Tag: archaeology 101

Archaeology 101 Roundup

Archaeology 101 Roundup

We’ll be back to regularly scheduled blogs this Thursday.  But first, a big congratulations to CAP Fellow and former Campus Archaeologist Kate Frederick on the birth of her son! In 2010 CAP posted a series of blogs called Archaeology 101 designed to teach readers some…

Perceptions about Archaeology

Perceptions about Archaeology

As the only non-archaeologist graduate fellow in Campus Archaeology Program (I am a medical anthropologist in training), I wanted to investigate the attitudes that others outside the discipline have toward archaeology. Interestingly enough, when I tell people I am an anthropologist, it is usually assumed…

Day of Archaeology 2012

Day of Archaeology 2012

Beginning last year, archaeologists from around the world took part in the Day of Archaeology 2011. Participation included blogging about one’s daily activities and the average life of an archaeologist. not only did it show the wide range of archaeology projects and specialities from around the world, but it demonstrated the importance of archaeology to the broader community. Campus Archaeology participated by including updates on the work of all of our current grad students working for the program, as well as what we were doing in general.

Today, June 29th, is the second annual Day of Archaeology, and we are proud to be a part of this again! You can see our post here: Excavating Michigan State University with the Campus Archaeology Program. You can also see last year’s post here: A Day in the Life of the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program.

So what is a day in the life of the Campus Archaeology Program like?

This summer, the Campus Archaeology Program has been busy trying to keep ahead of the massive construction plans at Michigan State University, surveying all areas prior to any demolition or excavation. Every week since April has consisted of surveys of large portions of MSU’s historic campus. We’ve even been excavating beneath sidewalks as they are removed and behind fences. This involves not only a lot of physical work, but also constant communication with the construction companies and broader community. All of our work is discussed on our blog, and we have live from the field tweets. Our goal in excavating campus is two-fold: to mitigate and protect the historic and prehistoric landscape at MSU, and to educate the campus and broader community about the importance of archaeology. Our team of summer archaeologists includes both graduate and undergraduate students from MSU who survey, excavate, conduct lab work, interpret materials, and do archival research.

This past week we hosted a group of grandparents and grandkids for MSU’s Grandparent’s University. On Tuesday, we were giving lectures about who we are and what we do, followed by a tour of the historic campus that included a stop by one of our ongoing excavation projects. This unit was put in after extensive survey took place in this area. We found historic clay pipes and a layer of broken brick in a number of shovel test pits, so we opened up a unit in between these pits to further investigate these artifacts. On Wednesday, the kids and grandparents were able to have hands on time examining ceramics, glass and other artifacts found by our archaeologists. They also were able to make some of their own in a style similar to prehistoric Michigan pottery. Here’s a picture of some of the Grandparents U students on our walking tour. We always enjoy these programs because we get the opportunity to teach both grandparents & kids at the same time!

Grandparents University
Grandparents University

Comments by Lynne Goldstein, Director of CAP

Although a lot of the work of Campus Archaeology is in the field, we also do a whole lot of work in the lab and in archives as well. In order to properly understand and interpret what we find, we need to know what kind of information is available about the site or area. Have other archaeologists worked here? Were there buildings here? Did other activities happen here? Before we go out into the field, we do archival research to help us learn as much as we possibly can about the area we are about to explore. That way, we have a better idea of what something we find might be. Our archival work is both on campus and with the State Archaeologist’s Office, as well as in the Library and online.

As of today, we are mostly done with our fieldwork for the summer. Now is the time we spend in our lab, processing and interpreting our findings. It isn’t as dramatic as digging, but it can still be exciting. Plus, it always makes us happy when we can post our reports.

Welcome Back and Why Archaeology Matters

Welcome Back and Why Archaeology Matters

Welcome back to a new semester (and new year) for Campus Archaeology. We’re looking forward to this semester, especially since we’re going to be starting a number of surveys and excavations on campus this Spring. Sadly, we did not receive the funding from the MSU…

Identifying Historic Ceramics on MSU’s Campus

Identifying Historic Ceramics on MSU’s Campus

One of the most numerous types of artifacts that we find on campus includes various types of ceramics. This range from domestic whiteware plates, bowls and cups to more industrial earthenwares for pipes and flower pots. The type of pottery and the decorations on it…

Update from the Lab

Update from the Lab

This blog post was written by our Summer Intern Nancy Svinicki.

After every field school, the work invariably moves into the laboratory for cleaning, pictures, counting and cataloging.  For this summer’s field school, I did a good portion of all of these things.  As my first experience working with artifacts in the lab, it was a great experience.  I’m going to talk a little bit about the process of cleaning, organizing, and cataloging artifacts in the lab.

Bagged artifacts ready for processing
Bagged artifacts ready for processing

Once all the bags are brought into the lab, I separated them by survey or excavation (what we called test pit, or TP) and then organized them into numerical order, just to make sure none of the bags were missing.  Once all the bags were ready, I set myself up to do lots and lots of scrubbing!  Working systematically through first the survey bags, then the excavation bags, cleaning went quite smoothly. Since most of the bags had been sitting for a while, the dirt had dried out, making the pieces a little bit easier to handle and clean.  Cleaning is pretty much as simple as it sounds – a pan of water, some brushes (I used toothbrushes and a large scrub brush for the bigger bricks), and a few strainers to hold the pieces before I transferred them to drying racks.  After cleaning and drying, the artifacts are re-bagged, the tags replaced, and moved down to the cataloging lab.

In cataloging, we document what kinds of artifacts we find and how many of them there are in a single bag (or layer).  We characterize each type of artifact, count them, and weigh them for each level.  As with the cleaning, I moved systematically from survey to excavation, a precaution I took to ensure no artifacts were missing.  After counting and weighing, bags are entered into a computer database organized by the descriptors mentioned earlier – location, depth, descriptive characteristics, and any other pertinent notes.  This is both a qualitative and quantitative system, which allows researchers to not only look at the density of artifacts in the excavation area, and make some general conclusions about the type of formation being excavated, but also support field hypothesis by giving further information spacial relationships and data such as terminus post quem and ante quem.

There were a few obvious patterns that developed as I started to put information into the database.  The first was the concentration of the artifacts. The highest density was in the middle of the northern test pits, between last year’s pit and pit 7.  The depth that yielded the most artifacts was between levels five and seven, around sixty to ninety centimeters down.   Secondly, I saw some general trends in the artifacts themselves.  The pits with the highest density of artifacts found a high number of scientific glassware – test tubes, colorless bottle glass, and the oil lamp that was found.

Oil lamp after cleaning
Oil lamp after cleaning

The oil lamp was the most exciting, being almost completely intact when pulled out of the ground; when I cleaned it in the lab more of the side-wall was trapped in the dirt inside the lamp. After cleaning pound after pound of window glass and corroded nails, that’s VERY exciting.  Pit 7 (in the center of our excavations), also contained the most unique artifacts, notably a few leather shoe soles and some hair clippings.  The highest numbers of artifacts found were glass, specifically colorless window and bottle glass.  In one level of the central pits, there may be enough pieces of window glass to reconstruct a whole pane! Other common types of colorless bottle glass were from the very base, neck and shoulder.  Far less common were the beautiful pieces of cobalt glass (possibly from a candy dish) and yellow-brown bottle glass stamped with swirl designs.  There were a comparable number of whiteware artifacts, of all forms.  But without a doubt, the most artifacts found within our pits in all areas were pieces of brick –both sampled and unsampled.

What can these conclusion say about our sites? The high density of artifacts, along with the high variety, leads me to support our field hypothesis of a trash dump. I would further say that the trash consisted of building refuse as well as human refuse.  The human refuse was likely from a science lab and from living quarters, which would account for the high density of scientific glassware as well as the assortment of dishes, glassware, and oddities such as the hair and shoe soles.

Archaeology 101: GIS

Archaeology 101: GIS

This year my Campus Archaeology Program project is going to be incorporating information from recent Field School’s into the pre-existing GIS map made of the Campus. This will include mapping Shovel Test Pit and excavation location and detail information. The ultimate goal of this project…

Zooarch in the Lab

Zooarch in the Lab

With any archaeological assemblage, excavation is only a small part of the research process. Preliminary care and identification in the field is not designed to hold up for long-term storage and analysis. You may remember my previous post about the faunal identification process, which was…

Archaeology 101: Shovel Test Pit Survey

Archaeology 101: Shovel Test Pit Survey

Chris digs an STP.

Whenever Campus Archaeology is alerted of a construction project on campus,  we typically conduct what is called an archaeological survey to determine if there are any potential archaeological sites in the area. This is important because it gives us the opportunity to quickly examine a large area, and then do more detailed archaeological excavations if we are able to determine that possible sites exist. There are a number of different types of survey that are used, each depending on what equipment is available and what the type of environment being surveyed. We are using two survey techniques while we search for the location of the Weather Bureau: Geophysical Survey and Shovel Test Pit Survey. This post will discuss the latter.

Shovel Test Pits, or STPs, are a way for archaeologists to cover a large area quickly. STPs are minimally invasive, meaning that they do not disturb a lot of ground, yet provide enough data for us to determine how viable an area is for further archaeological testing. The STP is a shovel-by-shovel width hole dug straight into the ground. The dirt is sifted, and artifacts are collected and their type and quantity is recorded on a map. We then examine the map for areas where their are significant artifact clusters, and identify those areas as potential archaeological sites that need to be further examined.

Let’s use our survey at the Weather Bureau as an example. Our first step was to establish a grid and pace off the location of where the STPs would go. Because we are in a small area, and were hoping to identify a building location, we decided to put STPs every 5 meters. In larger areas, these STPs would have been spaced at 10 or 15 meters. After this was settled, the STPs were excavated, artifact counts were recorded, and plotted on the map. STPs with significant concentrations are referred to as “positive” while ones with no or few artifacts are “negative”.

When we were finished, definite clusters of positive STPs began to emerge on the map near the north west corner. At this point, it is customary to excavate “radials”. These are additional STPs that are dug to the north, south, east, and west of each positive STPs, giving us a more refined picture of how these clusters are delineated. If a positive STP is surrounded by negative radials, than it is typically assumed there is no site there. In this case, these radials ended up being positive, indicating that there was significant human activity occurring in this space. Because these items were primarily bricks and nails, it is assumed that this was most likely the location of a building, probably the Weather Bureau.

The next step would be to do further testing to determine how much of the building is still intact. It is quite possible that this was just brick rubble and fill from the building’s demolition, not intact features or foundations. Without STP survey, however, we would not have been able to identify where to begin these excavations, making this a critical piece of archaeological methodology to understand.

Archaeology 101: Reading Stratigraphy

Archaeology 101: Reading Stratigraphy

This week on Facebook and Twitter we are showcasing a number of photos of profile walls from our excavations, in a section called “Stratigraphy Week!” I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss one of the more important elements of archaeological excavation: reading…