The presence of international students on campus began early in MSU’s history. Not even two decades after MSU’s founding, four international students were enrolled for the fall semester in 1873. Two of these students were from Japan, one from Holland, and one from Canada . …
This summer was an eventful one for the Campus Archaeology Program field crew! We monitored construction, conducted several pedestrian and shovel test surveys, excavated one test unit, conducted lab analysis, and helped with the IB STEM archaeology camp and grandparents university. Plus, we uncovered an …
So far this year, I have been examining the ceramics from various assemblages associated with early Michigan State. While I have looked at what types of dishes were present and how they were used, I have not looked at how these assemblages compare to other sites in the Midwest. Comparative analyses are one of the most powerful tools that archaeologists use to learn about the past. Not only are they great for looking at similarities and differences between sites and people, but they can also be used to look at larger social and economic processes, such as the intersection of class and wealth, that go into the choices made by people. Here, I will compare the tableware assemblages from historic MSU with those from various contemporary sites in the Midwest as a way to better understand the different choices made in terms of purchasing and the rationale behind them.
At MSU, the majority of the dishes that we find from MSU are inexpensive plain or embossed/molded whitewares and plain or simply decorated industrial wares. These are typically associated with dorms and student life on campus, and were purchased by the university for everyday student use in dining halls. Much more elaborate and expensive ceramics, decorated in many patterns and colors, are associated with faculty houses on campus, which were likely purchased by the faculty using their own funds.
Ceramic assemblages are somewhat similar at other sites. At the Woodhams site, an urban farmstead in Plainwell, MI owned by families of modest means, there were about twice as many undecorated whitewares as decorated whitewares. While not common, decorated vessels were relatively expensive transfer printed and decalomania dishes (Rotman and Nassaney 1997). In the former Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, the home of working class immigrant families, people relied heavily on mass-produced whiteware vessels that were cheap and easily accessible through local merchants. Despite this, some more expensive wares were also present, such as porcelain teaware, English transfer printed dishes, and other imported decorated vessels. Interestingly, the homes in the area all differed in the types of dishes, wares, and styles that they bought, highlighting the greater selection available to those dwelling in a growing city and consequently the greater ability to differentiate oneself through decorative style (Ryzewski 2015). At the Clemens farmstead in Darke County, Ohio, the home of wealthy free African Americans, 81% of the tableware were plain whitewares, while the rest of the assemblage was made up of a small number of hand painted or transfer printed vessels. While this family had enough money to buy expensive dishware, they chose to be conservative with consumer goods while broadcasting their wealth through architecture and improvements to their land (Groover and Wolford 2013). For those who lived in the Moore-Youse House in Muncie, Indiana, a middle-class family influenced by Victorian ideals and class consciousness, the possession of decorated and expensive tableware was more important. Out of all of the tableware recovered, most was whiteware and ironstone, and 48% of it was hand painted. Out of the other decorated vessels, 44% were transfer printed ceramics. While porcelain was not present, the high number of decorated ceramics suggest that this family spent a considerable amount of money in order to have fashionable tablewares that demonstrated their social class (Groover and Hogue 2014).
While these different homes are similar to MSU in the types of ceramics that are found, they represent very different choices and needs. For individuals and families, their decisions in what tablewares to purchase are often based on cost, personal style, and the ways in which they wished to demonstrate their social standing within the Victorian world. For example, the Clemens family chose to use simple ceramics while improving their home and the grounds, making it one of the few examples of expensive Victorian architecture in the region and a clear statement of their social standing to all who passed by. At the Moore-Youse house, the family chose to purchase more expensive and fashionable tableware, which would have displayed their standing to those who were invited into the home. Some of these same concerns are reflected at MSU, such as in the delicate and expensive tablewares sometimes purchased and used by faculty living on campus, but we also must consider the institutional context that is much different than the homes discussed above. At early MSU, the university needed a large number of dishes to supply their student body, as well as dishes that were durable and would survive abuse by students on a daily basis. Faculty may have needed more dishware as well, as some of them often entertained groups of students and visitors during the academic year. On campus, one needed to consider such factors as durability, the economics of supplying and entertaining a lot of people daily, and having dish sets that were similar so as not to alienate certain divisions of the student body. Both MSU and different homes in the Midwest had access to similar ceramics, but made choices based on different needs, so we must take this into account and interpret ceramics from campus using a different mindset and theoretical base. Only using economic scaling models, as is often done with ceramic assemblages from homes, misses many of the more nuanced aspects of ceramic selection that takes place at an institution such as Michigan State.
Groover, Mark D., and S. Homes Hogue
2014 Reconstructing Nineteenth-Century Midwest Foodways: Ceramic and Zooarchaeological Information from the Moore-Youse House and Huddleston Farmstead. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 39(2):130-144.
Groover, Mark D., and Tyler J. Wolford
2013 The Archaeology of Rural Affluence and Landscape Change at the Clemens Farmstead.
Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage 2(2):131-150.
Rotman, Deborah L, and Michael S. Nassaney
1997 Class, Gender, and the Built Environment: Deriving Social Relations from Cultural Landscapes in Southwest Michigan. Historical Archaeology 31(2):42-62.
2015 No Home for the “Ordinary Gamut”: A Historical Archaeology of Community Displacement and the Creation of Detroit, City Beautiful. Journal of Social Archaeology 15(3):408-431.
During this semester, I have been working through some of the decorated ceramics that were found in the Gunson assemblage (Find more information about the excavation here). Working toward the goal of generating a better picture of what types of vessels were found and the …
Happy Fat Tuesday! After flocking to the nearest paczki-filled bakery, I hope that you sit down and enjoy your Polish donut on some fine china. Perhaps, if you’re historically or archaeologically inclined, you might want to enjoy your treat on a nice British ceramic plate. …
There are many different ways that we can date a site or specific artifact. We can look broadly at the contextual history of the area, look at how a glass bottle was constructed, or use construction material like nails to create broad date ranges. Specifically with ceramics there are several ways to establish a time frame for the artifact including: paste thickness, decoration style, rim construction, colors used, as well as size and shape. Sometimes we get really lucky, and a ceramic sherd will have a maker’s mark. Most ceramic companies have well documented records for the changes made to their unique marks, making it relatively simple to establish a date range for most marked ceramics. But sometimes with 19th century British ceramics we get every more lucky and can establish the specific date the ceramic was produced on. This occurs when we are fortunate enough to have a British Registered Design mark.
Beginning in 1842 England begin offering “registered designs” for ceramics. This is akin to a patent or copyright trademark today. The ornamental design act of 1842 expanded design protection into new types of materials, such as ceramics. This allowed for manufacturers to protect not only the functional design of their products, but also their aesthetic design as well.
Each of these diamond marks contain very specific information that tells us what class of material the object is, the day, month, and year it was produced, and the bundle number. There are two ways this information can be arranged. The first configuration was used from 1842-1867.
There are published tables that identify what each of these letters and numbers mean. A good example can be seen here, but there are also published books where the same information appears. Based on those tables we know that the ceramic pictures above was produced December 18th, 1856:
- IV = ceramic
- L = 1856
- A = December
- 18 = 18th
- We don’t need to worry about the bundle number
If we were in England we could go to the British Archive and view the specific design that corresponds with this information. However, even without a trip to England, there’s still even more information that this mark can tell us. By knowing the specific date it was produced, you can look this information up in books, and sometimes figure out who the manufacture was of the ceramic. This is useful if you have a sherd that contains a registered design mark, but not lucky enough to have the maker’s mark.
The design changed slightly for ceramics produced between 1868-1883. During these years the arrangement of the symbols changed. The year and day marks have switched places, as have the month and bundle.
In 1884 England switched from the diamond registered date mark to a new registry number system where a numerical mark designated a specific year. Similar to the registered date marks, this information can also be found in published tables. The dates in the tables are the lowest/first number recorded for each year. So for example let’s look at the registered number in the above image, 49221. This number falls between the 1906 number (471860) and 1907 number (493900) so we know it was produced in 1906.
So sometimes diamonds are not just a girls best friend, they’re an archaeologists best friend.
In Part 1, I introduced how porcelain is produced and its long history in Asia and Europe. Today, after centuries of history, porcelain finally comes to the Americas (what a surprise!). Porcelain first came to the Americas not long after it made its appearance in …
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 …
Archaeologists care a lot about garbage. We can learn a great deal from looking through what people throw out, how much they throw out, and when they throw it out. Because trash is the byproduct of what humans consume and use in their daily lives, middens and refuse deposits can help us fill in the gaps of our knowledge about the historic campus experience and student behavior.
Campus Archaeology has been involved in excavations of three separate components of life at Saint’s Rest Dorm: the refuse pit from Saint’s Rest, the West Circle privy, and the excavation of the building itself. Several blogs have been written on each of these sites, but no comparison between sites has yet been done.
This semester, Lisa Bright and I will work on re-cataloging and accessioning artifacts from the 2011 trash pit excavation (with some help from several undergraduate honors students from ANP 203) so that we may get a better sense of what is present (and, interestingly, what is absent). For now, we have some general observations about each site such as abundance of serving dishes in the trash pit, but only dining plates being present in the privy. The trash pit and the privy also contain some of the same ceramic patterns. The location of each site also serves as an interesting variable for comparison. Because the building and trash sites were likely public and at least partially, if not totally, accessible, the artifacts found at each site are expected to be reflective of daily life (e.g. bones from butchered animals, empty food containers, etc.) and human error (e.g. broken plates, bowls, lamps, etc.). In contrast, the assemblage within the privy is potentially reflective of secrecy, prohibition, or mishap. Knowing that no one would retrieve items from a privy, students may have thrown items away in this space (or perhaps dropped them accidentally). Saint’s Rest burned down in December of 1876. The accidental destruction of the building also creates a different context for the artifacts compared to the trash pit and the privy. These items were still in use, and their owners were not, at that time, intending to dispose of them.
Lisa and I believe that comparing the assemblages from these sites will be useful in piecing together student and faculty behavior as well as use of space on the campus. The opportunity to compare and contrast three sites from the same time period, but with disparate function, allows us to examine some largely intangible aspects of the past. Last semester we finished the privy report, so this semester we will do a quick re-analysis of some the Saint’s Rest materials and dig further into their meaning. Stay tuned for our findings!
As part of my on-going research project for Campus Archaeology, I have been focusing so far on the dinner wares from the early period of the campus (1855-1870). These dishes, which come in many shapes and sizes, have greatly informed our understanding of meal times …