Wedgwood Ceramics on MSU’s Historic Campus

Last week I spent some time in the CAP lab with Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright resorting and accessioning artifacts from the 2008 and 2009 Saint’s Rest rescue excavation. This excavation uncovered many ceramic artifacts (among other items) including plates, bowls, and serving dishes. Among the many fragments of whiteware, Lisa showed me one fragment that stood out: part of a plate, embossed with a pattern of figs and bearing a Wedgwood maker’s mark.

Wedgewood blue jasperware. Image Source

Wedgewood blue jasperware. Image Source

If you’ve ever found yourself deep in the throes of an Antiques Roadshow binge-watching spiral, chances are you’ve heard of Wedgwood china. Perhaps you’ve seen pieces of Wedgwood’s iconic blue jasperware decorated with Greek figures in white bas-relief. Or, perhaps you’ve seen one of Wedgwood’s Fairyland Lustre Art Nouveau vases, opulently adorned with jewel-toned elves and dragons. Since the founding of the company in 1759, Wedgwood has graced the tables of such dignitaries as Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, Catherine the Great of Russia, and President Theodore Roosevelt (1). And, as the Saint’s Rest bowl fragment indicates, Wedgwood also graced the tables of MAC. For my blog post, I researched Wedgwood to get a better idea of how a piece of the ceramic dynasty made its way to our campus.

The story of the CAP Wedgwood begins in the 17th century in the rural English county of Staffordshire. The soil in Staffordshire wasn’t much for farming, but the region was rich in clay, salt, lead, and coal – key ingredients for making pottery. The use of coal for fueling kiln fires gave Staffordshire potters an advantage over other rural workshops that still depended on timber for fuel (2). For centuries, Staffordshire was known as a prominent center for pottery production and innovation.

Josiah Wedgewood. Image Source

Josiah Wedgewood. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery (source)

The Wedgwood dynasty began with a Staffordshire potter named Josiah Wedgwood (1). Born into a family of potters, a leg amputation left Josiah unable to work as a “thrower” in his family’s workshop (3). Instead, he developed an interest in experimenting with formulas and design. Wedgwood developed a durable, attractive, cream-colored type of earthenware that gained favor with Queen Charlotte (3). The serving set he made her pleased her so much, Charlotte agreed to allow Wedgwood to call himself the “Queen’s Potter” (1). This celebrity endorsement set Wedgwood’s sales booming.

Over the years, Wedgwood continued to innovate. He developed two new types of stoneware known as Black Basalt and Jasperware (3). Both are known for their matte, biscuit finish. Jasperware was produced in a variety of colors, though light blue was the most iconic. White ornamental appliques were molded separately and baked onto the pottery in emulation of Roman cameo glass vases. In 1773, Wedgwood developed a method of transfer printing enamel (4). This decorative technique reduced inconsistencies, eliminated the need for hand-painting decorations, and gave customers a wider array of customization options (3). Perhaps Wedgwood’s greatest innovation was as a businessman. Wedgwood sold his products via printed catalogs and advance orders (5). Since he knew which pieces his customers wanted, he was able to reduce waste and therefore costs.

So how did we get from the elegant designs of the Staffordshire Potteries to the humble piece of CAP Wedgwood? The answer is in the design: white ironware, to be precise.

Wedgewood plate base with makers mark and RD stamp.

Wedgewood plate base with makers mark and RD stamp.

The ceramic game changed in 1813 when a Staffordshire potter developed a new type of vitreous pottery dubbed “ironstone china” or, sometimes, graniteware (6). In the 19th century, ironstone quickly gained popularity as a cheap, mass-producible alternative to porcelain. It was especially popular in the America. In the 1840’s, undecorated white ironstone headed for America comprised the largest export market for Staffordshire’s potteries.

Wedgewood fig design fragments.

Wedgewood fig design fragments.

In contrast to England, where customers favored elegant designs, American consumers preferred plainer tableware (6). In the 1850’s and 60’s, however, English potteries (including Wedgwood) decided to introduce some whimsy into the American market. Potteries began embossing designs inspired by the American prairies. Stoneware from this era were commonly embossed with grains such as wheat, corn and oats, or fruits such as grapes, peaches, berries, and— like the CAP Wedgwood—figs. Because of its durability and popularity in rural America, this china became known as “farmer’s” or “threshers’” china (6).

So, there we have it. The CAP Wedgwood fragment from Saint’s Rest may have made its way to campus as a piece of thresher’s china. Its durable form and folksy fig design likely appealed to someone living at a rural Michigan college.

In parting, I’d like to leave you with some (non-alternative) facts about Josiah Wedgwood, a fascinating figure in his own right.

Fact 1: We may have Josiah Wedgwood to thank for theory of evolution. Wedgwood was the grandfather of both Charles Darwin and Darwin’s wife, Emma (7). Inheritance from the Wedgwood fortune is often credited for allowing Darwin the leisure time to sail on the S.S. Beagle and formulate his theory of evolution.

Fact 2: Apart from his pioneering efforts in the ceramics industry, Wedgwood was a prominent abolitionist (8). In the late 18th century, he commissioned and paid for a series of iconic cameo medallions that became the emblem for the abolitionist movement. The design depicts a kneeling slave beneath the inscription “Am I not a man and a brother?” The figure is prepared in Wedgwood’s own Black Basalt against a white background. It became fashionable for men and women to wear these medallions, which helped popularize the abolitionist cause.

Anti-slavery medallion (courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History)

Anti-slavery medallion (courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History)

 

References

  1. https://www.wedgwood.co.uk/history/
  2. http://www.thepotteries.org/six_towns/index.htm
  3. http://www.thepotteries.org/potters/wedgwood.htm
  4. http://virtual.parkland.edu/lstelle1/len/archguide/documents/arcguide.htm
  5. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/quick-history-wedgwoodretrospe-131733
  6. http://www.thepotteries.org/types/ironstone.htm
  7. http://www.thepotteries.org/misc/Darwin.htm
  8. http://www.abolitionseminar.org/the-eighteenth-century-atlantic-world/wedgwoodmedallion/

Rock Me Like a Hurricane (Lamp shade): Kerosene Lamps on Campus

Examples of Kerosene Lamps with Hurricane Shade - Image Source

Examples of Kerosene Lamps with Hurricane Shade – Image Source

During the west circle historic privy excavation, 773 fragments of hurricane oil glass lamp shades were found. Lamps that use these shades are characterized by a wick dipped into the fuel source that would have been surrounded by a glass globe. Glass lamps may initially seem like a fairly routine find, which of course they are to an extent. But, consider the role of electricity in your own life. Now, imagine what studying must have been like in a small dorm room with the only light coming from an oil lamp! Clearly the students’ all-nighters would have been interrupted by the tending of the lamps.

Female student in dorm room 1896 - oil lamp can been seen on her dresser. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Female student in dorm room 1896 – oil lamp can been seen on her dresser. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Rule 81 from the 1868 M.A.C. Regulations. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Rule 81 from the 1868 M.A.C. Regulations. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The rules of the Michigan Agricultural College from 1868 clearly state that, “Filling a lamp with kerosene when it is burning, or in the evening or night is forbidden under penalty of suspension or expulsion.” However, as we know from the presence of clay pipes and alcohol bottles found in campus excavations, students often subverted the rules. I imagine many a lamp was kept burning as students hurriedly tried to get through the material they needed to know for a tough botany or chemistry course. Though the early campus buildings were constructed of mixed materials, the rules regarding lamps were clearly designed to cut down on fire hazards in dorm rooms.

Ancient Roman Oil Lamps, 1st-5th century AD - Image Source

Ancient Roman Oil Lamps, 1st-5th century AD – Image Source

There is archaeological evidence for the use of oil-lamps for thousands of years, while the kerosene-fueled lamp was introduced around 1850 (1). Ancient Romans used lamps made of stone, shell, or ceramics and fueled by the abundantly available olive oil (2-3). Oil lamps appear in Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, and Christian texts, usually referencing lighting some spiritual way or the light as a source of direction (1).

I am sure we are all very grateful for the widely available electricity we enjoy today, but in other rural parts of the world kerosene lamps are still used today where electricity is too expensive or inaccessible. Kerosene as a fuel source rivals even the amount of U.S. jet fuel consumption per year! While kerosene lamps like the ones found on campus consume about 77 billion liters of fuel per year, the U.S. airlines report usage of about 76 billion liters of jet fuel per year (4).

Interestingly, CAP has only found oil lamps at the sites of the historic privy (associated with Saints’ Rest) and the site of Beaumont West which is associated with College Hall. These locations make sense as students would have been occupying these spaces after the sun went down. Recently, the City of Boston Archaeology Program (5) located a complete oil lamp at the bottom of a privy dated to 1835. CAP has had no such luck with finding an intact lamp, which is not unexpected since one careless knock into a table could have sent a lamp flying and glass shattering. We have been able to reconstruct some of the lamp shade fragments, but their presence in the privy associated with the old dormitory lends credence to the idea that the lamps ended up here due to breakage. Perhaps it was all to common for students at Saints Rest to make their trip back to the dorm in the dark, after accidentally breaking a lamp shade, and hiding the evidence down the privy shaft.

References:

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_lamp

(2) http://www.sciencebuzz.org/museum/object/2003_05_roman_oil_lamp

(3) http://www.ancientresource.com/lots/roman/roman-oil-lamps.html

(4) http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_cons_prim_dcu_nus_a.htm

(5) https://www.facebook.com/BostonArchaeologyProgram/?fref=ts

If the Shoe Fits: Understanding Changing Fashion Through Footwear

It may seem unusual to dig up a pair of shoes, yet shoes are not totally uncommon on archaeological excavations. Just last week a report from Northumberland, England announced a find of more than 400 shoes discovered at the Roman fort of Vindolanda. Typically the entire shoe is not preserved, rather the leather from the soles or uppers, as well as any metal used for the lace rivets are what preserves. CAP has uncovered parts of shoes several times, including in the West Circle Privy, the Gunson trash pit, and excavations at west Beaumont Tower. However this summer, while working at Station Terrace we encountered a nearly complete pair of shoes near the bottom of the excavation unit.

Shoes from Station Terrace after removal from excavation unit. Photo by Lisa Bright

Shoes from Station Terrace after removal from excavation unit. Photo by Lisa Bright

You can learn a lot about fashion, gender, and even identity from shoes. Sure, you can get technical and talk about the way the shoe was crafted, is the outsole stitched, nailed, cemented, etc. But shoes can also inform us about changing gender perspectives as seen through fashion over time.

Stenciling (brogueing) detail from lace area of the right shoe. Image Source: Lisa Bright

Stenciling (brogueing) detail from lace area of the right shoe. Image Source: Lisa Bright

When the field crew was working to uncover and remove the shoes, they informed me that they had found a pair of women’s shoes. At first glance, it’s easy to see how they came to this conclusion. The pointed toe, the stacked heel, the decorative brogueing, and the loop style ties are typical of women’s shoes today. But these are not women’s shoes, these are a pair of men’s dress shoes. We needed to remember the context and time period of this particular site to properly identify these shoes. Station Terrace was used on campus from the early 1890s until 1924, and men’s fashion, specifically footwear, was very different during this period.   Based on the shape, style, and height/width of the heel these shoes were most likely produced in the the early 1900s (1900-1920).

Closeup of men of Tr'e House circa 1908. Note the different styles of shoes. Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Closeup of men of Tr’e House circa 1908. Note the different styles of shoes. Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Chemistry Class circa 1914. Several different shoe and suit styles are represented. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Chemistry Class circa 1914. Several different shoe and suit styles are represented. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The history of men’s fashion is often overlooked, or overshadowed by women’s fashion.  Although the changes in mens fashion from the 1890s to the 1920s is not as drastic as changes in women’s fashion, differences do exist.

Group of students pose with frame c. 1895. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Group of students pose with frame c. 1895. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The Edwardian clothing era (named for England’s Prince Edward VII) was characterized by slight changes to the cuts of jackets, collar styles, and sport and fitness clothing. Men wore lose, plain, suits with wide lapels, called Sack suits (see the above image).  During the Edwardian era the shoes did change considerably from the Victorian era. Men’s shoes fell into three distinct categories; boots, oxfords, and pumps. Boots were designed for every day wear and traveling. They were often two tone, with a dark bottom half and white upper half designed to mimic a shoe spats. The oxford, typically used for business or work, is very similar to men’s dress shoes today.

1912 Sears Catalog ad for men's dress shoes. Note the bows and high heel. Image Source

1912 Sears Catalog ad for men’s dress shoes. Note the bows and high heel. Image Source

Men’s dress shoes are where perhaps the greatest variation from todays style occurs, for they were classified as pumps. Yes, pumps. In the Edwardian era, men’s formal dress shoes look like a hybrid of today’s men’s oxford and a women’s low-heeled flat. Typically they had the same stenciling (broqueing) details of an oxford, a high arch, and a 1-2 inch thick heel. It’s also important to remember that thin string shoelaces weren’t a thing yet. Shoes either buttoned, or were laced with a ½ inch wide silk ribbon and tied in a bow. You can even see these bows in the two historic pictures featured earlier in this post.

Today we may think that a 2 inch heel and bow are feminine, but it’s important to remember that cultural ideals of what is appropriate for a particular gender change through time. In fact, men’s shoes had high heels long before women’s shoes did. (See this article, or if you find yourself in Toronto stop by the Bata shoe museum’s exhibit “Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels”).

The teens marked the end of the Edwardian period (1890-1910). During the teens men’s fashion was heavily influenced by military apparel from WWI.

These shoes provide a unique glimpse into everyday life at Station Terrace.  Although we will never know why these shoes were left behind in the buildings basement, I’m glad they were.

References:

https://www.bustle.com/articles/126280-a-short-history-of-high-heels-from-ancient-greece-to-carrie-bradshawShoe

Making Sense of a Little Piece of Leather: Behind the Scenes with the Shoemaker’s Apprentice

https://www.gentlemansemporium.com/mens-edwardian-clothing.php

http://www.archaeology.org/news/4901-161011-england-vindolanda-shoes

https://archive.org/details/catalogno12400sear

 

Detroit: Stove Capital of the World

Detroit Stove Works, 1883, via ATDetroit

Detroit Stove Works, 1883, via ATDetroit

For most people, Detroit is known as the Motor City.  With the big three companies situated around the city, Detroit is a proud producer of automobiles for customers all over the world.  However, what people don’t know is that cars aren’t the only product that Detroit was once famous for.  Even before the first Model T rolled off the assembly line and on to the city streets, Detroit was known as the “Stove Capital of the World.”  Because of Michigan’s abundance of natural resources, the 19th and 20th century would prove to be an industrious time period for Michigan; the large amount of cast iron stoves produced in Michigan during this time is a clear indication of this.  There were many stove producing companies within the state, but the “big three” included the Detroit Stove Works, Michigan Stove Company, and the Peninsula Stove Company.

So why is this important? As you may already know, the Campus Archaeology staff spent part of this past June at the Saints’ Rest site, digging under the sidewalks and eventually expanding to a trench.  Saint’s Rest was the first dorm to be used on the MSU campus, and it stood between the years 1856 and 1876, until it (sadly) caught on fire and burnt to the ground.  The site was first excavated in 2005 by CAP, and we have continued working on it since then.

This summer, we were thrilled to discover a piece of a (very rusted and burnt) stove door at the Saints’ Rest site.  It’s not very large, and with the large amount of rust on it it’s hard to make out many features.  However, we do know it says “Detroit Mich” on the center of the door, and the number 25 is on the bottom edge.   Because Saints’ Rest burnt down in 1876, we know that the stove had to have been manufactured and used before 1876.  This is interesting, because the Detroit Stove Works wasn’t founded until 1864, and the Michigan Stove Company was founded in 1874.  This probably means that the stove we found on campus was probably one of the first stoves to be made in Michigan for it to have been on campus the day Saints’ Rest burnt down in 1876.

Stove Door found at Saints Rest Rescue Trench 1

Stove Door found at Saints Rest Rescue Trench 1

This is one of the coolest parts about historical archaeology.  We can take written and recorded accounts of what was going on at a certain point in history and compare it to the artifacts we find.  This comparison then helps us to fill in the gaps between what is written and what is found.  The stove door we found is an example of this.  From the writing on the door, we know it was manufactured in Detroit, Michigan.  From there we can figure out that it was probably made from either the Detroit Stove Works company or the Michigan Stove Company.  We also know the stove lived a short life – it was manufactured in the late 1860s to early 1870s, and was then burnt down with the rest of the building it resided in during the Saints’ Rest fire of 1876.  Of course, we’ll never know exactly what “life” this stove led, but from the information we do know, we can figure out the general idea of where it was made, who made it, and what became of it.

Works Cited

“Tales of Michigan” by Constance M. Jerlecki

Inkwells on Campus

Hey everyone, guess who’s back!  Yep, after six weeks of field school in Belize, I’m back in East Lansing, working with Campus Archaeology to unearth the past couple of hundred years of Michigan State University.  While I was away, the rest of the Campus Archaeology team worked hard at different sites on campus, including the area where Morrill Hall used to stand, the construction site at Landon hall and the West Circle sidewalks.  Plenty of the usual nails, ceramic pieces and, of course, dirt were found, but what really interested me was a glass inkwell that was uncovered.

Today, when we need to jot something down on paper, we grab a ballpoint pen or a mechanical pencil.  However, throughout the 1800s and even into the early 1900s, inkwells were the only way one could transfer thought onto paper (except for the typewriter, but that’s a whole different story).  Inkwells were made from an assortment of materials, including shell, pottery, wood, sandstone, porcelain, cast bronze, iron and brass.  Sometimes they were more utilitarian in make, or sometimes they were made with extreme ornamentation, depending on who owned the inkwell.  Those of a more aristocratic standing often had inkwells shaped as animals or other small statues.  Fun fact: inkwells were also often used as paper weights.

Inkwell found on MSU's campus

Inkwell found on MSU’s campus

The inkwell that we found was a simple small one, made from clear glass.  Over the years it has been broken, but we have at least two distinct pieces of it – the base and the top.  What would have sealed the inkwell is missing, but based on pictures of similar inkwells I found online, it is likely that this had a cork top that has gone missing over the years.  At the bottom of the base the glass is embossed with the words “Higgins Brooklyn NY.”  I googled this company to see if I could find out anything more about the bottle, and I learned that this inkwell was most likely manufactured sometime in the early 1900s.  This makes sense, because the university wasn’t founded until 1862, so the inkwell would have to be from sometime after the beginnings of the school and before inkwells were completely replaced by pens.  The plain, simple make of the inkwell is also consistent with universities from that time.  Just as the majority of college students today don’t have a lot of money to spend on extravagant purchases, many students in the late 1800s/early 1900s also didn’t have a lot of money to spend.  They wouldn’t have wasted their money on inkwells that were excessively and colorfully decorated.  Instead, they would have used cheaper inkwells – likely those made of clear glass.  This probably goes for the professors and administrators on campus, too.

While it may seem that an inkwell isn’t a huge or significant find on a college campus, we can still learn information from this artifact.  On the writing utensil timeline, there is an overlap between pens and inkwells.  The first fountain pen was made in the 1880s, but since we know that this inkwell is from the early 1900s, we can discern that students on the MSU campus were still using inkwells even after pens had been invented.  Again, this could be due to a financial reason; perhaps pens were more expensive than inkwells when they were first invented.  Even though all we have of this inkwell are two small pieces, barely six centimeters in diameter, it’s still as valuable to us as any other find would be.

What is that?

Mystery Object, and yes the back of my car is covered with a duck sheet

We’ve found some interesting artifacts on campus, some of which can be a little difficult to identify, and others that are a little bit weird. There are random chunks of metal, bent and rusted until identification is impossible. Old bottles that have lost their labels and have weird embossing that make determining function hard. We’ve even found human hair! Many artifacts we find are more industrial and relating to building construction- items that we don’t run into on a daily basis. Others are things no longer used by our society such as parts of slate pens or inkwells. Usually, with a little bit of cleaning, research into potential artifacts and imagination we can come up with at least an idea of use or function.

I’m totally stumped on this one. This large circular hunk of concrete was given to us by construction workers putting in new steam pipes south of Beaumont Tower. The concrete has a horseshoe embedded in it, that appears to be some type of handle. There’s even a nail still in one of the horseshoe holes. They said it was a sump pump cover, but that doesn’t really make sense. It might be from an old cistern. It is definitely more homemade or make do. The thing is quite heavy show it would be a great cover for something that needed protecting. One suggestion from the department it that its an early version of a kettleball… Not too sure about that one.

Any thoughts?

CAP Typologies

Whiteware Ceramic Sherds

While I’ve been visiting the archives a couple of times a week, looking for information I can use for my research project, I’ve also been down in the CAP lab with Blair, putting together a type collection that can be used for future CAP members, in order to help classify artifacts that have been/will be found. Since I haven’t had much experience thus far in archaeological labs, it’s been interesting to learn what exactly a type collection even is, and to get the opportunity to look at all the collections that Campus Archaeology has obtained since it was first started. During my first visit down to the lab, Katy helped me to understand the difference between the types of ceramics we have (earthenware vs. whiteware vs. stoneware, etc), the difference between the types of nails we have, and ways to classify the types of glass we have. To someone who has had experience in the lab, this may all seem like very trivial stuff, but for someone who had never seen a type collection before, or had gotten to classify artifacts before (namely, me) I had to start somewhere, and learning the basics was definitely necessary. I was given a couple of informational sheets to look over, along with some websites, until the next time I could get back in the lab.

Different types of Nails

As an undergraduate, this work in the lab has really helped me learn some necessary skills that I will continue to use as a graduate student and into my career life. Granted, I’m not necessarily looking to be a historical archaeologist. As of right now, I’m looking into graduate schools that will help me focus on bioarcheaology, specifically in Central America. However, this doesn’t mean that what I’m doing in the CAP lab won’t help me in the future. What a typology is and how it is formed/used is necessary to know for working with artifacts from any time period, not just historical artifacts. Even though bioarcheaology focuses on human skeletons, all archeological fields can be connected in some way or other, and it could definitely be useful to me to someday use what I know about typologies to help with whatever research I happen to be doing. It’s also been nice to get some experience in the lab, just in general. As an archeologist, I will definitely spend much of my future in labs, and learning the dos and don’ts of a lab is obviously important. Not to mention lab experience looks good on graduate school applications, which is definitely something I’m keeping in mind as I get closer to graduation.

As cliché as it sounds, it’s also been a good experience to work with someone else in the lab. Like I said earlier, I wasn’t extremely knowledgeable about type collections, and it’s been nice to work with a graduate student who knows more. Blair has been very enjoyable to work with, and she offers up good suggestions that I otherwise may not have thought of. It’s also been nice to get to know a graduate anthropology student. As a junior, I’m starting to look into graduate schools and what kind of life I will live after I graduate from MSU, and working with not only Blair, but with Katy and some of the other graduate students too, has given me a peek at that.

For an actual summary about what Blair and I have been doing in the lab, take a glance at her blog entry. It’s been a rewarding experience working down there with her, and I have to say, there is really no better way to learn about this great university’s history than actually getting one’s hands on the actual artifacts that tell us so much.

In the lab… Establishing a CAP Type Collection

We are now deep into the throws of creating a typology for the CAP artifacts from across campus to establish a system for adding new objects during future work. In archaeology this set of artifacts is called a type collection which allows us to be able to potentially identify new objects based on similarities of objects that have already been found on a specific site. Type collections are ideal for acclimating new students to the variety of objects found on the site. The collection will then be used as a reference point for identifying objects as they discover new items in the ground. With a combination of Bethany’s organization skills and my knowledge of historic artifacts we hope to establish a useful collection of artifacts found on a typical mid-west campus.

CAP, as you know, has had quite a few excavations and surveys since its inception in 2006. Although those artifacts are all cataloged and stored, we needed to develop a system that allows us to identify and manage new artifacts in an orderly fashion and that can build on and expand our work, rather than duplicating the work of previous years. Thus far, CAP has artifact assemblages from across campus including, Beaumont Tower, the Brody Neighborhood, the historic site of Saint’s Rest, Beal Street and the collection continues to grow as MSU changes and expands its footprint over the next few years. Bethany and I have begun to unravel the multiple types of artifacts found within these assemblages to identify which ones represent basic archaeological finds on campus settings from the 19th, 20th and now 21st century.

Why are we going through all of this trouble? Well part of the systematic examination of objects from the past requires establishing a set of characteristics that frames how we interpret new data. This process can be done at several different levels; at the level of specific sites, activity zones, or by time of use. Our aim is to focus on the level of types as sites as these sites maintained a variety of functions throughout the expansion of MSU. We will focus on classifying the types of object we find with reference to their identifiable material, form, and use. Therefore when future archaeologists find similar objects in the ground on campus, they can make appropriate relationships with the similar objects we already found in previous years. We can then use these similarities and compare them to make interpretations about past human behavior here on campus.

We began our typology with sorting out the Brody collections. These collections take up a significant portion of the CAP collections and it contains a variety of artifacts ranging from whiskey bottles to construction nails. Our strategy used the same artifact identification instrument as the ones from the field schools so that we stayed close to the needs of the students.

First, we separated all of the artifacts into various types: metal objects, ceramics, glass bottles, and the like. The Brody Complex collection had a significant amount of full intact bottles which allow us to be able to gather shapes, form, makers marks, body type, manufacturing style and often times actual usage information. We identified very good examples of some alcohol, druggists, and household forms such as this medium size milk jug shown on the right.

Rockingham Ware from CAP Collection

The collection also contains a very good example of “rockingham” pottery. This style was largely popular in the 19th century and although in the US it refers to the thick brown glazed earthenware, the name actually refers to a British rococo style of the same era. The US version shown below on the left, was typically made in a pottery factory in Ohio.

All laid out in the lab, the collections makes some very cool statements about life on campus. The pieces we pulled from the entire collection will provide a snap shot of the types of objects typically found at MSU and what campuses assemblages can potentially contain. As we just finished the Brody, College Hall/ Beaumont Tower, and Beal Garden collections, we know that the Beal Street collections will surely add to expanding our typology. Stay tuned for more photos and information about the typical artifacts found in our collections!

Under the Sidewalks of the Sacred Space

If you’ve been following our twitter feed or facebook, you know that we are hard at work surveying beneath the sidewalks around Linton Hall and Beaumont Tower. As part of the campus construction, a majority of the sidewalks within the sacred space are being renovated. Sidewalk replacement involves removal of the old walk, flattening the ground, laying down sand, and then covering the area with fresh cement. This process is fairly quick, and most walks are removed and replaced in an afternoon. However, the sacred space is an important area for MSU’s history. By digging beneath the sidewalks as they are removed we are able to get a glimpse at sections of the sacred space that we haven’t been able to access. These sections are also protected by the sidewalks and are therefore more likely to contain preserved artifacts.

With a team of grad students we began working two weeks ago, and have been fairly busy since then following the demolition crews. So what has been underneath the sidewalks you tread across everyday? Here are some of our finds from these surveys.

Beaumont Northwest Sidewalk Survey: Salt Glazed Stoneware

Ceramics are one of the primary types of objects we find on campus, although usually it is more delicate plain whiteware. This piece of pottery is stoneware. Stoneware is thicker than whiteware and non-porous, which means it is impervious to liquid even without a glaze. This particular piece has a grey glazed exterior, light yellow-white paste, and a brown salt glazed interior. You can see that it has an ‘orange peel’ like interior, which is indicative of the salt glazing process. This glaze is important because it makes the interior even more sealed against liquids and perfect for domestic kitchen use.

Left to Right: Salt Glazed Stoneware, Square Cut Nail, Rusted Square Cut Nail

Beaumont North Sidewalk Survey: Square Cut Nails

When we find metal from the 19th century it is usually so rusted that it makes identification of what it exactly is very difficult. Nails look like reddish brown tree stems (and can be easily confused with them) instead of the smooth grey metal they actually are. While digging to the northwest of Beaumont Tower we found two surprisingly clean square cut nails. This style of nail was used from the 1820’s to 1910’s. Their great preservation makes them an invaluable resource as we can use them to train students in identification. (To learn more about styles of nails we fin on campus you can read a previous blog post on the subject)

Linton Hall South Sidewalk Survey: Glazed Brick

Unit 214 under Linton Hall Sidewalk

Throughout campus we find bricks. They were collected from the demolished historic buildings and used to modify the landscape. We find them primarily around the river banks where they would have been dumped to prevent flooding. During this section of the survey we found dozens of bricks. Since we have found hundreds of these, we don’t usually keep them. We do however keep bricks that have been painted or glazed. We found a number of bricks with a grey glazed exterior. During the firing process, this paint was added. This makes the brick impervious to weather and reduces deterioration. Our bricks appear to have primarily a grey salt glaze to them.

An Unexpectedly Old Artifact: The Paperclip

Ad for Common Sense Clip, Via Office Museum

On June 7th during an excavation in West Circle Drive we recovered a paperclip. Now, you should know that we don’t keep anything that is definitely modern. We don’t keep the crushed beer cans from tailgating or the McDonald’s straws from littering. We did keep a paperclip, although whether or not to do this was debated. Can a paperclip really tell us anything about the past? Are they even considered historic?

For a while the paperclip was forgotten among the dozens of bags of artifacts from our extensive surveys, that is until yesterday when we began our identification and cataloging. Out of sheer curiosity we searched online for information about the paperclip and were shocked at how old the paperclip is. Paperclips were invented the same year as the typewriter, ten years before the telephone, and twenty years before Coca Cola or barbed wire. That’s right, by the time the matchbook was invented, paperclips were already of legal drinking age.

History of the Paper Clip

Gem Clip, Via Office Museum

The first bent steel wire paper clip was patented by Samuel B. Fay in 1867. Its original purpose was for attaching tickets to fabric, although the patent recognized that it could be used to attach papers together. However, advertisements for the paperclip aren’t found until 1899 so it is unlikely that there were any significant sales prior to the late 1890’s. Another design of the paperclip was patented by Erlman J. Wright in 1877 and was advertised at that time for use in fastening newspapers. A flood of paperclip patents were found for 1897, indicating that there was widespread use of this item in offices in this period. A trade publication from 1900 stated that “The wire clip for holding office papers together has entirely superseded the use of the pin in all up-to-date offices” (Early Office Museum 2012).

Paperclip Artifact from June 7 Excavations

Paperclip- The Artifact

Based on the descriptions from early advertisements, we can tell that our paperclip is a Gem type that was first introduced in 1894. The only problem is that Gem style paperclips are for the most part unchanged since their introduction in material and design, and the machines for creating them are same in design as the 1930’s machines. Some are covered with colorful plastics, but ours was not so this distinction is unhelpful. Given that other artifacts from the level include historic cut nails and glass, it is likely our clip dates to the early 20th century.

Fun Facts about Paperclips

While doing research on the paperclip, we also learned some fun facts. Did you know the Herbert Spencer (individual who coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’) is often attributed with inventing the clip in the early 19th century based on a journal entry that describes a paper fastener he is using?

A Norwegian, Johan Vaaler (1866–1910), has erroneously been identified as the inventor of the paper clip due to some poor German reporting in the 1920’s. During WWII the Norwegians wore them on their lapels after national pins were outlawed by the Nazis. It was a symbol of solidarity and being bound together, combined with the nationalism of the country’s supposed invention of the tool. Following the war, the paperclip became a national symbol!

20 billion paperclips are produced annually in the United States, and a study estimated that the majority of these are not used for holding paper together- but rather are used for other tools for technology (CD-ROM ejector, iPhone SIM release, etc), bent apart, used to make chains and bracelets, or even used as lock picking devices (Wikipedia).