Lynne Goldstein, CAP Director and Professor of Anthropology:
Today is World Anthropology Day! In celebration, the Michigan State University (MSU) Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) fellows and I decided to talk about how our non-CAP, individual dissertation and other research connect more broadly to Anthropology and to CAP. As noted in the following paragraphs, neither I nor the graduate fellows see CAP as our primary research focus, even though all of us thoroughly enjoy the research we do on campus, and we have all learned a lot from this work, as well as developed new skills.
For the last 40 years, a large part of my own research has focused on the pre-contact Middle Mississippian Aztalan site in southern Wisconsin (ca. AD 1000-1300) [here are pics from our 2013 field school ]. I conducted a long-term systematic random sample survey of approximately 70 square miles surrounding Aztalan, then focused on the Aztalan site itself, asking questions about site location, site structure and organization, site construction and use, and how the mortuary practices seen at Aztalan relate to other Mississippian villages. Given that one aspect of my research interests is the analysis of mortuary practices, I have also been involved in the excavation and analysis of several historic cemetery sites in Wisconsin, Illinois, California, and Arizona. Throughout my research, and like many other anthropologists, I am very interested in landscapes and how people see them, construct them, and use them. When we apply this to MSU’s campus, we see very important changes over time that relate to changes in landscape use and more general changes in society that result in landscape changes.
I think that all of us at CAP would say that we delight in the outreach and engagement that we are able to do for Campus Archaeology, from social media to in-person encounters. We have learned that the population of college campuses changes so frequently that you cannot assume any knowledge or memory on the part of your audience – today’s students do not know what yesterday’s students did, or what archaeologists last year did.
Lisa Excavating at VMC Historic Cemetery. Image Source: Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group
My research examines health and nutrition in a late 19th/early 20th century pauper cemetery associated with a hospital in San Jose, California. 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. These groups tend to be underrepresented in available written records, and are thus not widely studied. I am comparing this population to a several other historic cemeteries, in order to shed light on lesser-known individuals during an important period of westward expansion. I interpret the osteological and mortuary archaeological data by incorporating historical documentary evidence of the cemeteries use within the larger cultural context of turn of the century indigent care and health practices.
Kate in a test pit
My research utilizes the ethnographic and ethnohistoric records for the Anishinaabe of Michigan to understand the role of food storage. As part of my research I’ve conducted experimental archaeology to recreate prehistoric subterranean storage pits in order to analyze their storage efficiency and the work required in their construction. The ethnographic and ethnohistoric documents make mention of aspects of the construction and processing of these food storage features, so I can use that in conjunction with archaeological research to recreate accurate storage pits, which then in turn sheds light on the decisions behind the use of small-scale hunter-gatherer food storage for the late Pre-contact period.
Inside one of Kate’s experimental cache pits
Katy Meyers Emery:
Katy in England
My research examines the role that different burial practices play in remembering and honoring the dead in early medieval England. During this period, England was inhabited by native Britons, post-Roman Britons, and a range of immigrants from Germany and Northern Europe. The diversity in people and the differences in their interactions with one another, ranging from hybridization to warfare, has led to a really wide range of mortuary behavior. Individuals are cremated and buried in urns, buried in boats or beds directly in the ground, found with weapons and jewelry, or buried simply without anything. My research compares these diverse burial practices in order to better understanding these mixed populations in this period. My work is not limited to archaeology, but rather pulls from a large range of anthropological sub-fields. When examining the cemetery, I analyze the human remains themselves, using biological anthropology and bioarchaeology methods to understand them as physical remains. I also use a range of cultural anthropology approaches to understand the cultural context of the burials- examining gender, ethnicity, life course, and funerary rituals. In order to interpret what the presence of both cremation and inhumation meant during this period, I need to look at archaeological, archival, ethnographic and modern examples of this behavior to better interpret it. My approach to early medieval burials has been greatly affected by my training as a four-field anthropologist.
Amy excavating at Caves Branch Rockshelter
I am interested in the ways in which the human skeleton responds to biological and social stress events. My dissertation research is in Central Belize, where I excavate mortuary caves and rockshelters as part of the Central Belize Archaeological Survey. Although human remains do not preserve well in a tropical environment, teeth can withstand taphonomic insults. I study the microstructure of teeth which can inform about the health stresses that occurred during a person?s lifetime. By identifying enamel defects and linking them to age at formation, I am able to determine when a person experienced stress events and then compare these data across sites. I find that the combination of microscopy techniques and archaeological fieldwork produces all kinds of exciting research questions.
Amy excavating at Sapodilla Rockshelter
Middle Woodland pot sherd with stewing residue from the Winter site
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 crafted 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.
Late Woodland pot sherd with boiling residue from the Sand Point site
I look at pottery function and diet of pre-European contact indigenous groups in the Upper Great Lakes of North America. Based on patterning of burned food remains on the interior of ceramic vessels, I have found a change in the way pre-contact persons cooked food: in the Middle Woodland (0 – AD 600), they appear to have primarily stewed their food, while in the Late Woodland (AD 600 – AD 1600) period, cooks increasingly boiled food. My dissertation research will focus on determining why these people altered their cooking habits, which I hypothesize might be related to changes in food choice and diet. The burned food residues can also be examined for microscopic plant remains, and fatty acids absorbed into the pottery can be chemically analyzed and traced to classes of plants and animals. Using these methods, I hope to find if there are differences in the foods being cooked that might inform why cooking techniques changed. Ultimately, I hope to understand the how and why people living during these time periods chose the food they did and the underlying environmental and cultural factors that influenced their decisions.
19th Century Ceramic Pot (2015)
The Kongo Kingdom, the largest civilization in sub Saharan Africa at the emergence of the African Diaspora, has yet to be fully understood within an archaeological context. My graduate research includes historic, ethnographic, as well as art history to begin to understand the social, cultural, and political ebbs and flows of Kongolese life during the formation and continuation of the African Diaspora. I am the only American archaeologist to work in central Africa since the 1990s and the first dissertation in this region in 50 years, basic anthropological questions are at the forefront of my endeavors. For example, what was the nature of interactions between Kongolese and other ethnic groups in the region? What were the economic trade relationships and how did they incorporate the landscape, mainly the Congo River and the hilly plateaus of the Congo Basin? This project will contribute to a void in anthropological literature on the historic developments and achievements in central Africa.
Kongo Kingdom Excavations (2015