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 

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]. Since then, MSU has made a strong commitment to fostering international relationships with students from around the world. As of the Fall 2019 semester a total of 5,961 students from 129 different countries were enrolled at MSU. Additionally, international scholars and their dependent family members put the international student presence on campus at over 9,000 from 140 countries [2]. Compared to the rest of the nation’s international student population, MSU ranked 11th for colleges with the most international students [3].

Below are gradient maps of the geographic origins of international students at MSU in the fall of 2019. The first map includes all the countries and US territories represented at MSU while the second map excludes China so as to show the differences from other nations better. Zoom in and hover over or click on a country to see the the number of students from that state enrolled at MSU. The lighter the color (the more yellow), the fewer the students are from that country while the darker the color (the more orange and red), the more students are from that country. Nations represented as just the satellite image indicates that no student from that country was enrolled at MSU in 2019 (excluding the US).

Although going to another country to get an education can be fun and enriching, it is no doubt stressful. Adjusting to your host country’s cultural norms (not to mention the cultural norms of US college students which is a microcosm of distinct customs!) while also trying to not lose those of your home country can be a tough negotiation of personal identities. With the added stress of a language barrier in some cases, it should be no surprise that there are numerous student groups on campus that cater to international students as a whole as well as groups focused on specific countries or cultures. At MSU, the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) is an entity that helps students from foreign countries in adjusting and getting involved at MSU, making their time here as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible.

While international students make up to 10% of the overall student population today, how can we as archaeologists unearth evidence of their lives and experiences on campus since the first international students began taking classes? The overwhelming majority of artifacts discovered by CAP on MSU’s campus were made for Western consumers. This means that when international students arrived and began living on campus, and depending on their country of origin, they may have begun using products and amenities that were unfamiliar to them.

MSU Institution Ware by MSU Campus Archaeology Program on Sketchfab

An example of this is through institutional wares – a type of ceramic that was mass produced for repeated use at institutions; i.e. plates, bowls, and cups at campus dining halls. MSU-specific institutional wares have been found during CAP excavations, particularly in 2015 at the Gunson site and at the recent Service Road dump. A thick improved white stoneware plate with colorless glaze and three thin green stripes show that this sturdy plate was designed or purchased specifically for MSU and intended for repeated use. This plate was made by the Onondaga Pottery Company (a company known for producing institutional wares) out of Syracuse, NY around 1914. While this connection of a mass-produced plate to international student experiences may on the surface appear extraneous, it can act as a symbol for the pressures on international students to assimilate to American culture. In nineteenth and early-twentieth century America, ideas of proper citizenship were linked to, among other things, buying the proper products and eating ‘American’ foods. [4] (For more information on institutional wares at MSU, see Jeff Painter’s blog on the subject linked here.)

Upon this mostly undecorated plate would have been foods that the university provided for all students, regardless of their country of origin. Food is one of the strongest cultural ties that people have. By repeatedly consuming foods on these plates that international students were not used to, they were likely in conflict by eating American (or even Midwestern) foods as a way to fit in while also desiring the foods of their home culture. This is even discussed in a 1962 brochure from MSU titled “Housing Information For Foreign Students”:

“Foreign students will find quite a challenge in adapting themselves to American food and their way of eating. The residence halls, as much as possible, attempt to provide a reasonable variety of foods that should generally fill the needs of all individuals regardless of diet restrictions due to religious or national customs”. [5]

Front of brochure from 1960s with housing information for international students. Image courtesy of MSU Archives. 
Shows Owen Hall in the background with title that reads "Housing Information for Foreign Students. Michigan State University, East Lansing.
Front of brochure from 1960s with housing information for international students. Image courtesy of MSU Archives.

The point of on-campus dining was to provide students with what they needed, rather than what they may have necessarily wanted. This was likely a jarring culinary experience that would have made international students desirous of their own culture’s cuisine as the brochure later states:

 “One major difference in the food is that Americans use lesser amounts of spices in their cooking. American food seems very bland to many foreign students”. [5]

Full description of what expectations international students should have when living on campus from a 1960s brochure. Image courtesy of MSU Archives.

The additional factor of “bland” American food would not have made the pressures towards assimilating into American culture any easier or even desirable! Today, MSU dining halls serve myriad types of food from many countries and cultures. Additionally, the large, year-round international student population in East Lansing meant that restaurants serving international cuisines also became common. The focus of the university now appears to be on inclusion and celebration of diversity, rather than assimilation. International students now have dining options that more closely resemble their home countries and can be in clubs and groups that cater to their cultural desires while also enjoying “American” amenities, giving them a richer and more rounded experience at MSU.

While on the surface, artifacts such as the green-striped MSU institutional ware plate may seem like just a dining hall plate, they represent the notion that people from vastly different backgrounds, countries, cultures, religions, etc. are all here at MSU to gain new experiences. Everyone eats. Cultural exchanges between students undoubtedly happen over the dining hall tables. It is important to remember that international students on campus may be “out of their element” compared to those born in the US. Understanding their point of view and having a dialogue about each other’s cultures (perhaps during a meal when the pandemic abates) will create greater respect and an overall more enjoyable experience for everyone.

[2] MSU Office of the Registrar – Geographical Source of Students – Foreign Countries (
[4] Camp, Stacey L., 2013, The Archaeology of Citizenship. University of Florida Press, Tallahassee, FL
[5] Housing Information For Foreign Students. Brochure, 1962. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

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 

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, no appropriate source of information exists and such features need to be directly identified though on the ground archaeological survey. In more contemporary and document-assisted archaeologies, historical maps can play an important role in allowing researchers to get a sense of where historical features were located. However, depending on the intended purpose of the map there is a considerable amount of variety in the depth and quality of the information they can provide, and some historical features archaeologists might be interested in are often not considered relevant enough to include (outhouses, refuse disposal areas, etc.).

A series of 4 historical plat maps in the vicinity of the guide's example. They depict owner's name, property boundaries, and a rough sense of where farmstead buildings were located.
A series of plat maps between 1859 and 1914, showing the vicinity of the two farmsteads used as an example in this guide. The maps helped us to roughly determine when the farmsteads were established, providing a pre-1874 date for the northern one and a post 1914 date for the latter (based on its absence from the map), but provide little additional detail.

For archaeological sites with occupation periods overlapping with the intensification of aerial photography efforts in the early twentieth century (or later), these photographic records can provide a further means to determine the location of removed or otherwise obscured features. This blog post provides a short guide to creating a GIS shapefile representing the former location of historical structures from past aerial photography, using a example of this process from recent background research for an ongoing Campus Archaeology project. In some cases, a researcher might be able to access accurately georeferenced versions of this imagery, or have the ability to georeference the images themselves, but the process detailed here allows one to work from historical aerials available online but not accessible for download and use within a GIS application.

A series of three historical aerials and one contemporary satellite image. They depict the vicinity used as an example in this guide, and two clusters of historical features including structures, an orchard, and several historical windbreaks. Arboreal features used as points of reference are circled in red.
A series of historical aerials taken between 1938 and 1955, compared to contemporary satellite imagery. The location of arboreal features used as reference points in the guide’s example are outlined in red.

To follow alongside the steps laid out in the guide below, one will need 1) a source of aerial photography with the ability to measure distance (either through a provided scale or a digital ‘measure’ tool) and determine cardinal directions, 2) QGIS, a free and open-source GIS software available here, and a contemporary satellite imagery layer added to your QGIS project (for help on this last step, follow this guide.

For a recent Campus Archaeology project, we found that an area of campus slated for construction overlapped with the vicinity of two historical farmsteads, constructed in the late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth century, respectively. While available historical plat maps helped to provide the rough location of one of these farmsteads, they provided no extensive detail on the structures and other features associated with its operations. In order to better understand how we might design our fieldwork to investigate spaces of interest to Campus Archaeology, I composed a map of historical features in the vicinity, using aerial photography accessed though the Michigan State University Spatial Data Management Team’s ‘Historical Aerial Imagery’ tool.

A map depicting the end product of the process described in the guide. Map consists of contemporary satellite photography overlain with GIS polygons depicting the former location of various features.
Map of features identified through the process described in this blog post.


Step 1: Identifying stable points of reference.

Look through available aerial photography and compare these to contemporary satellite imagery, looking for non-mobile features or structures that one can confidently identify across available images. Bodies of water are poorly suited for the task due to shoreline change/fluvial erosion, and roads are typically a unstable choice due to realignments and widenings.

Though arboreal features and trees need to be approached with caution for this use, in this case I was able to identify extant Norway Spruce (Picea abies) windbreaks and a single remaining orchard apple tree (Malus domestica) in the vicinity of the farmsteads, that were consistently identifiable in all available aerials between 1938 and the present. These served as the primary points of reference for composing the map of former historical features.

Step 2: Create temporary ‘scratch’ layer

Screenshot showing icon for "new temporary scratch layer" tool.
Screenshot depicting “new temporary scratch layer” tool icon.

On QGIS, create two temporary scratch layers (a quick guide available here). When prompted to select a name and geometry type, create the first one as a ‘multi-point’ layer and the second as a ‘multi-polygon’ layer. Name each in a way that will enable you to quickly know which is which. Saving the project in QGIS at this point will prompt you to choose whether to save these temporary layers, select yes and provide QGIS with a folder to save the files in (if you plan to keep them).

Screenshot of historical aerial photography overlain with measurement tool, depicting process laid out in step 3.
Screenshot depicting process of measuring to feature in historical aerials.

Step 3: Measure to feature

Turning back to the historical aerial photography, begin to measure out from your reference point(s) towards a feature you would like to map. Instead of measuring directly between your reference point and the feature being mapped—which would involve keeping track of the line’s angle—use line segments aligned with the cardinal directions. Stop when you have reached a corner of the feature (or edge if feature is circular/ovular). Record the resulting values and associated directions in some way, so you can reproduce them later in QGIS.

Step 4: Reproduce measurements in QGIS

On QGIS, with the multi-point layer selected and editable, select the “measure line” tool. Beginning with your reference point, use the measure tool to reproduce the line segments you used to reach the corner of the feature. Once you’ve reached it, use the “add point feature” tool to record the position of the feature.

Image is three screenshots displaying the icons for "toggle editing," "measure line," and "add point feature" tools in QGIS.
Screenshots depicting the icons for various tools in QGIS: “toggle editing,” “measure line,” and “add point feature”.
Screenshot of QGIS depicting the process laid out in Step 4.
Screenshot depicting the reproduction of measurements obtained from aerial photography with the QGIS ‘Measure Tool’

Step 5: Measure dimensions of structures

Screenshot of historical aerial photography overlain with measurement tool, depicting process laid out in step 5.
Screenshot depicting process of measuring sides of feature within historical aerial.

For polygonal features, return to the historical aerial and measure its exterior edges starting from the corner you previously measured to. Again, record the resulting lengths and associated cardinal directions of line segments. If features are not aligned with cardinal directions, you will have to keep track of angles at this point.

For circular features, return to the historical aerial and measure an additional line segment from the edge to its radius and record the result.

Step 6: Reproduce measurements in QGIS and add to multi-polygon layer

Screenshot showing icon for "add polygon feature" tool.
Screenshot depicting “add polygon feature” tool icon.

Returning to QGIS, select the ‘multi-polygon’ layer and toggle editing. Using the measure line tool, reproduce your measurements from step 6.

For polygonal features, use the measure line tool to reproduce your measurements from step 6. Without erasing the measurements, use the “add polygon feature” tool to draw the boundaries of the feature, moving from corner to corner. Right click to complete the shape.

Screenshot showing icon for "Add circle by a center point and another point" tool.
Screenshot depicting “add circle by a center point and another point” tool icon.

For circular features, use the “add circle by a center point and another point” tool to create the shape. For the first point inputted, use the center of the feature you found when measuring the radius of the shape in step 6b, and for the second, use the edge position. Right click to complete the shape.

Screenshot of QGIS, depicting process laid out in step 6.
Screenshot depicting the reproduction of feature measurements obtained from aerial photography with the QGIS ‘Measure Tool’

Step 7: Save project to keep your progress, and repeat steps 3-6 as necessary to map each feature.

Once you have a few features done, it is a good time to test the accuracy of your work. One way to do this is to measure between corners of two features on both QGIS and your historical aerials. If the results are non-consistent, you may have made an error somewhere down the line. Alternatively, you can begin at one of the corners of a feature you have mapped and work through the recorded line segments backwards towards the reference point and seeing how closely they align.

Step 8: Additional interpretive and stylization steps

With all the locations of former historical features settled, it is worth turning attention to understanding what each might represent. While you can’t reasonably expect to figure out the exact function each feature would had in the past from aerials alone, there is often enough information to make a few preliminary categorizations.

For the completed feature map depicted above, I started by identifying probable residences. While road proximity and its position within a particularly sheltered area of the farmstead were helpful hints, the primary tip offs were the gabled extensions of the roof on the western and southern aspects of the structure (see right-side of photo below)–a trait not commonly seen on non-residential farm buildings. I applied the term outbuilding in the case of seemingly non-residential structures associated with the house to avoid over-interpreting from the limited information available.

Aerial in vicinity of northern farmstead (1956).

Other features were relatively straightforward to identify. The consistent spacing of the twelve trees on the eastern side side of the feature cluster seemed to clearly indicate the presence of an orchard, and a silo seemed the only reasonable explanation for the cylindrical feature adjacent to the large structure east of the orchard.

Screenshot of icon for ‘add field’ tool in layer attribute table.

With informed characterizations of various features established, you can turn to adding this additional information to the layer’s attribute table. Select the layer name in QGIS and right click, and then select the “open attribute table” option. From there add a new field, select ‘text-string’ when prompted to provide a field type, and name it something along the lines of ‘feature category’. From there, categorize each individual feature in a way that makes sense for you and the task at hand.

From here, you can begin to change the appearance of each individual feature category in order produce a map that allows viewers to quickly distinguish between them. To begin this step, double click on the layer name in QGIS to bring up the ‘layer properties’ window, select the ‘symbology tab,’ and change the field that says ‘single symbol’ to ‘categorized’. Below this, select the ‘feature category’ field for the ‘Value’ entry, and then hit the ‘Classify’ button at the bottom of the window, which will automatically generate color symbols for each category. By double-clicking each category entry in the same window, you can customize the color used for each. When you’re done, click on the ‘OK’ button and examine the resulting changes to the stylization of features, going back to the symbology dialog as necessary to make adjustments. A more complete guide to layer stylization is available here.

Screenshot depicting the completed ‘symbology’ tab of the layer properties window.

Guess That Artifact! The 2021 CAP Team Takes a Mystery Quiz

Guess That Artifact! The 2021 CAP Team Takes a Mystery Quiz

Welcome back to our CAP blog! As many of our readers know, CAP has many posts dedicated to the identification of artifacts and their relationship to MSU’s campus. While we love sharing the interesting things we find on campus, this got us thinking a little 

CAP Featured In the SHA Newsletter, Winter 2020

CAP Featured In the SHA Newsletter, Winter 2020

In December of 2020, CAP was proud to be included in the Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA) Newsletter for winter 2020 (download here). In an article written by CAP director Dr. Stacey L. Camp, former Campus Archaeologist Autumn Painter, and current Campus Archaeologist Jeff Burnett, 

Starting the New Semester and Attending SHA 2021

Starting the New Semester and Attending SHA 2021

Over the next few days MSU will be welcoming some students back and opening up for some in-person and many virtual classes.  For CAP, the beginning of a new semester would typically mean welcoming new undergraduate interns, preparing outreach events, and jumping back into our sometimes crowded lab. Of course, this year is different, lab work and research will continue, but only for our graduate fellows.

This is a recording of CAP’s presentation at the 2021 SHA conference. We were part of a session on Great Lakes Archaeology. Captions for this video are available under settings (three vertical dots).

One thing we are excited for this semester is sharing with our audiences the artifacts we recovered from the Service Road Construction Project last summer. Construction workers uncovered a large trash dump, or midden, dating from the 1930s up to the 1960s. Our research in the fall has revealed that some of the artifacts, particularly the child-related toys and clothing, may be from the post-World War 2 temporary housing for married veterans and their families known as “G.I. Village”.

These two images show segments of the historic midden uncovered in the construction trenches last summer. There are arrows pointing to the midden areas, which are pockets of much darker soil, suggesting burning.
These images show segments of the historic midden uncovered in the construction trenches last summer. In some areas there were more artifacts than dirt. CAP collected only a small portion of these artifacts, what we call a “representative sample”. Photos taken by Dr. Camp.

CAP recently presented some of these findings at the 2021 Society for Historical Archaeology Virtual Conference. Our presentation was part of a session on Great Lakes archaeology, which included many great archaeologists from around Michigan. Due to the virtual nature of the conference, our presentation has been recorded, which means we can share it across our social media.

 Our presentation is entitled “The Archaeology of Children on Michigan State University’s Campus” and explores the history of children on Michigan State University’s campus through the lens of archaeological and archival data. We focus on three areas of campus that feature evidence of children’s presence on campus since the university’s founding in 1855.

This image shows map of MSU campus with the locations of child related areas highlighted in various colors. The map shows our identification of four distinct time periods of child-rerated areas at MSU. The earliest (1857 – 1927) includes Faculty Row and Saints’ Rest, two central areas at the early campus. The next period (1927 – 1947) shows a dramatic contraction of child-related spaces on campus, mainly at the university preschool near to what is now the student union. The third and fourth periods show a growth of child-reated areas with the massive influx of students and faculty after World War 2. This area is to the far south of campus, showing that children and family related spaces were placed far com the centers of campus. Our study focuses on Saints' Rest, Faculty Row, and MSU post World War 2 temporary housing complexes.
This map shows the locations of child related areas at MSU across four time periods. Our study focuses on Saints’ Rest, Faculty Row, and MSU post World War 2 temporary housing complexes.

‘The first site is Saints’ Rest, which was built in 1875 and was destroyed by fire in 1876. It was the first dormitory on campus and it was an all-male dormitory that also housed college staff and their families. Excavations of a privy near Saints’ Rest identified a porcelain doll and a porcelain “Frozen Charlotte” figurine, both strongly associated with children in the 19th century.

The second site is known as Faculty Row. It dates from 1857 to the 1910s and was the first housing established for faculty at MSU. From archival evidence we know that faculty and staff often joined the children in play and invited them into laboratories and other campus spaces.

Lastly, we look at the expansion of MSU’s campus due to the GI Bill, which included welcoming numerous families and housing them on campus from 1945 to 1959. MSU constructed housing for thousands of veterans and their family members, growing its student body from 8,000 people in 1946 to 16,000 students in 1949. In the summer of 2020 amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lives of these post-WWII families were unearthed during a construction project. Child-related artifacts recovered included a plastic toy microscope; a plastic toy doll; a plastic toy car; Pyrex glass baby bottles; children’s shoes; a ceramic creamer featuring bunny rabbits; and a child’s red mitten.

We hope you enjoy the presentation, if you have any questions feel free to comment below or on any of our social media. We at CAP are looking forward to sharing additional information about this project as we learn more. Many, many hours will be spend doing the dirty work of washing and cataloguing artifacts and we are hoping to share that process throughout the semester.

Artifacts (left to right; top row to bottom) – Identified by CAP fellow Emily Milton.

  • Red nylon mitten – This small, right-handed children’s mitten is made from of a red nylon with a white nylon interior. The glove appears to have a felted wool or synthetic insulation. Nylon was created in the 1940s, providing an estimate for the earliest age for the mittens.
  • Yellow plastic toy car – This toy car was identified as a “VTG Renwal Products No. 39 Convertible” and dates to the 1950s. The car was found and presented by a construction worker on Service Road with a red plastic roof (not pictured).
  • Irwin Co. Celluloid Baby Doll – This doll was likely made between 1940-1947 by the Irwin Corporation. It is composed of celluloid and includes a small squeaker at the base of the back of its head. Squeaker toys were common in the 1940s. Celluloid is a plastic material that was outlawed in 1947 due to its highly flammable nature.
  • Pyrex® Evenflo® glass baby bottle – This bottle composed of Borosilicate glass, which Pyrex used from 1915 to 1988. The bottle design, sold as early at 1927, has a unique six-sided design which prevents the bottle from rolling.
  • Small, child-sized shoes – unknown date and manufacturer.
  • Roseville Pottery Company Bunny Creamer – This small creamware creamer was part of a ceramics line known as “Juvenile,” called that because they were designed to be used by children. The line was produced from 1910 to the early 1920s and featured a variety of animals, including ducks, pigs, rabbits, dogs, chicks, and cats.
  • Toy, plastic microscope – unknown date and manufacturer.
CAP Fellows Reflect on a Society for Historical Archaeology Anti-racism Training

CAP Fellows Reflect on a Society for Historical Archaeology Anti-racism Training

In this blog post CAP fellows share our reflections on an anti-racism, anti-bias training we took on Friday October 30th . The training was sponsored by the Society for Historical Archaeology and dozens of archaeologists, educators, and heritage professionals participated in the four hour session.