All the Names She Could not Bear

All the Names She Could not Bear

A Salty Tale I wanted this blog to be about patents, not Ruth Van Tellingen. Or should I call her Ruth Bendel? Or Ruth Elizabeth Thompson? I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we delve into Ruth’s life, let’s review the concept of patents as they 

Walking Through MSU’s Culinary Past

Walking Through MSU’s Culinary Past

When COVID hit our campus, CAP was forced to rethink how we perform our community outreach. We needed new, innovative ways to engage and educate the public without requiring them to meet in large groups. One of the ways we did this was to transition 

Shedding light on faded artifacts: How to rediscover marks using UV light and phone apps

Shedding light on faded artifacts: How to rediscover marks using UV light and phone apps

The artifacts that we find in the archaeological record can tell us so much about the past – but what happens when the decorative elements of an artifact are worn away? Luckily, technology has provided with potential tools to help us identify faded applied color labels on glass artifacts and overglaze designs on ceramic artifacts! 

Let’s start with some background information about the types of artifacts discussed in this blog post. Applied color labels, or ACLs, have existed since CE 221 in China. Through time, there was a transition from manually created screen prints to a machine that could apply silkscreens to curved surfaces by the early 1930s (Lockhart and Brown 2019). Decorative overglaze ceramics typically have decorative designs painted on top of the glazed-ceramic surface (Florida Museum n.d.). Because of the way that these decorations are applied to their respective artifacts, they can wear off with time. 

Recently, we cataloged a green glass bottle from the Spartan Village project that had only shadows left from the original ACL. We were able to identify the writing on the bottle by rotating the bottle under strong light. We identified it as a “Better Air” air deodorizer, a product that would have been used to help obliterate “obnoxious odors” in the home. While we were able to eventually identify this artifact and the words that would have been a part of the ACL, it took a few hours to identify the directions and additional information on the sides of the bottle.

Inspired by a thread in a historical archaeology listserv (yes, listservs still exist!), we decided to use a long-wave ultraviolet (UV) flashlight to identify the writing quicker (Walter et al. 2021) . UV light is electromagnetic radiation that can help us detect any features not be seen with just visible light (Pinter 2017). Because it is relatively affordable (and CAP already has UV flashlights in the lab to help identify uranium glass from previous excavations), this method could provide CAP fellows with a quick and effective way to find out what ACLs would have said before they wore off.  

green Better Air bottle under normal light with lettering only partially visiblegreen Better Air bottle under ultra violet light, previously unseen letters become clearly visible

We found that the ACL shadows were, in fact, readable under the long-wave UV light. The angle of the UV flashlight was easy to manipulate too, allowing us to read the phrases on each green-glass fragment relatively easily. This process was simple and quick, providing future CAP fellows a quick and effective way to conduct future cataloging and research of glass artifacts with only ACL shadows present. 

Glass artifacts are not the only ones that lose their designs over time. Archaeologists face similar identification issues with the fading of decorative overglaze ceramics. So we decided to test the UV flashlight on a whiteware ceramic with decorated overglaze. 

Decorated overglaze ceramic under normal light (left) and under longwave UV light (right)

While the outline of the design was roughly visible with the UV flashlight, it still was not clear. So we decided to use iDStretch, an app designed for iPhones to help enhance rock art and faint pictographs. This method uses decorrelation stretch, enhancing images that are hard to see with the human eye (Harman n.d.).

After trying out a few different color combinations, we were able to identify the shape of the leaf design that had worn off with time. By using iDStretch, we can more easily identify any shadows present from previous decorative overglaze designs. 

Decorated overglaze ceramic under normal light (left) and under iDStretch (right)

Technology allows archaeologists to quickly identify any missing decorative aspects of artifacts in a quick timeframe. This lets us better describe and identify the artifacts that we come across, especially here on MSU’s campus!


The Florida Museum 

 No date “WHITEWARE, OVERGLAZED- type index.” Article, Available online, Accessed November 2021.

Lockhart, Bill and Bob Brown 

 2019 “The Glamorous Applied Color Labels.” Article, Available online, Accessed November 2021.

Harman, Jon

 No date. “DStretch.” Article, Available online, Accessed November 2021.

Walter, Susan, Denis Gojak, and Keith Doms (2021) “Fugitive Exposure” HistArch Listserv. November, 2021

Pinter, Matt 

 2017 “Applying ultraviolet lighting in machine vision applications.” Article, Available online, Accessed November 2021. 

Looking to Have a Good Twine? Get Ready for Our New Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Archaeology Twine!

Looking to Have a Good Twine? Get Ready for Our New Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Archaeology Twine!

Here at Campus Archaeology, we love outreach – just this past week, we presented at both Michigan Archaeology Day and at our annual Apparitions and Archaeology Tour! (Thank you to those who stopped by!) We love outreach so much because we are passionate about archaeology 

Alluring Artifacts: Interrogating Cosmetics and Bodily-Hygiene Products from the Late Post-War Campus

Alluring Artifacts: Interrogating Cosmetics and Bodily-Hygiene Products from the Late Post-War Campus

Cosmetic and hygiene-related products, perhaps due to the personal and often somewhat private nature of their use, are a deeply compelling class of artifacts. As commodities through which we tailor our appearance (or odor) and in turn shape our relationships and encounters with others, objects 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Dr. Camp looking out at an archaeological site on MSU's campus wearing a hard hat and yellow vest.
Dr. Camp, Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program, photographed by Nick Schrader, IPF Visual Communications Manager. ©Nick Schrader, All Rights Reserved


For those of you just joining our blog for the first time, I am Dr. Camp, the Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program (CAP). I am entering my 5th year here at MSU, and my 13th teaching as a tenure track faculty member at a land grant university.

This past year and a half has been one filled with anxiety and challenges. We mourn all of the people lost to COVID and the substantial impact it has had on our lives.

While most of our campus was remote up until August 2021, CAP worked on construction projects during the pandemic to ensure the university remained in compliance with federal and state guidelines concerning below ground heritage.

We never stopped working.

In fact, this past year was one of the busiest for our program due to taking on a federal compliance project that involved campus, city, state, federal, and tribal agencies. We learned how to go through the Section 106 process with the aid of many on and off campus partners. This included assessing, mitigating, and monitoring the construction of a substantial bike pathway that transverses much of our beautiful campus. Our CAP fellows and staff spent the summer overseeing the project, laboring in the heat with masks on to keep each other safe.

The MSU Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) staff conducting shovel tests along the Red Cedar River as part of the Red Cedar Greenway bike path project, May 2021.

We also oversaw a substantial construction project at the beginning of the pandemic back in May 2020. The project lasted through August 2020. This project has resulted in several forthcoming publications and multiple public (online/remote) talks about our findings at conferences and at the MSU Science Festival in the spring of 2021. Artifacts from this construction site, which is located on Service Road, reveal campus life during the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s.

Children’s toys recovered by the MSU Campus Archaeology Program during the summer 2020 Service Road construction project.
A) Yellow plastic toy microscope; B) Celluloid squeaker doll likely made between 1940 and 1947 by the Irwin Corporation of New Hampshire; and C) Yellow plastic toy car likely manufactured by the Renwal Manufacturing Company dating from the 1940s to the mid-1950s.
Photographs taken by Autumn Painter, Campus Archaeologist from 2018 through the summer of 2020.

We oversaw a smaller, but equally important construction project involving the area known as Spartan Village, which is most recently used to house graduate students. Part of that property has been converted to build a new TechSmith building. After conducting substantial historical research on the property, we conducted a geophysical survey with the assistance of MSU alumni Dr. Duane Quates in the fall of 2020. We used Dr. Quates’ data to help inform test excavations on the site later during the 2020-2021 academic year. We monitored construction on the site this summer (2021), which revealed numerous artifacts and building foundations.

The MSU Campus Archaeology Program staff working at Spartan Village, the new location of TechSmith’s building. Summer 2021. Photographed by Nick Schrader, IPF Visual Communications Manager. ©Nick Schrader, All Rights Reserved

We also continue to be involved in tree plantings on campus to ensure dirt removed as part of their planting is screened for artifacts.

The MSU Campus Archaeology Program monitors tree plantings to ensure archaeological sites and artifacts are not disturbed.

We moved much of our traditionally in-person outreach to online formats, including a new digital tour of MSU’s historic Faculty Row and our annual Apparitions and Archaeology Haunted Tour.

Though our mission will remains clear – to protect and mitigate below ground resources on MSU’s campus while training students in archaeological research and public history – this year has also given us time and space to reflect upon what we have accomplished and what we would like to do for our community in the coming years. As we discussed in our blog last summer, we are working towards sharing more about the diverse communities who have lived and work on campus.

We have committed towards working closely with communities we have yet to serve in our surrounding region, but much of this work is on pause until we feel it is safe to do so. And while we have fallen short of some of our ambitious goals for this past year due to the burnt out, stress, and exhaustion that comes with living and working through a pandemic, we intend to keep them at the forefront of our planning for the coming years. We wish to work with the many communities who have resided on and owned MSU’s land and plan to develop policies that ensure proper consultation during construction projects.

I want to conclude by thanking all of our CAP staff and fellows for working so hard and learning to quickly adapt to in-flux new protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also want to thank the many staff with whom we have worked this past year+ of a pandemic. I also want to thank the undergraduates who helped us this summer with cataloging amid still very stressful times. We appreciate the ongoing support for CAP.

What’s New CAP Crew? An Update on archaeology at MSU

What’s New CAP Crew? An Update on archaeology at MSU

Wow! Our summer season in 2021 was a complete turnaround from the 2020. The MSU graduate student archaeologists who joined CAP Crew this year worked on four major field and laboratory projects. From May to late-August members of the CAP Crew completed a federal compliance 

Meet the 2021 – 2022 Campus Archaeology Program GRADUATE FELLOWS

Meet the 2021 – 2022 Campus Archaeology Program GRADUATE FELLOWS

Photo by ©Nick Schrader, All Rights Reserved In September Michigan State’s Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) archaeologists wrap up our summer field work here on campus and return to the routine of classes, personal research, and teaching that each semester brings. The start of a new 

What A Waste: CAP’s Take on MSU Bathroom Garbology

What A Waste: CAP’s Take on MSU Bathroom Garbology

This blog invites you to participate in Garbology–the practice of looking at modern trash to understand how archaeological deposits are formed (Rathje 1992). Go to your bathroom and take a look around. How many hygiene products do you have? What is the packaging made of? How many of these products come in a container that can be recycled, and how many have to be thrown away?

In the of summer 2020 our CAP Director and Campus Archaeologists monitored the Service Road Construction Project; work that revealed a historical archaeological site dating from the 1930s to the early 1960s ( The assemblage, a former MSU trash dump, contains children’s toys, food containers, science equipment, and a vast array of hygiene products: shampoo, cologne, soap, nail polish, deodorant, cosmetics–the list goes on. With only a few exceptions, all of the bathroom products were packaged in glass containers, which, once used, were disposed of by their owners to end up at the Service Road dump.

A bright green bottle which reads "Prince Matchabelli Wind Song Cologne Spray Mist"
Prince Matchabelli Wind Song Cologne Mist circa 1959, glass bottle with printed wrapping. Photo taken by Emily Milton
Prince Matchabelli advert from 1959. Image Source

Now, think about the items you’ve found in your own bathroom. Most of them are hygiene products, yes? A survey of two CAP Fellow bathrooms revealed that the overwhelming majority of hygiene products from the 2020s are stored in plastic and come in all shapes, sizes, and types. In consulting the bottom of each container (a favorite pastime for archaeologists, even when we’re not in the lab) we found numbers 1, 4, 5, and 7. What did you see?

The number is important to the garbology our personal lives because it allows us to understand the lifecycle of the item. Most plastics are not recycled (or non-recyclable) because we lack an efficient or effect ways of breaking down these materials (Shen and Worrell 2014). For example, the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center only accepts Nos. 1 and 2 plastics–and so containers used and disposed of on campus with a number great than “2” will travel to dump (

Opaque-white glass deodorant jar and metal lid viewed from top down. Label on lid is mostly worn away, but we were just able to make out brand "Fresh".
Fresh Deodorant. Rub on lotion variety. Circa 1950s. Milk glass container with metal printed lid. Photo taken by emily Milton

Unlike plastics, glass items, especially those associated with household activities, are generally recyclable. Let’s briefly return to the Service Road dump. The presence of glass hygiene containers (albeit with plastic or metal lids) reflects both a history of standard packaging in the 1950s and the waste disposal practices of the time period. Widespread use of plastics for household products did not emerge until the 1960s, and our dump site pre-dates recycling in the U.S. and on campus (Subramanian 2000). Recycling emerged in the United States in the 1970s and acquired national attention in the 1980s, following concerns that we were running out of space for landfills. Mindful waste management began at MSU even later, in 1990, after two years of petitions from students (; and it wasn’t until 2009 that the Surplus Store and Recycling Center was built, with material drop-offs open to the public.

A plastic toothbrush
A toothbrush from service road. Bristles and brush are plastic. Photo by Emily Milton

For CAP Fellows, the hygiene products at Service Road are fascinating from both archaeological and garbology standpoints. Many of the artifacts still contain product, which promises a future opportunity to conduct chemical residue analyses, e.g., what toxic chemicals were people using on their bodies in the mid-1900s? Similarly, it may be possible to compare items from different time periods to try to understand if and how consumption has changed through time, e.g., do people become more wasteful as products become cheaper and more widely available?

Simultaneously, historic garbage gives us the opportunity to consider our own lives through the products we purchase, use (or don’t!), and dispose of. Like glass bottles pre-dating recycling, most plastics in our bathrooms today have no place to go except the archaeological record of 2070. 

Land Acknowledgement: Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Anishinaabeg–Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. The University resides on Land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw.

Rathje W. 1992. The Garbage Project, University of Arizona.
Subramanian, P.M. 2000. Plastics recycling and waste management in the US. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 28. 253-263.
Shen, L. and E. Worrell 2014. Plastic Recycling. Chapter 13. Handbook of Recycling.

CAP Crew 2021: Start of a new field season

CAP Crew 2021: Start of a new field season

This week marks the start of CAP’s 2021 summer field season; we have completed trainings, designed survey and outreach projects, and finished our academic year. This all means we can now get out into in the field! Over the next few months, we will be