processes. Specifically, I focus on ancient Maya social constructs of infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and how factors such as diet, social structure, and the ecosystem interplay to eventually create a fully realized member of adult Maya society. I am currently on staff for the Central Belize Archaeological Survey (CBAS) where I co-direct excavations at mortuary rockshelters in the Caves Branch River Valley in Central Belize.

Mari Isa

Creating a finite element model of a blunt force impact to a skull. Mari Isa

Mari Isa – Creating a finite element model of a blunt force impact to a skull.

My research applies elements of anthropology and engineering to help explain trauma in the human skeleton. Both extrinsic factors—related to forces placed on the body—and intrinsic factors—characteristics of the body that are subject to human variation—contribute to how bones break. My research uses engineering experiments, computer modeling, and anthropological knowledge of human variation in the skeleton to better understand how these factors interact to generate fracture patterns. Understanding how bones break is critical to interpreting patterns of skeletal trauma as accurately as possible.

Unlike historical records or witness accounts, skeletal injuries provide direct evidence of traumatic events. Skeletal trauma observed in archaeological remains can be placed within a cultural context to explore human behaviors across time and space. In forensic contexts, skeletal trauma provides key evidence in reconstructing specific events responsible for injuries. This is important in individual cases involving violent deaths, and in the context of investigating human rights violations.

An Electrifying Discovery: Early Batteries on MSU’s Campus

While archaeologists are great at identifying artifacts that we recover, we occasionally find objects that are a mystery.  Even on campus, we sometimes find intriguing objects in our excavations that take some investigative work to identify.  One group of objects that has piqued our interest were a number of small black cylinders recovered during the 2015 CAP field school at the late 19th-early 20th century Gunson site.  Ambiguous enough to make finding a function difficult, the current Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright suggested that they might have originally served as carbon rods within batteries.  After doing some research, she appears to be right!

Carbon rods are found in the center of zinc-carbon batteries, today’s basic household battery.  In general, these batteries produce energy through chemical reactions that take place between their component parts.  As these reactions release energy, the centrally placed carbon rod functions as a positive electrode, helping to funnel the released energy into whatever device the battery is powering (Frood 2003; Schumm 2011).  These batteries can come in both flat or cylindrical forms, and can be stacked together to generate even larger electric potential (Schumm 2011).  Based on the shape and the length of the carbon rods recovered by CAP, it is likely that they originated from within cylinder batteries.

Diagram of the interior of a modern zinc-carbon battery, found on the UPS Battery Center blog

Diagram of the interior of a modern zinc-carbon battery, found on the UPS Battery Center blog. Image source

If, like me, you tend to image the late 18th-early 19th century as battery free, they actually have a much deeper history than many realize.  The first batteries that we know of were actually created centuries ago, sometime between 200 B.C. or A.D. 600.  Known as “Baghdad Batteries,” these devices, constructed from metal and liquid components placed in clay jars, were capable of producing a small electric charge, but it is unknown how they would have been used (Frood 2003).  Much later, in 1866, the same concepts were used by Georges-Lionel LeClanche to invent the LeClanche wet cell battery.  Housed in a glass mason jar, this early battery was used to power important technologies like telegraph machines and railroad signals.  In 1888, Carl Gassner improved this model and created the first dry cell battery, which used a solid medium instead of a liquid one.  This improvement made these batteries spill-proof, and are the ancestor of all of our modern batteries today (Schumm 2011).  Both wet and dry cell batteries utilized carbon rods to help channel the battery’s energy, but based on the dates from the Gunson site (late 19th-early 20th century), these rods would have been from dry cell batteries.

Image of an early zinc-carbon battery, produced by the National Carbon Co. at the end of the 19th century.

Image of an early zinc-carbon battery, produced by the National Carbon Co. at the end of the 19th century. Image source

Batteries may have had numerous roles on campus.  Starting in the 1890s, MSU officials were working on initiatives to power many parts of campus through the use of electricity (Meeting Minutes of Offices of Board of Trustees and President 1892, 1894, 1898).  A few departments also requested and received funding to purchase electrical equipment for power sources and experiments.  For example, in 1890 and 1895, the College approved the purchase of a mysterious “electric apparatus” for two different professors (Meeting Minutes of Offices of the Board of Trustees and President 1890, 1895).  In 1898, they also approved the purchase of an electrical motor to power the equipment within the mechanical shops (Meeting Minutes of Offices of the Board of Trustees and President 1898).  Batteries are also occasionally mentioned, as in 1904, when a large storage battery (think like a large car battery) was purchased and installed for the Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering (M.A.C. Record, Dec. 13th, 1904).  Batteries also may have been used to power technologies mentioned earlier, such as communication equipment.

It is hard to know how Gunson, a horticulturalist by trade, would have used these batteries.  While it is likely that he and his family may have used them within their home for some purpose, another clue is found in an 1896 edition of the M.A.C. Record.  Within, there is a small discussion of an experiment conducted by a few men in Chicago, who used electricity produced by an electric engine and then storage batteries attached to a cart to kill weeds along a railroad line (M.A.C, Record, Oct. 20th, 1896).  While the validity of such experiments is called into question by this article, it shows that people in many scientific fields were experimenting with electricity during this time, even horticulturalists and botanists.  As such, some of the batteries we have recovered may have served household functions, but others may have been used in experiments conducted in Gunson’s greenhouse or around the campus grounds.



References Cited

Frood, Arran
2003   “Riddle of ‘Baghdad Batteries.’”  BBC News website.  Accessed Feb. 7th, 2018.

MSU Archives and Historical Collections
1896   M.A.C. Record, October 20th, 1896.

1904   M.A.C. Record, December 13th, 1904.

1890   Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.

1892   Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.

1894   Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.

1895   Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.

1898   Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.

Schumm, Brooke Jr.
2011   Zin-Carbon Batteries.  In Linden’s Handbook of Batteries, edited by Thomas B. Reddy and David Linden.  McGraw Hill, Columbus OH.


How to Prepare for a Summer of Construction on MSU’s Campus

As all MSU students, professors, and staff know, MSU is continually improving their roads, sidewalks, sporting fields, etc. Each spring through fall, MSU’s campus is scattered with constructions sites with the goal of bettering the physical campus environment. While this activity is very visible, there is much that goes on behind the scenes. Multiple parties are involved in the planning stages, including the Campus Archaeology Program. In order to achieve our goal of preserving the cultural heritage of MSU, we must understand where construction will take place, what kind of work will be done, and then generate our own plans for mitigating any possible damage to archaeological sites.

CAP surveying during sidewalk construction

CAP surveying during sidewalk construction

So how does this all work?

Throughout the year, MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) ( is working on construction plans and creating maps and documents for each change. (See the IPF website to read more about their project phases: CAP comes into the picture around the ‘Construction Documents’ phase, when we can meet with staff at IPF and go over the upcoming planned construction.

I personally attended my very first meeting with IPF this past week, alongside Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, and Lisa Bright, where I was able to learn about the upcoming construction this summer and see all of the incredibly detailed plan maps that have been created for each project! At this meeting, we discussed construction that will begin in April on the Service Road soccer field and in May along Wilson Road. There are so many advantages to meeting with the employees at IPF, including seeing the great detail within their plan maps. These maps allow us to determine what type of archaeological survey needs to be conducted before they begin construction, as well as how CAP should approach monitoring the work once it has begun. At this meeting we also discussed their timeline for the construction projects, as well as when it would be best for us to conduct our survey of the impacted areas. It was a great experience, and taught me a great deal about the extensive planning that takes place within our collaboration with IPF.

Now that we have met with IPF and have determined where on campus construction could impact archaeological sites, CAP must determine our survey methods for these projects. Currently, our plan stands as follows: as soon as the snow melts and the ground thaws a little (hopefully in early April), CAP will begin to survey, using a grid of shovel test pits, within the Service Road soccer field. During this survey, we will record and collect any archaeological evidence recovered. Once our survey is complete and construction begins, CAP fellows and summer field crew employees will then monitor the work for any further evidence of archaeological sites or artifacts that may have been outside of the initial survey.

In addition to surveying and monitoring, CAP also conducts archival research prior to construction projects, combing the written record for documents related to historic MSU campus in the areas of impact.

The combination of archaeological survey, monitoring construction, and archival research will ensure that we are doing everything that we can to protect MSU’s archaeological heritage! Keep a look out for us on campus!

Excavation of West Circle privy in the construction zone

“Learning with Labor:” The Legacy of Student Labor at MSU

Fields and hoop houses at the MSU Student Organic Farm

Fields and hoop houses at the MSU Student Organic Farm

This past November, Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, and several CAP fellows visited the MSU Student Organic Farm for a tour and to discuss a possible partnership. Tucked away in the southern reaches of campus, the farm is a tidy series of fields and greenhouses, the latter of which allow food to be grown year-round. Established in 1999 by students who wanted to learn how to grow food in sustainably, the SOF provides experiential learning opportunities resulting in productive outcomes, such as a successful CSA, the sale of produce to MSU Culinary Services, and products packaged and sold by Land Grant Goods, MSU’s first student-run business.

The Student Organic Farm is part of a long history of experiential learning from agricultural labor at MSU. If you weren’t already aware, Michigan State University was established in 1855 as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. It served as a model for the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, which allowed for the establishment of land-grant colleges that were devoted to educating students in agricultural and mechanical arts, as opposed to the typical liberal arts colleges of the day. Therefore, agriculture is inextricably tied to the foundations and history of MSU.

 Agricultural students posing with farm implements on campus,1886

Agricultural students posing with farm implements on campus,1886. Image Source.

One of the central tenets of the early College was the “judicious combination of labor and study”—meaning that labor and hands-on experiential learning was as important as classroom learning (1). The earliest students were expected to labor on campus for three hours every day, “planned with reference to illustrating and applying the instruction in the Lecture Room” (2). The earliest students spent as much time working the agricultural fields as they did clearing the lands surrounding the college for future agricultural endeavors. In his 1858 diary, Edward Granger mentioned “logging” and “chopping wood” as his daily tasks almost as often as “gardening” (3).

Students were compensated for their labor, and this remained one of the major arguments in favor of required labor. It allowed students who may not otherwise be able to afford to attend college to receive higher education. Money earned in the fields went towards the cost of room and board and made education available to poor farm boys from across the state (1).

 Agriculture class in the campus orchards

Agriculture class in the campus orchards. Image source

However, mandatory labor eventually became unpopular with students. An 1882 op-ed in The College Speculum complained about compulsory manual labor, which students felt no longer allowed them learning experiences, and instead labor assignments were made based on existing student knowledge and strengths. Individuals who did not know how to do certain tasks were not assigned to them for the sake of efficiency, which robbed them of opportunities for learning new skills (4). Discontent and resentment among the students was on the rise. By 1884, daily labor requirements were reduced to two-and-a-half hours daily (5), perhaps in response to this discontent.

Three students on a tractor in 1919, zooming into the future and leaving mandatory labor behind

Three students on a tractor in 1919, zooming into the future and leaving mandatory labor behind. Image source.

Mandatory student labor continued at MSU much longer than it did at other land grant institutions. This was made possible by the College’s unique yearly schedule. Classes were held spring through fall, with the long vacation break over the winter months. It was this schedule that allowed student labor to remain a major part of the College’s curriculum for over forty years. However, in 1896, the College moved the long break to the summer months, and without viable labor options over the winter, mandatory labor requirements came to an end (1).

This does not mean there was an end to experiential learning. Students have continued to work on the MSU Farm, Dairy, and Dairy Plant, gaining practical experience everyday. And the establishment of the Student Organic Farm demonstrates student hunger for experiential learning and the productivity such endeavors can result in.

So why did CAP visit the Student Organic Farm to begin with? Why this exploration of student labor? There is a possible collaboration between our two organizations that is on the horizon, but that’s all I can say for now. Stay tuned for more news!



  1. Kuhn, Madison (1955) Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press East, Lansing.
  2. Annual Catalogue of the State Agricultural College of Michigan, 1883-4
  3. Diary of Edward G. Granger, 1859 (MSU Archives UA10.3.56, Folder 1)
  4. The College Speculum, Vol. 2 No. 1, October 2, 1882.
  5. Annual Catalogue of the State Agricultural College of Michigan, 1884-5

Lice Lice Baby

For my personal research I study issues related to health and disease, so whenever I see something health related in the CAP collection I jump at the opportunity to do a blog post about it. That happened recently when I came across this seemingly simple comb recovered from excavations at Saints Rest in 2012, but I knew immediately that this was more than an average comb, this is a lice comb.

Comb recovered during 2012 Saints Rest excavations.

Comb recovered during 2012 Saints Rest excavations.

Now I’ll give you a moment to stop your skin from crawling when you think about lice. While lice aren’t something we tend to think about regularly today (unless you have young children), that wasn’t always the case.  Dealing with pesky varmints in the home and on your body was just a part of life.

Lice have been bothering humans for a long time. Humans are parasitized by two genera of lice: one shared with chimpanzees and the other shared with gorillas. By using DNA to figure out when the lice diverged between the species, scientists are working to piece together part of our evolutionary history (Reed et al. 2007). Researchers have also looked at clothing lice to reveal when they may have diverged from head lice, giving us a better idea of when clothing when first used by anatomically modern Homo sapiens (Toups et al. 2011).

Combs recovered from a Roman Fort. Image Source.

Combs recovered from a Roman Fort. Image Source.

Archaeologically lice have been found in Greenland, Iceland, on Dutch combs, Egyptian mummies, and in Israeli cave deposits (Bain 2004). The oldest direct archaeological evidence of head lice are from a human louse egg recovered in Brazil dating to over 10,000 years (Araujo et al 2000). Lice combs (and the lice that come with them!) have been recovered all over the world, in including from sites in Egypt (c. fifth-sixth century AD (Palma 1991)) and Israel (c. first century B.C. – eighth century A.D. (Zias 1988)). They are also routinely recovered at historic archaeological sites.

Today to get rid of lice you wash all of your linens in hot water, apply a medicated shampoo to the unlucky individual, and use a very fine-toothed comb to remove any bugs/eggs from the scalp. This comb style is the epitome of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” as the general form has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

1895 catalog advertisement for India Rubber Company Comb. Image Source

1895 catalog advertisement for India Rubber Company Comb. Image Source

Our double sided fine tooth comb was produced by the India Rubber Company. “I R Co Goodyear 1851” can be seen stamped on one side of the comb. A similar version is found in the 1895 advertisement seen to the right. 1851 is not a production date, but rather is the patent year for the Goodyear hard rubber vulcanization process (see Amy’s blog post on the comb from the outhouse for more info!). Combs were some of the earliest products made of hard rubber that were produced on a large scale (Fox 1899).

Manufacturers mark on Saints Rest lice comb - lower image enhanced by author

Manufacturers mark on Saints Rest lice comb – lower image enhanced by author

This tiny comb provides a glimpse into the health and hygiene routines of MSU’s earliest students.  Campus records and diaries/correspondences in the archives discuss larger health related issues on campus (like diphtheria, measles, or typhoid fever outbreaks), the minutia of everyday hygiene habits tends to go unrecorded, but of course, this is where archaeology comes in.



Reed, David with Jessica Light, Julie Allen and Jeremy Kirchman
2007 Pair of lice lost or parasites regained: the evolutionary history of anthropoid primate lice. BCM Biology 5(7) –

Melissa Toups with Andrew Kitchen, Jessica Light and David Reed
2011 Origin of Clothing Lice Indicates Early clothing Use by Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa. Molecular Biology and Evolution 28(1):29-32.

Palma, Ricardo
1991 Ancient Head Lice on a Wooden Comb from Antinoe, Egypt. The Journal of          Egyptian Archaeology 77:194.

Zias, Joseph
Head lice, Pediculus humanus capitis (Anoplura: Pediculidae) from hair combs excavated in Israel and dated from the first century B.C. to the eighth century. Journal of Medical Entomology 25(6):545-547.

Bain, Allison
2004 Irritating Intimates: The Archaeoentomology of Lice, Fleas, and Bedbugs.   Northeast Historical Archaeology 33:81-90.

Araujo, A. with F Ferreira, N Guidon, N Serra Freire, Karl Reinhard, and K Dittmar
2000 Ten Thousand Years of Head Lice Infection. Parasitology Today 16:269.

Mumcuoglu, Kosta
The louse comb: past and present

Fox, Irvine (editor)
1899 The Spatula Volume 6 (


Middle school outreach – reflections on my research

Like Mari Isa, for this blog post, I will be talking about the outreach event that CAP ran for Holmes Middle School in Livonia, MI on Friday, January 19th.  However, I will be discussing it from a different point of view.  In Mari’s blog, she discussed the activity itself: what we had the students look at, what the goals of the activity were, what the outcomes were, etc.  I will be coming from a different standpoint: that of a grad student leading the activity and how it impacted us.

CAP fellow Jeff Painter guides the discussion.

CAP fellow Jeff Painter guides the discussion.

As academics (or in my case, an academic in training), we sometimes forget that our research and our purpose aren’t just to further our knowledge in our respective fields for ourselves or other academics.  It is true that in many cases the audience of our publications are other researchers and those in research institutions.  Yet where we can have the biggest impact is in the public sector through outreach activities such as these.  These types of events were not common or even really practiced when I myself was in middle school or even in high school.  That these outreach events are becoming more prominent and more of the norm is highly encouraging and definitely has an impact on many of the students.  However, this event was not a one-way conversation with us researchers just lecturing about archaeology at the middle schoolers who passively listen.  As an instructor in this exercise, I learned a few very important things/lessons.

1.) This type of outreach matters.  Despite what many students say, they do actually love to learn, especially in a hands-on capacity.  Education can be highly effective by taking a tactile route.  Reading information out of books is highly informative, but actively engaging in the research with tangible objects routes that knowledge in reality and makes that knowledge real.  With every class, there was at least one student or group of students that guessed their “mystery site” dated “to the Neolithic, like Çatal Höyük” (seriously, multiple students said this exact phrase).  The students are learning about ancient cultures and time periods and it is through these types of activities that they get to practice their knowledge and use critical thinking skills.

A student uses a black light to find the uranium glass.

A student uses a black light to find the uranium glass.

2.) The students taught me how to interact with them.  As a graduate student, I interact mostly with my professors and other graduate students, so our topics of conversation sometimes go in directions and use certain jargon that the majority of people don’t understand or don’t care about.  By spending an entire school day with middle schoolers, we all had to reorient how we interact with others when talking about topics that we are all very well-versed in.  We sometimes forget that our research benefits the public and that we therefore need to approach these topics in a way that is meaningful and interesting for the public.  We work for them, so we need to make sure that we include them in our conversations and that our research isn’t just for our own sake.

3.) Building off my second point, it helped me think about how I can make my own research meaningful and pertinent in today’s society.  The biggest and most important question that archaeologists gets asked, and one that can be the most difficult to answer, is: So what?  Why does this matter?  Research for its own sake does nothing for society.  In doing this event, I saw students that were highly engaged, had great theories about their kits/sites, and were generally hungry for knowledge.  I learned that if one aspect of my personal research (which is how childhood was experienced for the ancient Maya) interested them, then I would have succeeded in part of my research goals.  By watching them interact with each other, I took note of how they interacted with the world around them, how they addressed each other, adults, teachers, and us.  How did they experience their world and how can I use that to look at ancient childhood and adolescence?  Additionally, what similarities can I draw from ancient Maya childhood that I see today?

By teaching these middle schoolers about archaeology, they taught me that I don’t give enough credit to middle schoolers.  We sometimes get trapped in our own ivory tower and forget that there is a world below us where most people live and interact.  Participating in outreach programs such as this not only benefits the students, but also teaches us as the experts that our expertise is meaningless and useless if we only discuss things amongst ourselves.  I hope that we continue to conduct these types of events as I think it is imperative in today’s educational climate.  The world needs more bright students to shape our future and it is our job to help make that happen.

Think Like an Archaeologist: Reflections on Outreach Using Site Kits

Given one hour, how do you teach 300 7th graders to think like archaeologists? This was the challenge presented to us when a group of teachers contacted CAP about doing an interactive event to introduce their 7th grade social studies students to archaeology. Although CAP regularly does activity-based engagement with elementary school children, we did not have a ready-made activity appropriate for older students.

Students work in groups to answer questions about artifacts

Students work in groups to answer questions about artifacts

This event presented us with an opportunity to consider which aspects of archaeology we most wanted to share with young members of the public. Since we couldn’t teach 7th graders how to do archaeology in one hour in a classroom, we decided to focus on getting them to understand how archaeologists use material and contextual evidence to draw conclusions, and how archaeology can contribute unique information to our knowledge of the past.

Over the past few weeks, we developed a “site in a box” activity designed to give students an opportunity to think like archaeologists. We assembled boxes containing artifacts, site photos, and maps, with each box representing a “mystery” archaeological site. Lisa wrote in detail about our process in assembling these boxes on the blog last week. Students were instructed to work together, using all available evidence to complete two tasks. The first task was to identify the artifacts and discuss their potential uses. The second task was to use these answers to make larger inferences about the site: What type of site was it? What was the time period and geographic location of the site? What do the artifacts say about the people associated with the site? For example, how did they eat and procure food? How did they dress? Did they see any evidence of belief systems?

Students discussing artifacts and looking at the site map representing a Maya cave site.

Students discussing artifacts and looking at the site map representing a Maya cave site.

We debuted the new activity last Friday at the middle school. On the day of the event, we divided nine CAP representatives including Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, all six CAP fellows, and one undergraduate volunteer across three classrooms to help run the activity. Each classroom of students was divided into five groups, each assigned a different box representing containing the materials from one of the mystery sites.

Each class was 55 minutes long. We typically took the first 10 minutes to explain the activity and answer a few questions. After this introduction, students had about 30-35 minutes to work in groups to complete the activity. During this time, CAP representatives walked around the room answering questions, helping stimulate discussion, and guiding students in identifying some of the trickier artifacts. During the last 15 minutes of class, each group presented their findings, selecting a few artifacts to share along with their conclusions about the site. Finally, they compared their answers with the site descriptions in the answer key.

We found this time frame short enough to keep students engaged throughout the entire class period, but long enough for them to answer most of the questions. Left to their own devices students tended to spend most of their time describing artifacts, so CAP representatives learned to help steer discussions toward interpretations at the halfway mark to keep them on track. While the students did well with most of the physical artifacts, we noticed we needed to clarify what to do with images of artifacts, as students often overlooked or struggled to identify these. In the future we might consider replacing these with physical artifacts or clearer images, along with explicit instructions to look at artifact images.

CAP fellow Susan Kooiman helps guide discussion.

CAP fellow Susan Kooiman helps guide discussion.

Overall, we felt that the activity was a success. The students were engaged, enthusiastic, and seemed to enjoy piecing together the puzzle we presented them. They asked thoughtful questions and came up with interesting interpretations about their sites. We were especially impressed with some of the connections they made based on what they had previously learned in social studies. Several students asked if the presence of corn and eggshells meant the people at their site were domesticating plants and animals.

Although preparation for this event took considerable investment of time and resources, it also presented an opportunity to develop a quality activity we could use for other events. These kits would be appropriate and interesting to audiences from middle school students to adults. Looking forward to our planned outreach events, this activity could easily be used for Grandparents’ University. Finally, putting together this activity made us think about how to convey what makes archaeology a unique and relevant source of information in a meaningful, yet manageable way.



Who Knew My Coca-Cola Addiction Could Be So Useful: Using Coke Bottles to Date Archaeological Sites

Dating archaeological sites that we discover is one of the most basic tasks that archaeologists perform.  While we all must do it, dating archaeological assemblages is not always easy.  Luckily, marketing and branding, a crucial part of our consumer world, helps to make dating historic sites a little easier.  Every company needs a brand, something that makes them stand out among their competition and reminds the consumer that they are buying a quality product.  A great deal of branding is done through material culture, creating visual cues that trigger people’s memories and make them want to buy your product.  Like clothing lines, long-lived brands must change over time to keep up with both their competition and the current fashions and culture, leading to variation in the products of companies.  This variation, when documented, can help us to date different deposits at archaeological sites.  One great example is the Coke bottle.  Here at Campus Archaeology, we occasionally come across Coke bottles in various forms.  Depending on some particular characteristic of the bottle, we can give a general date to the materials found with that bottle.

Coke bottles through the years

Coke bottles through the years. Image source

Coca-Cola first made its appearance in 1886 as a soda fountain drink in downtown Atlanta, GA.  Over the next number of years, Coca-Cola was only served by the glass at drinking fountains until around 1899, when the company signed its first bottling contract (Coca-Cola 2011).  The earliest Coca-Cola bottles were Hutchinson style bottles, but were quickly followed by straight-sided bottles with crown tops in a number of different colors of glass.  Dating to between 1900 and 1920, the dates of these straight-sided bottles can be narrowed even further based on the shape of the script and where the script is placed on the bottle.  For example, straight sided Coke bottles with script in a diamond shape in the center of the bottle are dated to 1907-1912, while ones with a vertical arrow in the center date to between 1912 and 1916 (for more variations: www.antique  During the time of the straight-sided Coke bottles, the Coca-Cola brand was expanding greatly.  As such, competitors tried to take advantage of this brand by closely mimicking Coke branding strategies.  In response, the Coca-Cola company had bottle manufacturers create a unique bottle type, one that had a distinct look and feel, which would forever be synonymous with the Coca-Cola brand: the contour (or hobbleskirt) bottle.  Patented in 1915, the contour bottle went into production in 1916 and was subsequently sold all over the world (Coca-Cola 2011; Lockhart and Porter 2010).

Coke bottle found by CAP in the Brody/Emmons Dump

Coke bottle found by CAP in the Brody/Emmons Dump

Since the beginning of their production, Coca-Cola contour bottles have changed very little, as this bottle served as the hallmark of the Coca-Cola brand.  While the bottle designs stayed relatively consistent, the patent for the bottle was renewed several times.  Since the patent date or patent number was included on the bottles to prove that they were from true Coca-Cola distributors, these numbers can help narrow down the date range of when the bottle may have been made.  For example, from 1917 to 1928, Coke bottles had the patent date of “NOV. 16 1915” on each bottle.  When a different patent was acquired on Dec. 25th, 1923, the bottles eventually began to display this date.  From 1928 to 1938, the so called “Christmas Cokes” (due to the Christmas patent date) were produced that possessed this second date.  Other such markings are “PAT. D 105529” (1938-1951), “US PATENT OFFICE/MIN CONTENTS 6 FL OZ” (1951-1958), and “US PATENT OFFICE/ MIN CONTENTS 6 ½ FL OZ” (1958-1965) (Lockhart and Porter 2010;  Starting in 1960, Coke began selling their products in cans, followed by plastic bottles in 1978, marking the slow decline of the glass Coca-Cola contour bottle (Coca-Cola 2011; Coca-Cola Journey Staff 2017).

Close up of bottle from Brody/Emmons Dump showing the Dec. 25, 1923 patent date.

Close up of bottle from Brody/Emmons Dump showing the Dec. 25, 1923 patent date.

On campus, if we find a Coke bottle during excavation, we know that the deposit dates to around 1900 or younger.  We can then use more specific details about the bottle to further narrow down the date range.  For example, within the Brody/Emmons dump, an early trash disposal site for East Lansing, CAP recovered at least one Coke bottle.  The presence of this bottle indicates that at the dump was being used sometime between 1900 and the present.  Looking closer on the bottle, one sees a patent date of Dec. 25th, 1923.  This date indicates that the bottle was an old “Christmas Coke” bottle, made and sold between 1928 and 1938; a date range that fits well with what we know about the use of this dump.  Coke bottles, used in this way, serve as excellent diagnostic artifacts for more recent historic sites.  But, as marketing never ceases, we must also be wary of recent reissues of old Coke bottles, which promise to confound our efforts in the future.

References Cited

Antique Bottle Collectors Haven
n.d.   “Antique Coke Bottles.”  Website.

Coca-Cola Company
2011   125 Years of Sharing Happiness: A Short History of the Coca-Cola Company. us/en/private/fileassets/

Coca-Cola Journey Staff
2017   “Contour Bottle History.”  Coca-Cola Website.

Lockhart, Bill, and Bill Porter
2010   “The Dating Game: Tracking the Hobble-Skirt Coca-Cola Bottle.”  Bottles and
      Extras: 46-61.


Creating Outreach Site Kits

Outreach isn’t something out of the ordinary for CAP to do. We routinely participate in a wide variety of outreach events ranging from small groups to hundreds of people at large events like Sciencefest.

CAP was recently contacted by a group of Middle School teachers here in Michigan and asked if we would be interested in collaborating. This district had recently changed some of the social science curriculum to include more anthropology/archaeology and study of the ancient past. The teachers asked if we would be willing to come in and conduct an event that would allow their students to interact with archaeologists and to have the opportunity for hands on engagement.

So we were faced with a few new challenges – most hands on events we’ve done in the past are geared towards elementary school students and smaller groups. This event would need to cover 300 7th graders. Thankfully we would be covering individual classes with no more than 30 students per class and a maximum of 3 classes running at once.

We decided to create a “site in a box” activity.  We selected sites that would provide a wide range of time periods, site types, and locations.  The students will be provided with a worksheet that asks them to identify the artifacts, consider who the people that used them were, what time frame these objects are from, and where in the world the site may be.  Each site box has 10-11 artifacts, and a series of additional clues like maps or site photos.

Site A – Alameda-Stone Cemetery

The Alameda-Stone cemetery is located in Tucson, Arizona.  It was used by local community members from the early 1860s through 1881.

Site A - "Alameda-Stone Cemetery" artifacts

Site A – “Alameda-Stone Cemetery” artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Bone
  2. Rosary
  3. Part of a shoe
  4. Coffin nails
  5. Coffin hardware
  6. Buckle
  7. Earring
  8. Coffin Wood
  9. Buttons
  10. Cloth


The box also includes a map of the entire cemetery, a close up of an individual burial, and an artifact image.

Overview of the excavated cemetery. Image from the excavation report.

Overview of the excavated cemetery. Image from the excavation report.

Image of  burial from Alameda-Stone cemetery. Image from excavation report.

Image of a shoe recovered from an excavated burial. Image from the excavation report.

Shoe recovered from an burial. Image from the excavation report.

Site B – Historic Privy on MSU’s Campus

The west circle privy was excavated in 2015.  The artifacts in the structure date to the 1850s and 1860s.  This is the only privy that has been located on campus.

Site B - MSU Historic Privy artifacts

Site B – MSU Historic Privy artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Raspberry seeds
  2. Plate
  3. Fish bones
  4. Glass cup
  5. Egg shell
  6. Doll fragments
  7. Plate
  8. Violin flask bottle picture
  9. Comb
  10. Ceramic tea/coffee cup
  11. Buttons


Site B - West Circle Privy during excavation

Site B – West Circle Privy during excavation

Sketch map of the west circle privy

Site C – Aztalan

We wanted to include a prehistoric site in the Midwest to be able to provide a local connection for the students.  With Dr. Goldstein’s extensive experience at Aztalan it was an easy choice.  The site of Aztalan is located in present day southern Wisconsin and was occupied between 1050 and 1200 AD.

Site C - Aztalan artifacts

Site C – Aztalan artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Shell beads
  2. Arrowhead
  3. Pot fragment
  4. *artifact photo
  5. Duck bones
  6. Photograph of mounds
  7. Photograph of stratigraphy
  8. Daub
  9. Stone tool flakes
  10. Shells



Site D – Mayan Cave Burial 

The cave burial site of Actun Kabul was selected for site D. Actun Kabul (Actun is the word for cave in the Mayan language) is a cave deep within the jungles of Belize in Central America.

Site D - Actun Kabul artifacts

Site D – Actun Kabul artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Human bone
  2. Jade
  3. Pot Fragment
  4. Figurine Fragment
  5. Shell
  6. Corn
  7. Pepper seeds
  8. Human teeth
  9. Stingray spine
  10. Glyph carving
  11. Obsidian


We also provide the students with a map of the cave.

Map of Site D - Actun Kabul

Map of Site D – Actun Kabul


Site E – Professor Gunson’s Trash Pit

For our final site we selected the site the 2015 CAP field school excavated – Professor Gunson’s trash deposit.

Site E - Professor Gunson's Trash Pit artifacts

Site E – Professor Gunson’s Trash Pit artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Laboratory equipment
  2. Vaseline Glass
  3. Window Glass
  4. Ketchup Bottle
  5. Ceramic plate
  6. Nails
  7. Decorated ceramic
  8. Bottle
  9. Flower pot frag
  10. Brick


Since we needed to make 15 total kits, there was no way we could include actual artifacts.  The objects in the kits are a combination of online purchases, hunting at the University Surplus Store, donations from CAP fellows/faculty, and some creative saving (this week I boiled a chicken carcass for the bones, saved all of my egg shells, and picked out seeds from bell peppers). Each kit also contains an envelope with an answer key that identifies each of the artifacts, and provides a narrative of the site.  The envelope also contains more details maps and photos of the archaeological site.

Today we’re putting these kits to the test!  We’ll be posting throughout the day on social media, and stay tuned for a follow up post about the event later this month.