The Ritual Landscape of Michigan State University

Last week I attended the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting, held this year in Washington D.C. This was a particularly pertinent meeting for Campus Archaeology because a symposium was held in honor of Dr. Lynne Goldstein. As she nears retirement and the end of her tenure as professor and CAP Director, it was evident from the symposium that her influence on the field of archaeology is far from over. The impact of her mentorship to students and the collaboration with colleagues was felt throughout every paper.

One theme that prevailed throughout the symposium was landscape and the ritual use of space. Dr. Goldstein has written extensively about mortuary patterns (how, where, and why people bury their dead) and regional analysis to evaluate patterns of settlement and ritual land use. Papers from MSU’s own Dr. William Lovis and Dr. Jodie O’Gorman, in addition to former Campus Archaeology fellow Dr. Amy Michael, all paid tribute to Dr. Goldstein’s legacy by considering their own research from this spatial perspective.

This got me thinking: what is the ritual landscape of Michigan State University, both past and present? And how might we see this archaeologically?

Dr. O’Gorman discussed how migrating populations may maintain certain rituals from their place of origin, while also engaging in new rituals in order to integrate both into the social and natural environment of their new homes. This is reflected in the environment of a college campus. Students come to MSU from across Michigan, the US, and abroad bringing their own rituals and personal items with them. However, once students arrive on campus, they form and engage in a united identity: that of an MSU student. This identity can then be enacted through rituals that are often closely tied to specific locations across the campus landscape.

Football Revelry ca. 1910

Football Revelry ca. 1910. Image Source

MSU tail gaiting today. Image source.

MSU tail gaiting today. Image source.

Sports comprise an important part aspect of MSU identity. Football games and tailgating are important rituals at MSU. While football itself might not leave behind the much in the way of archaeological remains (besides a giant stadium), tailgating certainly might. Archaeologists often find refuse pits with large amounts of food refuse and broken pottery, the remnants of ancient feasting events, or large meals accompanying special occasions or ceremonies. Many ancient societies held community-wide events that left significant archaeological signatures, such a large amounts of broken pottery and food refuse. Today, the area around the tennis courts on the MSU campus are the hub of student tailgating, a form of feasting, and will likely someday be a treasure trove of interesting finds (at least those items missed by MSU’s otherwise stellar clean-up crews). If tailgating or other sport-related revelries were historically held elsewhere on campus, we may find evidences of these activities during our campus surveys.

Sacred Space during the early days of the campus

Sacred Space during the early days of the campus. Image source

Sacred Space today

Sacred Space today. Image source

The “Sacred Space” is the large open area north of Beaumont Tower, which is the unofficial “center” of campus.  New construction has been banned in this area since the 1870s. Although students certainly use this space, and in the future we may find refuse of their presence there, we would not expect to find much in the way of trash pits or construction refuse dating to after fits establishment (although the pre-1870s archaeology of this area is quite rich). This is common of many ancient city center plazas, where city-wide ceremonies were held. Sometimes the absence of structures or other archaeological evidence is the strongest indicator of ceremonial space as they are kept clean and clear of structures to allow room for ceremonies and their participants.

Sparty Statue - Image Source

Sparty Statue – Image Source

Graduation is arguably the most significant ritual enacted on a college campus. Graduates routinely get their pictures taken next to the Sparty statue on north campus, and may even hold more significance in this milestone than the location of the actual graduation ceremony. Sparty is what archaeologists call a “monument,” or large, immovable objects that visually mark space with significance and meaning. Monuments are common in the ancient world, from the burial mounds of the Midwest, to the obelisks and temples of ancient Egypt and Greece.

The Rock.

The Rock. Image Source

The Rock, a more informal monument on campus, is a large boulder which various student groups take turns painting, either promoting their student group or serving as a way to express solidarity, protest, and/or discontent with current events. It is so much a symbol an important symbol of MSU heritatage that someone wrote a whole book on it! Students sometimes camp out to ensure their chance for painting the rock, so we may one day be able to see this refuse archaeologically. A few years ago, a chunk of the hundreds of layers of paint fell off, revealing an enthralling stratigraphy representing decades of student voices and creativity. One artist made “Spartan Agate” jewelry from it, allowing alum to wear a piece of MSU archaeological history around their necks.

 Mary Mayo Hall, a stop on the Apparitions and Archaeology Tour, is said to be haunted


Mary Mayo Hall, a stop on the Apparitions and Archaeology Tour, is said to be haunted. Image source

CAP’s yearly Apparitions and Archaeology Tour is inspired by ghost stories associated with various buildings and features across the campus. These spectral legends are closely tied to landmarks on the landscape but leave no archaeological trace. These represent aspects of the past that archaeologists want to know but struggle to uncover: myths and legends. Reflective of a culture’s ideology, oral histories and myths often prove elusive to archaeologists unless recorded in the written records. Even in the age of print and social media, these ghost stories might have simply been passed down from generation to generation of students without official recordation, eventually forgotten, had they not been recorded by CAP for our famous tour.

One way oral history and archaeology can converge is through public outreach. So, I turn the rest of this blog over to you, dear readers! If you are a current or former student, faculty, or staff member, what are the places on campus that are most special to you? Are there areas of ritual or ceremonial significance that you know of (used by a specific student group, etc) from the past or present that Campus Archaeology should know about or document? Share your stories in the comments!

The Second Annual Apparitions and Archaeology: A Haunted Campus Tour

You may also have seen some of the Campus Archaeology Program Fellows featured on MSU’s Snapchat story last week in which we were telling stories of MSU’s haunted past. These were clips from a preview our Apparitions and Archaeology Tour that we gave for MSU’s Communication and Brand Strategy team.

Apparitions & ArchaeologyThe Campus Archaeology Program, in conjunction with the MSU Paranormal Society, will be hosting the official second annual Apparitions and Archaeology Tour this Thursday. You may or may not have attended the tour last October. But, after the positive response we received from attendees last year, we decided to do it again this Halloween!

The tour will run very similarly to last year; however, there will be new additions. At each location, Campus Archaeology Fellows will discuss the history of some of the important landmarks on campus. We will also talk about what has been done and found archaeologically in the area, both prehistoric and historic, and what this tells us about MSU’s history.

Members of MSU’s Paranormal Society will also be present in order to tell the stories about MSU’s haunted past, including some famous haunts. The Paranormal Society will also be bringing out some of their equipment in order to demonstrate how they detect paranormal activity.

Stops along the tour will include Mary Mayo Hall, the most well known and possibly most haunted location on campus; Beaumont Tower; and Saint’s Rest, which was the first dormitory on campus, among others. You will also get an opportunity to learn about Campus Archaeology’s field school that took place over the summer and the cool, and somewhat creepy, artifacts that were found.

The Apparitions and Archaeology tour is free and family-friendly. It begins on Thursday, October 29th at 7 pm at Beaumont Tour. The walking tour is at your own pace, but should take around 30 minutes, so it is suggested that you arrive before 7:30 pm.

If you want to find out more about MSU’s haunted past, there is a YouTube video from MSU Today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yq2mYNBNgjk

MSU at the Society for American Archaeology 2015

In a couple weeks, from April 15 to April 18, the Society for American Archaeology Annual Conference will be occurring in San Francisco, CA. There is going to be great representation of members of Campus Archaeology and the MSU Anthropology Department.

Daggett, Adrianne

[140] SYMPOSIUM: CHRONOLOGY, EXCHANGE, IDENTITY: ELEMENTAL ANALYSIS OF GLASS BEADS FOR ASSESSING REGIONAL INTERACTION

  • Room: Continental Parlor 3
  • Date and Time:Thursday, April 16, 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM
  • Role: Chair

Frederick, Kathryn

[139] GENERAL SESSION: EXPERIMENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY

  • Room: Golden Gate 4
  • Date and Time: Thursday, April 16, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
  • Role: Presenter (7:oo PM)- Holes: The Beginners Guide to Food Caching (received Honorable Mention for the SAA Student Paper Award)

Goldstein, Lynne

[71] FORUM: GENDER DISPARITIES IN RESEARCH GRANT SUBMISSIONS (Sponsored by SAA Board of Directors)

  • Room: Continental Parlor 2
  • Date and Time: Thursday, April 16, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
  • Role: Moderator and Discussant

[235] SYMPOSIUM: CURRENT PRACTICE IN DIGITAL PUBLIC & COMMUNITY ARCHAEOLOGY

  • Room: Union Square 13
  • Date and Time: Friday, April 17, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
  • Role: Presenter (2:30 PM)- Digital Public Archaeology Reconsidered: Lessons from Michigan State University’s Campus Archaeology Program

[301] SYMPOSIUM: PEOPLE THAT NO ONE HAD USE FOR, HAD NOTHING TO GIVE TO, NO PLACE TO OFFER: THE MILWAUKEE COUNTY INSTITUTION GROUNDS POOR FARM CEMETERY

  • Room: Continental Ballroom Parlor 8
  • Date and Time: Saturday, April 18, 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM
  • Role: Discussant

Kooiman, Susan

[280] SYMPOSIUM: GREAT LAKES ARCHAEOLOGY: CURRENT RESEARCH AND PERSPECTIVES

  • Room: Yosemite A
  • Date and Time: Saturday, April 18, 8:00 AM – 10:30 AM
  • Role: Presenter (9:00 AM)- Pottery Function, Cooking, and Subsistence in the Upper Great Lakes: A View from the Middle Woodland Winter Site in Northern Michigan

Meyers Emery, Katy

[5] FORUM: DIVERSE DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGIES – A CAA-NA & DDIG EVENT (Sponsored by DDIG and CAA-NA)

  • Room: Union Square 25
  • Date and Time: Thursday, April 16, 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
  • Role: Discussant

Schnell, Joshua

[204] POSTER SESSION: ADVANCES IN BIOARCHAEOLOGICAL METHODS

  • Room: Grand Ballroom A
  • Date and Time:Friday, April 17, 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM
  • Role: Presenter- Three-Dimensional Osteometry: A Comparative Study of 3D Model Generation Techniques for Cranial Osteometry

Watrall, Ethan

[200] SYMPOSIUM: MACROSCOPIC APPROACHES TO ARCHAEOLOGICAL HISTORIES: INSIGHTS INTO ARCHAEOLOGICAL PRACTICE FROM DIGITAL METHODS

  • Room: Golden Gate 3
  • Date and Time: Friday, April 17, 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
  • Role: Discussant

[235] SYMPOSIUM: CURRENT PRACTICE IN DIGITAL PUBLIC & COMMUNITY ARCHAEOLOGY

  • Room: Union Square 13
  • Date and Time: Friday, April 17, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
  • Role: Chair and Presenter (1:30 PM)- MBRIA: A Platform to Build, Serve, and Manage Mobile Public Heritage Experiences

Poster Session Featuring Jodie O’Gorman, Frank Raslich, Nicole Raslich, Nicole Silva, Andrew Upton and Jessica Yann

[365] POSTER SESSION: NEGOTIATING MIGRATION AND VIOLENCE IN THE PRE-COLUMBIAN MID-CONTINENT

  • Room: Grand Ballroom A
  • Date and Time:Saturday, April 18, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
  • Poster Presentations

365-a Jodie OGorman, Michael Conner and Nicole Silva—Negotiating Migration and Violence in the Pre-Columbian Mid-Continent: A View from the Village

365-b Timothy Horsley, Michael Conner and Jodie O’Gorman— Understanding Settlement Organization through Geophysical Survey at the Morton Village Site, IL

365-c Andrew Upton, Jodie O’Gorman, Michael Conner and Terrance Martin—The Role of Public Space in Identity Making at Morton Village (11F2) 304 Program of the 80th Annual Meeting Saturday Afternoon, April 18

365-d Jessica Yann, Jeff Painter and Michael Conner—The Spatial Distribution of Domestic Facilities in the Multiethnic Morton Village Site

365-e Michael Conner, Jodie O’Gorman and Nicole Silva—Introduction to the DMM-MSU Morton Village Project 365-f Ryan Maureen Tubbs, Jodie A. O’Gorman, Jeffrey M. Painter and Terrance J. Martin—Negotiating Identity through Food Choice in the Pre-Columbian Mid-Continent

365-g Frank Raslich, Jodie O’Gorman and Michael Conner—Coming Together: Evidence of Ritual and Public Space as a Mechanism of Social Integration

365-h Jennifer Bengtson, Jeffrey Painter, Frank Raslich, Nikki Silva and Andrew Upton—Migration and Cohabitation at Morton Village: Future Research Directions