Tag: archaeology 101

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, 

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 I am an archaeologist. These assumptions sometimes diverge further, with people thinking I am a paleontologist. I am sure this is a phenomenon that anthropologists from all subfields experience, but I thought I would turn to the literature to see what documented assumptions about archaeology exist.

The Society for American Anthropology published an article entitled Exploring Public Perceptions and Attitudes about Archaeology. The findings of this study were congruent to the assumptions I hear about anthropology as a whole and more specifically, archaeology. These findings point to the importance of Campus Archaeology Program to include our students, staff, faculty and readers of our blog in the investigation and preservation of our campus’ history and, if previously unaware or uninterested, of introducing them to the greater value of archaeology.

Archaeologists working, via Boston University

Many of us reading know the correct answer: archaeology is the study of the human past through material remains of human action. As for the American public, the findings of the article were surprisingly hopeful. The authors argue that Americans have a fairly accurate understanding of what archaeology is, however the depth of that knowledge and understanding of what archaeologists actually do is lacking and often displays misconceptions, which matches what I shared previously in my personal anecdote.

The article highlights one finding that may explain why people assume I am a paleontologist: the word that comes to mind when an American thinks of archaeology is the word “digging.” Most can correctly decipher that this includes digging artifacts from past history, heritage, and ancient cultures and civilizations, but 8 in 10 would agree that we study dinosaurs and geology as well.

This study was helpful in gauging general knowledge of archaeology and in illustrating a need for a deeper awareness and understanding of what we do and why it is important. The majority surveyed in this article believe archaeology is valuable and should be included in school curriculum. These issues of importance range from conservation laws to preserving remains from past cultures in history. Campus Archaeology Program has been granted the privilege and resposiblity to keep track of changes occuring on our campus and to know who we were in the past and how this shapes where we are going in the future.

Francis Pryor, a British archaeologist asserts, “I believe passionately that archaeology is vitally important.  Without an informed understanding of our origins and history, we will never place our personal and national lives in a true context.  And if we cannot do that, then we are prey to nationalist, fundamentalist and bigots of all sorts, who assert that their revelations or half-truths to which they subscribe are an integral part of human history.”

As archaeologists we have the charge to know human history with deeper understanding of how human behaviors produce real consequences. Now as for why the general public assumes that all anthropologists are necessarily archaeologists, this is still to be discovered.

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 

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 are important towards not only dating a site, but also for understanding the economic and social status of an area. For example, wealthier individuals tend to have porcelain dining sets with intricate designs whereas the lower classes had whiteware sets with less detailed patterns. Luckily, the identification of pottery is a fairly straightforward process based on looking at the paste, glaze and decoration. Since the pottery we find is often in smaller sherds or pieces, it is important to describe the artifact as fully as possible in order to gain as much information as we can from it.

Paste refers to the clay mixture that makes up the vessel. Clay is mixed with other natural substances like sand or silt known as the temper in order to prevent cracking when firing. The paste can be described by its color or translucence, hardness, porosity, and texture. These are divided in the historic period into earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. Earthenware is subdivided into the various colors including whiteware, yellow ware, cream ware, and red ware.

Glaze is the glassy outer and inner coating on the vessel, made from a silicate mixture. The silica is glass like and can be mixed with a number of materials including lead, sodium, potassium, salts, copper or iron. The color and composition of the glaze is important. The glaze varies by time period, region, ware type and preference.

Decoration consists of the methods by which the patterns are applied to the ceramic. They can be applied over or under the glaze. For historic periods, the decoration was either applied free-hand or through the use of transfer prints. Decoration can also include the molded relief patterns. Color and pattern are important in identifying historical periods and regions.

Here are a couple of examples of items we have found at MSU during our excavations and how the identification has proceeded.

White earthenware cup fragments
White earthenware cup fragments

Ceramic #1

Although the smaller version of the picture makes it difficult to see, the paste is a white color and fine grained. We cannot tell from the picture whether it is hard or porous, but we know that it is both. This means that this is most likely a white earthenware. The glaze both internally and externally is white and the vessel lacks any decoration other than the slight molding lines in the handle. Given the simplicity of the piece it is difficult to determine more information, we do know that the piece dated to the earliest era of campus because the handle was added by hand.

Rockingham ceramic fragment
Rockingham ceramic fragment

Ceramic #2

The paste in this piece is much thicker than the previous, with a yellow-brown color, with a medium to fine grain. It is also hard and porous. It is earthenware, specifically yellow ware. The glaze is very distinctive brown and yellow mottled appearance. This pattern in particular is known as Rockingham. The pattern was created by melting the two glaze colors together. The piece also has a distinctive molded appearance that creates two raised areas.

By carefully describing the pottery by its different parts we can piece together what ware it was and discern more social information about the piece. For example, the undecorated mug was likely a piece owned by a student or the campus. The lack of decoration means that it wasn’t from a wealthy household, and is more utilitarian than decorative. Other pieces we have found do have patterns, although they are not the detailed patterns nor are they found on porcelain, suggesting that finer ceramics and nice pottery was not part of the campus.

As we continue to identify our artifacts found over the summer, we will be able to learn more about the students and faculty on campus in the earliest periods.

Works Cited

University of Utah. IMACs Guide to Artifacts. Electronic Resource. http://www.anthro.utah.edu/labs/imacs.html

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 

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 based on a teachable moment in the field. Since then, I have inherited the CAP faunal collection from Saints’ Rest to use as data for my historic sustainability project. Management and analysis of a zooarchaeological collection such as this has been a great love of mine since my first experience with it in college.

Washing a pig jaw.
Washing a pig jaw.

Step 1: Washing. Once the bones are out of the ground, they’re muddy, wet, broken, and frequently full of small roots or salt deposits. Washing them typically involves a plastic basin under a lab sink faucet and a used toothbrush. The irony of scrubbing pig teeth in this manner is never lost. Bones are tough, so a good hard scrub is usually in order, otherwise it can be difficult to see small modifications. Drying can take up to a week.

Step 2: Identification. I like to start by creating a chart of things I want to know, such as bag number, element, species, age, and types of butchery that can been seen on the bone. The data from the chart can be entered into a more comprehensive artifact database later. Butchery and tooth wear forms are also useful. Sources tend to be spread thinly, especially for historical archaeologists, but I never leave home without Schmid’s Atlas of

Reconstructed scapula and Schmid.
Reconstructed scapula and Schmid.

Animal Bones. While it is not strictly necessary to reconstruct individual bones, it can be helpful for identification purposes to glue pieces together that were obviously broken after ending up the in trash heap or during excavation. Having been trained on ancient Near Eastern materials, I sometimes have trouble with the convoluted butchery methods that saws made common in the historic period. Comparing the problem bone to known elements is very helpful. Noting modifications is extremely important, because these give us information about human behavior.

Step 3: Documentation and statistics. Entering as much data as possible into the chart makes seeing patterns easier. Drawing butchered bones with every little modification mark can be tedious, but worth the time to make the information more easily accessible. When the chart is complete, you have a whole mess of numbers and little idea of how many animals are represented by the assemblage. This stage is where MNI (Minimum Number of Individuals) and NISP (Number of Identified Specimens) become the zooarchaeologist’s best friends. Both calculations are necessary to get a range of possible animals divided however you choose, with MNI as the low figure and NISP as the high.

Duco Cement is great for reconstruction.
Duco Cement is great for reconstruction.

Step 4: Care. Usually faunal food remains can be put into archival bags or set on shelves without much hassle if the environment is stable. When they do break during excavation or handling (they are also known to explode during washing) gluing with a stable, clear adhesive compound is an option. For particularly delicate pieces gluing is sometimes necessary to prevent further damage.

Archaeology 101: Shovel Test Pit Survey

Archaeology 101: Shovel Test Pit Survey

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