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

Greetings! 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 

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 shovel test survey, excavated a mid-20th century feature at Spartan Village, monitored construction projects and the planting of commemorative trees, surveyed under MSU’s sidewalks, began research projects, and cataloged artifacts into a new on-line database. Looking back, I only now realize how busy we truly were this summer and how much our magnificent CAP Crew accomplished.

CAP Crew 2021:

  • Dr. Stacey L. Camp (she/her) – Director
  • Jeff Burnett (he/him) – Campus Archaeologist
  • Benjamin Akey (they/them) – Archaeologist
  • Jack Biggs (he/him) – Archaeologist
  • Rhian Dunn (she/her) – Archaeologist
  • Aubree Marshall (she/her) – Archaeologist
  • Amber Plemons (she/her) – Archaeologist

In this blog I will provide a quick synopsis of the projects and the work done for each. This will serve as an update for all those interested in the cultural heritage of MSU’s historic campus and provide a glimpse into the type of work we do at CAP.

Red Cedar Greenway

A lone sifting screen sits among the trees and lawn in the project area
A lone sifting screen sits among the trees and lawn in the Red Cedar Greenway project area

This project, known to CAP as the Red Cedar Greenway Project, involved the use of federal funds to improve and expand walking and bike paths in two areas of Campus along the Red Cedar River.

For CAP, this project began in December 2019 when Dr. Camp and I were contacted by MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) and were asked to perform the work necessary to ensure that the project was in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA).

Teaming up with MSU Professor Jessica Flores, an Architectural Historian in the Department of Interior Design, we completed an application for Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) Section 106 Consolation. For CAP, this application included a study of past archaeological work, our assessment of the project’s impacts on archaeological sites, and our plans to survey the area ahead of construction.

Staring on May 4, CAP Crew conducted a shovel test survey in the areas where ground disturbing construction would occur. In the end we excavated, or dug, a total of 130 shovel tests and found no historic properties within the project area.

using a tablet and gps device to record a flagged shovel test pit.
Using a tablet and gps device to record a flagged shovel test pit during the Red Cedar Greenway survey.

What we did find were artifacts and soil stratigraphy, or soil layers, that showed evidence of past construction activities in the area. These included the construction of Shaw Hall, ca. 1949, the continual installation and replacement of utilities, and work to build up the river bank. We also encountered evidence of what may have been an asphalt road used to access the old WKAR radio station building ca. 1941.

Following the shovel test survey CAP Crew, led primarily by Jack Biggs and Aubree Marshall, washed and cataloged the artifacts we recovered and monitored construction activities.

By the end of August construction crews had completed all of the major ground disturbing work and CAP Crew ended out monitoring activity just in time for the start of the Fall Semester.  

Construction Summer 2021

Shovel Test Dug during Yakeley Hall Patio Replacement. Shows soil and measuring tape
Shovel Test Dug during Yakeley Hall Patio Replacement

While the Red Cedar Greenway project took up most of our time, CAP Crew still had to respond to other construction projects on Campus. These projects included shovel testing at Yakeley Hall, Beaumont Tower sidewalks, Shaw Hall sidewalks, the Veterinary Medicine Building, and for the numerous commemorative tree plantings that occur throughout the year at MSU.

CAP’s relationship and ongoing communication with IPF employees and contractors ensures we can effectively mitigate these smaller projects ahead of, or alongside construction. The results of this work shows, unsurprisingly, evidence of archaeological sites relating to Campus at both Beaumont Tower and the former site of Beal’s Laboratory. No evidence of archaeological sites was found at any of the other project areas.

A large machine dug hole dug in West Circle
A large machine dug hole dug for a commemorative tree planting in the West Circle part of campus

Spartan Village Monitoring

After surveying the Spartan Village site twice during the 2020-2021 academic year, CAP Crew continued work there in the summer, monitoring ground disturbing construction. We focused on an area where a farmhouse stood from ca. 1930 to ca. 1956. In June, construction crews removing the topsoil uncovered several foundation walls where historic maps indicated farm outbuildings would be. CAP Crew excavated a foundation we believe may be a cistern or cesspool.

We defined the foundation and the soils within it as a feature, or a non-moveable element of an archaeological site, and excavated half of it, while leaving the other half intact. This process is known as “bisection” and allows us to take out part of a feature while preserving the internal stratigraphy, or soil layers. Many, many artifacts came out of this feature, including metal toys from the 1950s / 1960s, glass bottles, jars, and cups, and lots of metal artifacts. CAP Crew washed these artifacts in the summer and plan to analyze and catalog them this fall.

  • The foundation of a farm outbuilding set up with string to be excavated.
  • The cistern or cesspool feature excavated to bottom, over two and a half feet deep. Three walls are concrete while one is the dirt in the other side of the feature. There is a broken ceramic water pipe in the south wall.
  • A dirty, red and white painted metal toy car.
  • A chrome painted metal toy gun designed to look like a revolver. It is decorated with ranch and equine motifes.

Laboratory Work

Very little of an archaeologist’s work is done in the field. The process of washing, analyzing, and cataloging artifacts and deciphering fieldnotes is where archaeological investigations truly come to life. This summer CAP Crew continued cataloguing the artifacts recovered from 2020’s Service Road Recovery survey, washed and cataloged artifacts recovered in this summer’s excavations, and entered old artifact records into our new online catalog database.

Ben and Aubree began a research project exploring the glass bottles and hotelware ceramics collected from last years Service Road recovery. With these artifacts they dated the site to the 1930s – 1960s, identified four patterns of hotelware vessels used at MSU, explored the soda and medicine consumed on campus, and much more.

This work is ongoing, CAP Fellows may work on parts as part of their yearly research projects. Other parts will be taken up by undergraduate interns as they gain hands-on experience working with real archaeological collections recovered from their Campus community.

A large ceramic artifact recovered from the Spartan Village site. It is a brown earthenware vessel, with botanical decorations and may be the base of a large flowerpot, a birdbath, or something else.
A large ceramic artifact recovered from the Spartan Village site. It is a brown earthenware vessel, with botanical decorations and may be the base of a large flower pot, a birdbath, or something else.

We are looking forward to processing all of the data and artifacts collected this summer and adding that to our growing understanding of Michigan State’s historic campus.  

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? 

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 out on campus working to preserve and share Michigan State University’s below ground cultural history. Unlike last summer, we have approval from the University to have our full crew out and we are all fully vaccinated, so you may see a lot of CAP this year. CAP has a number of mitigation projects planned due to sidewalk work and construction projects. We also have a new outreach project that we will reveal later this summer. This season, our CAP Crew includes new and returning staff: Jack Biggs, Ben Akey, Rhian Dunn, Aubree Marshall, and Amber Plemons. Jeff Burnett is in his first summer as Campus Archaeologist, while CAP Director Dr. Stacey L. Camp will, you guessed it, be directing the CAP work this summer.

The biggest mitigation project we have this year is a Section 106 compliance survey prompted by a construction project that utilizes federal grant funding. “Section 106” refers to a section of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, a U.S. federal law, which requires all federal agencies to assess the effects of any project on historic resources and consider public concerns about the historic preservation. What this means for archaeology specifically, is that any project that utilizes federal funds or is under a federal agency must assess if the work will disturb any known or unknown archaeological sites. The Section 106 application is the intensive process through which these effects are assessed. This work includes historical research, reviewing past archaeological surveys, engaging with project developers, and possibly conducting novel archaeological survey.

Working with our partners at MSU’s Infrastructure, Planning, and Facilities (IPF), MSU professor of Interior Design Jessica Flores, and the project developers, CAP successfully submitted a Section 106 application to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Approval of the application depended on CAP completing a shovel test survey, an archaeological method which is explained in this great blog post, before construction starts. Once SHPO gave word that IPF could move forward with the project, then even more partners became involved, including the 12 federally recognized Tribal nations in Michigan, the Federal Highway Administration, the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the City of East Lansing. These conversations helped shape our work and will continue throughout the project.

Even when excavations are completed members of CAP will wash, catalog, and analyze artifacts, monitor construction, write the report, and provide updates to various partners. Unlike most of CAPs work over the years, all of this is federally mandated due to the involvement of federal funds and Section 106. So, the pressure is on, but we are sure we can manage!

We are excited to get out into the field and to begin our work – especially with so many exciting projects already on our radar. If you see us on campus give a wave, or like our feathered friends, a honk!

International Students and Institutional Wares at MSU

International Students and Institutional Wares at MSU

The presence of international students on campus began early in MSU’s history. Not even two decades after MSU’s founding, four international students were enrolled for the fall semester in 1873. Two of these students were from Japan, one from Holland, and one from Canada [1]. 

CAP Archaeological Ethics

CAP Archaeological Ethics

We love the work we do through MSU’s Campus Archaeology. While our primary purpose is to mitigate and protect the archaeological and cultural resources on MSU’s campus, CAP goes above and beyond to also engage with our public audience and local community through outreach and 

Cache us outside

Cache us outside

Campus Archaeology (CAP) has always been heavily centered around community engagement. We have several standing outreach events that we participate in every year, such as our annual Apparitions and Archaeology Haunted Campus Tour, Grandparents University, various public-school events, and Archaeology Day at the Michigan History Museum. During COVID, we have been forced to rethink the ways in which we engage with the community to teach the community about what we do as archaeologists, the history of Michigan State University, and CAP.

Now that snow is melting in Michigan and we are seeing signs of warmer days in the near future, we are taking our outreach outside! The limited access to our favorite local businesses due to COVID mandates encourages more people to spend time outside and finding new ways to explore the area. This led us to work on a new project where members of the community could learn about MSU history and past CAP projects through geocaching!

Plastic container partially covered by leaves between moss-covered rocks. Tag on the container reads "Official Geocache"
Image source:

Geocaching is advertised as “the world’s largest treasure hunt”. It is a recreational activity that takes you on a pedestrian tour of your own city (or wherever you choose to explore!) by locating GPS points using the Geocaching application on your phone. A geocache is a physical container hidden outside by members of the community and assigned a GPS coordinate with descriptions and details to help users find the geocache. Each geocache has information provided on the level of difficulty, the terrain, and size of the container. The idea is that when the geocache is located, the user will take an item from the container and leave a new item in place of the one they collected. Geocaching is a great way to get outside and be active, see and experience new things, and even teach children navigation skills! Not to mention…this is a great activity that can be done while maintaining social distancing! If you do not want to meet up with friends or family during the pandemic, you can challenge others to complete the same routes and leave items for them to find.

The Geocaching app has a sister app, Adventure Lab, where users create stories or themed tours through GPS locations of physical landmarks. For example, you can find adventures of murals around Lansing and headstone symbolism in Mt. Hope Cemetery. Campus Archaeology will use Adventure Lab to create several themed informative tours based on research and past projects conducted by our organization, such as several histories of MSU campus including BIPOC on MSU campus, women’s history, children on historic campus, stories of buildings that have burned down across campus, science and laboratories, and food ways. We will also create chronological tours of archaeology across campus as well as tours of past field schools hosted by Campus Archaeology. Finally, we will have an adventure for our famous Apparitions and Archaeology Haunted Campus Tour.

The tours will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure accessibility to all our geocache locations and will have a combination of physical landmarks and containers. At each stop, users will be able to read interesting MSU history Some stops will include QR codes to view 3D models of artifacts recovered on campus and even some CAP swag!! We will be rolling out a couple of tours in the coming months so make sure to download the Adventure Lab app and prepare to get some sunshine!

Archaeology 101: Relocating Historical Features from Aerial Photography in QGIS

Archaeology 101: Relocating Historical Features from Aerial Photography in QGIS

Identifying the former location of historical features can be an invaluable part of designing  archaeological investigations, allowing researchers to tailor survey and excavation plans to spaces in which they are interested in, or assess which features might be impacted by development plans. In many cases,