Lab Artifact of the Week Series: Learning and Sharing as we Work

Introducing our latest artifact of the week series: Lab Artifact of the Week! In this evolving exhibit you will see some of our favorite artifacts from ongoing work in the CAP laboratory. Each week we will share one artifact on Instagram, highlighting how we identify and learn from material culture. As students and archaeologists, we all have different experiences and knowledges…we can never know everything! Each time we step into the lab we learn (or re-learn) something.

We invite you to come learn with us as we share our methods, lab tips and tricks, and what we appreciate or are frustrated by. Comment on this post or on our Instagram page with any questions, advice, or your own stories of working with material culture!


Engaging Ephemera

Newspapers and magazines are not designed to be permanent, when they are not carefully preserved these fascinating artifacts can quickly be lost. If a newspaper does show up in an archaeological dig, they give archaeologists a great way to date a stratum (soil layer) or feature (soil representing an event). We can be fairly certain that the newspaper did not enter the feature or layer before that date, known to archaeologists as the terminus post quem, or “date after which.”

Left: Tattered newspaper fragment, dated Wednesday February 12, 1958 recovered from Service Road Construction, 2020. Newspaper is likely the Lansing State Journal. Photo by Rhian Dunn. Right: Archival image of Lansing State Journal, Wednesday February 12, 1958. Call-out box shows same article as on the fragment recovered from Service Road.

Thank you, technology! In the age of smartphones and watches – and who knows what else – it can be easy to forget just how much the structure of research has changed. Finding the right newspaper could have once taken weeks – and now is one click away with a few choice key words in a search engine. While it may not always be easy to find original sources, we lucked out this week and were able to not only find the original newspaper, but the exact page that our #artifactoftheweek came from! This scrap of newspaper came from our Service Road excavation last summer and is extremely interesting for several reasons. First, it has a date! While many of artifacts from this excavation suggest an era extending from the 1930-60s, having an exact date is one sure way to verify our findings and help form new hypotheses or research paths. Secondly, it tells us more about the people who lived here and confirms that this newspaper was in circulation on MSU’s campus. We love to see that our local newspaper was making an impact even then!  

Tattered newspaper fragment, dated Wednesday February 12, 1958. Likely from the Lansing State Journal.1958Archival image of Lansing State Journal dated Wednesday February 12, 1958. Call-out box shows article that matches archaeological find.
Compare the newspaper fragment from Service Road to the archival document. Do you think they match up?

Something Fishy…

Something seemed a little fishy in the lab this week – and by that, of course I mean our new #artifactoftheweek!

This old sardine can is another one of our many new artifacts that came from last summers the Service Road construction project. Although many of us are familiar with sardines (and may even have strong opinions about them being on our pizza), you may not know that the source of this can, Maine, was one of the biggest hubs for sardine canneries over the last century.

At its peak in the 1950s, Maine boasted approximately 50 canneries and employed thousands of workers! Maine sardine canneries first gained traction in the 1870s, but none are active today – in fact, the last sardine cannery in Maine, and in the United States, closed down almost 11 years ago.

Image of a blue and white "Holmes" sardine can.
Image of a blue and white “Holmes” sardine can.

Although not visible in this image due to its distorted shape, the bottom of the can reads “EASTPORT MAINE.” And this text helps us identify the source of this can as the Holmes Packing Corp. of Eastport in Rockland Co., Maine! This cannery was active from 1946 until a fire destroyed the building in 1985, which fits in with the other dates we’ve found from our Service Road artifacts (ca. 1940-60s).

Black and white image of the Holmes sardine cannery in Eastport, Maine. The cannery can be seen in the center, with several boats in the foreground and a small town in the background.
The Holmes sardine cannery in Eastport, Maine. Image Courtesy of the Rockland Historical Society. Source

One fun fact: The Holmes Packing Corp. actually trademarked the term “Sea Foam” for their canned fish from 1921 to 2007!

Image of a girl, called Minnie Thomas, aged 9, demonstrating the size of the large knives used in the sardine canneries.

“Minnie Thomas, 9 years old, showing average size of sardine knife used in cutting. Some of the children used a knife as large as this. Minnie works regularly in Seacoast Canning Co., Factory #7, mostly in the packing room, and when very busy works nights. Cuts some, also cartons. She says she earns $2.00 some days, packing.” Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Prior to Holmes opening in 1946, Eastport already was the site of many sardine canneries. Prior to federal laws regulating child-labor in the 1930s, factory owners often hired children to work in their canneries. Read more about this history in an article by Alex Q. Arbuckle. The image above is one of many amazing photographs by sociologist Lewis Hine included in Arbuckle’s article.


Taking a Shine to Lab Work

Today, we are taking a look at another blast from the past from the Service Road construct project: An Esquire shoe polish bottle. If you aren’t familiar with this particular brand of shoe polish, this was actually the bestselling brand from 1940-60s in the United States!

During its reign at the top of the market, Esquire Shoe Polish and the Knomark Manufacturing Company that produced the polish were owned by Sam and Albert Adams. These two brothers turned the tides of the previously ailing company by pushing a strong advertising campaign, which included the famous Kate Smith (as seen inthe ads below), that helped turn a profit for the company.

Top left: Colorless glass bottle embossed with with “Esquire Lano Wax”; Middle left: Close up view of Esquire “Lano Wax” bottle; Bottom Left: Mid-20th century black and white advertisement for Esquire boot polish (source); Right: Mid-20th century color advertisement for Esquire “Lano Wax” (Source).

While the Adams brothers sold the company in the late 1950s, the Esquire brand has continued to change owners and still sells shoe polish today! The bottom of this artifact reads “KNOMARK MFG CO. INC. BKLYN, N.Y.,” which helps us identify that this particular bottle was sold while the company was still based in New York and when it was sold from the Esquire Building on 330 Wythe Ave (which was bought out in 1984 and later turned into a condo).

Our bottle is missing its cap, which would have held a built in brush for application purposes!

Check out this vintage advertisement for Esquire Lano Wax!


Bear-ly Containing Our Excitement

This week, we would like to showcase a Ruth Van Tellingen Bendel Bear Salt and Pepper Shaker found at the Service Road construction project. Although we do not have both, this artifact is one of a set of two interlocking figurines!

We are able to identify this artifact due to the maker’s mark on the bottom, which reads “Van Tellingen // © BEAR HUG.” We can trace this artifact back to a patent by artist Ruth Van Tellingen in 1951 for a “condiment dispenser comprising interlocking figurines.” However, we also know that the word “Bendel” was added to the maker’s mark in 1958 – as “Bendel” is not included on this artifact, we can trace it back to a narrow range of 1951-58!

This precise dating fits in well with the previous artifacts we’ve looked at as a part of this series, helping us get a better picture for the time period this deposit represents!


Photo credit: Autumn Painter Research credit: Emily Milton


The Sweet Smell of Success…fuly Dating this Bottle

This week, we are highlighting a product that may be more familiar to viewers: An Old Spice cologne bottle!

"Old Spice" Cologne Bottle from Service Road Construction project.  The bottle is marked with a delicate applied color label showing a clipper ship in blue. Under that is text that reads "Old Spice" in red and  "Cologne For Men" in blue. Label is partially worn off.
“Old Spice” Cologne Bottle from Service Road Construction project. The bottle is marked with a delicate applied color label which help us identify the manufacturing date range of the bottle. Image courtesy of Rhian Dunn.

But while you may have heard of this brand name or seen it in grocery stores, you have probably never seen it in this form! Original Old Spice bottles from 1938 featured a labeled with a large ship, as seen on our artifact, but the words “Old” And “Spice” were on either side of the centered ship. As our artifact has “Old Spice” underneath the ship, and has a paragraph of instructions on the back, we can identify that this bottle dates to 1956-1966!

Two Old Spice adverts from the 1960s. The one on the left depicts a man happily shaving while a woman looks at him, The one on the right shows a variety of Old Spice products with a man staring down at them.
Two Old Spice adverts from the 1960s Image Source

This applied color label was able to tell us a lot of information despite its damaged appearance – one of the reasons we have strict artifact cleaning instructions! In order to avoid further damage to applied color labels, CAP fellows steer clear of any water or soap – instead, just a dry brush is used carefully. And while this artifact has been useful in continuing to confirm the date of the overall Service Road construction collection, we are hoping to use it in a new project looking at hygiene products used at MSU – and perhaps doings some analyses on the liquids still contained within them to see whether any remnants of the original product still remain!