Continuing Preparations for Summer Construction on Campus

As the weather warms and summer gets closer, the Campus Archaeology Program is gearing up for yet another busy season.

While our excavations occur primarily in the summer, months of planning and preparation take place before the first trowel is stuck in the dirt. Many different factors come into play when planning for an archaeological field season, particularly in Michigan during the Spring. Continue reading

How to Prepare for a Summer of Construction on MSU’s Campus

As all MSU students, professors, and staff know, MSU is continually improving their roads, sidewalks, sporting fields, etc. Each spring through fall, MSU’s campus is scattered with constructions sites with the goal of bettering the physical campus environment. While this activity is very visible, there is much that goes on behind the scenes. Multiple parties are involved in the planning stages, including the Campus Archaeology Program. In order to achieve our goal of preserving the cultural heritage of MSU, we must understand where construction will take place, what kind of work will be done, and then generate our own plans for mitigating any possible damage to archaeological sites.

CAP surveying during sidewalk construction

CAP surveying during sidewalk construction

So how does this all work?

Throughout the year, MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) ( is working on construction plans and creating maps and documents for each change. (See the IPF website to read more about their project phases: CAP comes into the picture around the ‘Construction Documents’ phase, when we can meet with staff at IPF and go over the upcoming planned construction.

I personally attended my very first meeting with IPF this past week, alongside Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, and Lisa Bright, where I was able to learn about the upcoming construction this summer and see all of the incredibly detailed plan maps that have been created for each project! At this meeting, we discussed construction that will begin in April on the Service Road soccer field and in May along Wilson Road. There are so many advantages to meeting with the employees at IPF, including seeing the great detail within their plan maps. These maps allow us to determine what type of archaeological survey needs to be conducted before they begin construction, as well as how CAP should approach monitoring the work once it has begun. At this meeting we also discussed their timeline for the construction projects, as well as when it would be best for us to conduct our survey of the impacted areas. It was a great experience, and taught me a great deal about the extensive planning that takes place within our collaboration with IPF.

Now that we have met with IPF and have determined where on campus construction could impact archaeological sites, CAP must determine our survey methods for these projects. Currently, our plan stands as follows: as soon as the snow melts and the ground thaws a little (hopefully in early April), CAP will begin to survey, using a grid of shovel test pits, within the Service Road soccer field. During this survey, we will record and collect any archaeological evidence recovered. Once our survey is complete and construction begins, CAP fellows and summer field crew employees will then monitor the work for any further evidence of archaeological sites or artifacts that may have been outside of the initial survey.

In addition to surveying and monitoring, CAP also conducts archival research prior to construction projects, combing the written record for documents related to historic MSU campus in the areas of impact.

The combination of archaeological survey, monitoring construction, and archival research will ensure that we are doing everything that we can to protect MSU’s archaeological heritage! Keep a look out for us on campus!

Excavation of West Circle privy in the construction zone

Summer Field Crew Update: Wilson Road Realignment

For much of this summer the CAP field crew was busy surveying the area surrounding the East neighborhood (Akers, Fee, Hubbard, Conrad).  Beginning in March 2018 Wilson road will be altered, creating an additional exit onto Hagadorn, a traffic light on Shaw, as well as additional parking.

Wilson road extension planning. Image source

Wilson road extension planning. Image source.

The areas highlighted in green will all be changed/impacted by the construction. CAP had not previously excavated in this area so we were excited to see what was there.

Closeup from Michigan State University Land Acquisition map c. 1966. Source: MSU

Closeup from Michigan State University Land Acquisition map c. 1966. Source: MSU Library

Historically this area was part of the Biebesheimer farm.  The Biebesheimer family lived in the Ingham county area since the late 1860s (Adams 1923:379). A majority of the farm was sold to Michigan Agricultural College in 1925. However, the Biebesheimer and Roney (Mary Biebesheimer’s married name was Roney) families retained a portion of the original farm until the 1950’s. During the years the family owned/worked this farm land they uncovered several important prehistoric and contact era archaeological artifacts. The artifacts have been donated to the MSU museum and are housed in the Paul S. Roney collection.

The construction of the river trail neighborhood (McDonel, Owen, Shaw, Van Hoosen) and east neighborhood began in the mid 1960s (although the grouping of these buildings into neighborhoods is a much more recent university initiative).  So although these buildings, roads, and parking lots of a much more recent timeframe than the areas of campus we are typically called upon to investigate, it is important to remember that we are also charged with preserving and documenting the entire history of the area. So we set out to determine if anything prior to the campus development remained undisturbed. We were looking for signs of both the farm and prehistoric sites.

So we conducted a survey and excavated shovel test pits along the entire green highlighted area in the above map. A shovel test pit is a hole, typically dug by a shovel, that is roughly 2 times the width of the shovel head with a goal of a 1 meter depth.

CAP field crew excavates shovel test pits in IM East field.

CAP field crew excavates shovel test pits in IM East field.

Jeff and Autumn Painter document a shovel test pit in the IM East field along Wilson road.

Jeff and Autumn Painter document a shovel test pit in the IM East field along Wilson road.

Jeff and Autumn Painter excavate a test pit in front of Conrad Hall.

Jeff and Autumn Painter excavate a test pit in front of Conrad Hall.

Becca Albert and Jasmine Smith excavate a test pit in the Vet Med field.

Becca Albert and Jasmine Smith excavate a test pit in the Vet Med field.









The field crew excavate test pits in the IM East field.

The field crew excavate test pits in the IM East field.

Autumn and Jeff Painter excavate a test pit between lot 32 and the tennis courts.

Autumn and Jeff Painter excavate a test pit between lot 32 and the tennis courts.









The field crew dug 312 shovel test pits for the Wilson road realignment.  Unfortunately much of the area was comprised of highly compact soil, resulting in some difficult conditions for the field crew.  Additionally, only 90 of the test pits had any cultural material (artifacts).  Most of which were recent objects near the top third of the test pit.  The most surprising elements were probably the animals the crew encountered.

A pesky woodchuck infiltrates the field site.

A pesky woodchuck infiltrates the field site.

Autumn Painter got to meet a horse being treated by the MSU Large Animal Clinic.

Autumn Painter got to meet a horse being treated by the MSU Large Animal Clinic.









What these weeks of hard work tell us is that the area is highly disturbed.  Any intact deposits are likely much deeper than we could get with the test pits.  It’s also important to remember that the absence of artifacts also tells the specific story of that area.  Once construction begins in March 2018 we will monitor the parking lot and road demolition, and likely excavate additional test pits once the ground surfaces have been removed.



Adams, Franc L. Pioneer History of Ingham County Volume 1 Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Company: Lansing Michigan. 1923




Excavating behind Old Hort

We had a busy summer here at CAP. We were able to excavate at some interesting and important places such as the Abbott Entrance and Beals first botanical lab. Our last project area for the summer was behind the Old Horticulture building on north campus. IPF was planning to repave part of the Lot #7 parking lot, so we thankfully had time in the schedule to begin investigating in that area to better prepare us for what we might encounter.

Although this area is a green (at the right time of year) field popular for tailgating this space has had many different identities. CAP had done some investigations in this general area before, when we surveyed the Old Botany greenhouse before its demolition, however we had never surveyed the area directly south of Old Horticulture. Since the opening of campus this area served three main purposes: 1. Farm/barn area, 2. Detention Hospitals, and 3. Experimental Greenhouse.

View of farm area and barns taken from atop the Dairy Building - Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

View of farm area and barns taken from atop the Dairy Building – Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Prior to the early 1900s this area contained a horse barn, dairy/cattle barn, grain barn, horticultural barn, miscellaneous small buildings, grazing/animal pen areas, as well as at least two residential buildings for farm employees.  Some of these buildings were demolished or moved to make way to the building of the Dairy and other buildings.

Detention Hospitals with Horticultural Barn visible in right corner - Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Detention Hospitals with Horticultural Barn visible in right corner – Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Showing Detention Hospitals (52-55) and the Horticulture Barn (57) - Images Source: MSU Map Library

1915 Campus Map Showing Detention Hospitals (52-55) and the Horticulture Barn (57) – Images Source: MSU Map Library

In 1908, to better meet the public health needs of the growing university, four Detention (aka Quarantine) Hospitals were built.  These cottages were demolished in 1923 to make room for the Horticulture building.  At that same time a large greenhouse was erected that was used for experimental work on flowers and vegetables.

View of Old Horticulture and the Greenhouse - Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

View of Old Horticulture and the Greenhouse – Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Old Horticulture and the Greenhouse were built in 1925.  Though Old Horticulture remains today, the Greenhouse was demolished in the late 1990s since it had fallen in disrepair.

We started a series of shovel test pits in the area, wondering if we would be able to find evidence for the past uses of this area. Unfortunately we were quickly faced with obstacles as the soil was dry and incredibly compact, slowing our progress. However, we soon found ample evidence from the campus greenhouse. We are still working on washing and cataloging everything, but we uncovered terra-cotta pot fragments, water pipes, plant tags, and plant material.

STPs behind Old Hort - Image Source Lisa Bright

STPs behind Old Hort – Image Source Lisa Bright

Jack Biggs uses a mattock to dig in the compact soil. Image Source Lisa Bright

Jack Biggs uses a mattock to dig in the compact soil. Image Source Lisa Bright

Becca Albert and Jack Biggs remove a large piece of water pipe - Image Source Lisa Bright

Becca Albert and Jack Biggs remove a large piece of water pipe – Image Source Lisa Bright

Artifacts including a salt glazed brick, plant tag, flower pot fragment, and snickers wrapper.

Artifacts including a salt glazed brick, plant tag, flower pot fragment, and snickers wrapper.

The extreme compactness of the dirt, as well as the overall depth of the material, which required unit expansion, meant we only completed a few rows of stps/units.  Perhaps in the future we will be able to return and continue to look for evidence of the detention hospitals and farm buildings.

Station Terrace: A Building with Many Identities

This summer we had the opportunity to excavate in several different areas of north campus. We began the summer working in conjunction with the Abbot entrance landscape rejuvenation project. This required us to survey down the center median, as well as either side of the road. I talked briefly before about the general history of this area, as well as a summer progress update. We were able to locate the basement of Station Terrace.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Station Terrace. The building stood just east of Faculty Row, near the southern end of the current Abbott entrance median. There’s not much information out there regarding the building, but we do know that it had many different identities during its life on campus.

Station Terrace - Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Station Terrace – Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Station Terrace was likely built during the 1880s or early 1890s (the earliest photo documenting the building is from 1896). Its original purpose was to provide housing for researchers visiting from the M.A.C. experimental stations. Later it was used to house bachelor instructors, earning its nickname the Bull Pen (perhaps also acquired as a counterpoint to Morill Hall’s nickname the Hen House).

Group of Subfaculty at Station Terrace - Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Group of Subfaculty at Station Terrace – Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

During the evening of January 24th, 1903 the building was damaged by a fire started by a faulty chimney. There were several issues in the containment of the fire, including many of the volunteer fire fighters being at a society room party, lacking the proper wrench to screw into the closest hydrant, a frozen fire hydrant, and a burst water main. They eventually got the blaze under control, but substantial damage occurred to the west end of the building. However, it was recommended that the building (as well as other areas on campus) become outfitted with modern fire extinguishers and hand grenades.

Following the fire, some board members suggests remodeling the building, and changing it into a two family household. They went as far as to have the college architect prepare a sketch for the remodeling, but ultimately decided that they would derive more revenue and benefit from restoring the building to its former state with several apartments.

Between the spring of 1903 and 1923 the building housed the East Lansing post office. Because of this Station Terrace is often referred to as the old post office on maps and in historical documents. In 1902 after the demolition of the original trolley car waiting room, it was moved to Station Terrace. In 1921 the old college waiting room was taken over by the Flower Pot Tea Room, a café run by women in the home economics program.

Station Terrace Today - Images via Google Street view

Station Terrace Today – Images via Google Street view

Station Terrace, as well as several other buildings, were in the path of the Abbot Road entrance construction. However, the building was not demolished. In 1923-1924 it was moved off campus, to 291 Durand Street. The structure was also modified, and portions of the building were used to build the house next door. From the right angle, it still bears a slight resemblance to its former arrangement.

Because the building was physically moved off campus, and not demolished, collapsed, or burnt down like many other buildings we excavate, I was unsure what we would actually find. I was pleasantly surprised.

During our final row of STPs we encountered a large fieldstone at the depth of 1m. This unit was expanded, and expanded, and then expanded some more. We had located an interior dividing wall, in what I feel is the basement of Station Terrace. Further excavations revealed a concrete floor, water and sewage pipes, concentrations of sheet metal, an intact paste jar (more on this jar coming in a future blog!), and a pair of men’s shoes. The east side of the unit also contained some beautiful stratigraphy.

Station Terrace Excavation East Wall

Station Terrace Excavation East Wall

Station Terrace Stone Wall

Station Terrace Stone Wall

Sanford Library Paste Bottle from excavation

Sanford Library Paste Bottle from excavation

I’m still busy conducting more research on this location, and its possible suitability as a location for the next field school.


Justin L. Kestenbaum, ed. At the Campus Gate: A History of East Lansing. 1976.

Detroit Free Press, November 19th 1922: M.A.C. to Beautify College Entrance

Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1903.

M.A.C. Record vol 27 no 26 April 21 1922:

MSU Archives: Campus Post Office 1892-1911. Folder 94, Box 826 Collection UA4.9.1

CAP Summer Work Update #2

Since we last checked in we’ve had a busy week and a half.  The Abbot entrance landscape rejuvenation project is coming to a close, so we’ve been able to finish work there and move onto testing other research questions.

U.S. Weather Bureau 

Although the rejuvenation construction was not directly impacting the north west corner of the Abbot entrance, I wanted to conduct a survey in this area so that we could consider the entire west side of the road surveyed.  The NW corner was home to the U.S. Weather Bureau.  The building was constructed in 1909 and demolished in 1948.  Dewey Seeley and his family occupied the building, while Mr. Seeley recorded daily weather data and provided forecasts for the area. As the campus, and East Lansing, grew around the Weather Bureau Mr. Seeley complained about the encroachment near the bureau.  He petitioned the federal government for the construction of a new weather bureau in a different location, and a new structure was built by the federal government on land leased by the college. That building is today known as the Wills House, located just west of Mayo Hall.  From 1927-1940 the old bureau building served as the music center, from 1940 to approx. 1943 it was the Works Progress Administration Headquarter, and finally the Placement Center until its destruction in 1948.

U.S. Weather Bureau - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

U.S. Weather Bureau – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The bureau was demolished by George Boone of Jackson MI, who paid the college $400 to remove the building.  Because Mr. Boone paid the college, rather than being paid by them, our investigation sought to discover how much of the weather bureau remained after he salvaged/scrapped the building.

Excavations at site of old U.S. Weather Bureau

Excavations at site of old U.S. Weather Bureau

We were unable to locate any intact foundation walls or floors.  However, a dense layer of rubble does cover that entire area.  Artifacts were mostly building related including bricks, nails, roofing slate, and concrete.  One curious artifact category were bricks made out of concrete, something we had not encountered before.  Two of the concrete bricks were sent to Civil Engineering for inspection.

Wall hanging cross found at U.S. Weather Bureau location

Wall hanging cross found at U.S. Weather Bureau location.

Lansing State Journal

While we were excavating the weather bureau a reporter from the Lansing State Journal came by to write a story on CAP.  We even made it on the cover of the journal!  The complete article, along with a short video, can be found on the journal’s website.

CAP in the Lansing State Journal

CAP in the Lansing State Journal

Beal’s Botanical Laboratory 

Beal's first Botanical Laboratory - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collection FLICKR

Beal’s first Botanical Laboratory – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collection FLICKR

The location of Beal’s first botanical laboratory is marked with a large historical plaque.  We did some brief investigations in this area in 2009 or 2010, but aside from probing have just assumed that the building foundation was still present.  Earlier this week we opened three 1×1 units on the eastern edge of the grassy area to determine the extent of the foundations/artifact presence.  We were also trying to determine the orientation of the building.


Our excavations were exploratory in nature, and we limited the disturbance to three units.  One unit appears to be outside the extent of the buildings footprint, but two units located walls.

Excavations at Beal's Botanical Laboratory

Excavations at Beal’s Botanical Laboratory

Unit one locate a large field stone wall just below the modern ground surface.  This wall section ran almost due N/S (4 degrees), and was 80 cm in total height.  The wall was surrounded by sterile fill sand, most likely a builders trench from the construction of the building.  Interestingly, although this unit had melted glass, they did not have a burn layer.

Beal's Lab Excavations Unit One

Beal’s Lab Excavations Unit One

Unit two located a smaller, possibly interior, wall made of medium size cobbles with a mortar layer on top.  On one side of the wall was sterile fill sand, while the other side had a larger rubble and burn layer.  This unit also encountered large amounts of burned and cracked glass, as well as hand cut square nails.

Beal's Lab Excavation Unit Two

Beal’s Lab Excavation Unit Two

Finding these two walls, as well as discussing the presence of a third known wall with people that work in the Beal Botanical Garden, helps us better understand the orientation and current state of the structure.


Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes October 21st, 1948:


Campus Archaeology Summer Work Update #1

Spring classes have ended, thousands of people have graduated, and a relative calm has spread over the campus. While many people kick back and relax over their summer vacation, this is the busy season for us here at CAP. During the summer we’re busy excavating, researching, and conducting lab work. It may seem like much of our work is tied to campus construction (which does take up a chunk of our summers), but there’s so much more that we do. The construction job monitoring, shovel test pits, pedestrian surveys, and research fuels many of our projects all year long. It’s also the time when we put much of the research our CAP graduate fellows have been working on to the test.

The past three weeks we have been excavating and surveying the Abbot Entrance area ahead of the landscaping rejuvenation project that began on the 25th. I talked about a bit of the history of the Abbot Road entrance in my post about the campus streetcar. We knew that we were going to be working in the area of several historic buildings, namely Faculty Row House #6, Station Terrace, the Y.M.C.A. (formerly the campus hospital), and the U.S. Weather Bureau. We still have more work to do in the area in the coming weeks, but we have uncovered some exciting things since work began!

Campbell/Landon Sidewalk Realignment

Our first area of priority was the sidewalk realignment at the southwest corner of Abbot Road and West Circle Drive. Although we didn’t encounter anything related to the structure of Faculty Row House #6, or the Old Trolley waiting room, we did locate an old sidewalk. Now I know what you’re thinking, a sidewalk, big deal! But this is still a part of the historic campus landscape. Artifacts near the sidewalk, including a carbon battery rod, pipe stem, butchered animal bone, and ceramics indicate an early 1900s date. Part of the sidewalk was removed and is being sent to the Civil Engineering department for testing. This will help them to understand changes in cement/concrete technology over time.

CAP crew works excavating the sidewalk feature

CAP crew works excavating the sidewalk feature

The early 1900s sidewalk, partially uncovered.

The early 1900s sidewalk, partially uncovered.

Abbot Road Median

Stone wall from Station Terrace basementNext we moved to the Abbot entrance median. Landscape services planned to remove diseased non-native trees, and return the area to a more historically accurate planting scheme. Following what has become a yearly tradition, we found a building, Station Terrace to be exact! Our final shovel test pit for the median located the top of a stone and mortar wall. We believe this to be a basement interior-dividing wall. On the east side of the wall were two large decommissioned pipes, as well as two layers of charcoal and debris. The east unit’s stratigraphy was not disturbed at all, so these pipes appear to be original to the building, or at least installed before the foundation was filled in after the building was moved in 1925. To the west of the wall was a layer of larger boulders covering a poured concrete floor. I believe that the boulders were added as fill. Although we only opened a small area we found many wonderful artifacts, including a complete waterman’s ink bottle, a complete Sanford Library Paste jar (used to mount photographs), and a pair of shoes!

Sanford Library Paste jar, Pat. 1915 from East Station Terrace Unit

Sanford Library Paste jar, Pat. 1915 from East Station Terrace Unit

Additional investigation into this area, at some time in the future, will be necessary to determine how much of the building currently exists subsurface. Although Station Terrace appears on several maps, some of the older ones are not the most spatially accurate, and the surrounding landscape is drastically changed today. However, one 1926 map has the beginning of the north and south bound lanes of Abbot, leading me to believe that the eastern third of the building lies under the media, with the rest is under the road and west Abbot sidewalk area.

The Summer 2016 Field Screw after completing Station Terrace STP

The Summer 2016 Field Crew after completing Station Terrace STP

Next week we will be continuing exploration of the Abbot road entrance, focusing on the northwest corner where the U.S. Weather Bureau stood from 1910-1948. Stay tuned for updates, and follow us on Twitter and Instragram (@capmsu) for updates from the field!

MSU Campus Archaeology & Day of Archaeology

Today is officially Day of Archaeology (#dayofarch).
Here at Michigan State, we have finished the field school, completed most construction-related projects, and are cleaning artifacts, organizing things and preparing for the new school year. I (Lynne Goldstein) am personally doing conference calls and trying to catch up on a variety of things that are due.

The field school was in a great location this year – along the river and right behind the Administration Building. The location was not only lovely and prime territory for duck and goose watching, but it is also a high traffic area, with lots of people – including administrators – walking by daily. Here is a shot I took from the Provost’s office: IMG_1788

And here is our end-of-dig crew shot: IMG_2092

Archaeological work outside the field may sound dull, but it really is not always the case, as I noted yesterday on Facebook:
“Sometimes meetings are very enjoyable. Just returned from a meeting about new campus historical markers, focusing on the “Sleepy Hollow” area. MSU wants to include info on the prehistoric site we found at the edge of the hollow, as well as info the MSU Campus Archaeology Program has on historic sites and events in the area.
After the meeting, we went and inspected a couple of sites, then I visited the Beal Botanical Garden because all of the Eastern Agricultural Complex domesticates were blooming – goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), marshelder (Iva annua), and squash (Cucurbita pepo).”

The Lansing State Journal ran an article this week on archaeology in Michigan, and we are very pleased that we are featured, along with Fort Michilimackinac and others.

The field school excavated a really interesting historic site that was apparently a single dump episode – in 1924, the head of grounds for the campus (also a Professor of Horticulture) remodeled and modernized his house and used the construction debris as fill for a low spot along the river, not far from the house. Everything we found dates from 1890s-1925. Field school students blogged about the work and what they found, and you can find those posts here:

Our regular CAP posts continue, and this link tells you about the outhouse we found which is probably linked to Saints Rest, the very first dormitory on campus. We are very excited about this find because we have been searching for an outhouse associated with the dorm for a long time. Archaeologists like outhouses (well, old ones that don’t smell anymore) because no one goes after anything they dropped into one, and people also often used them as a dump for debris.

We do have some sidewalk work to do on campus, and this often yields really interesting things. The University replaces sidewalks with some regularity (they are now trying to install “green” sidewalks everywhere), and there is often undisturbed stuff beneath the old sidewalks.

It’s a Brick . . . Outhouse

The summer field season has continued to be busy. Last Monday, while making our routine monitoring rounds of the North Campus Infrastructure Improvements construction site we noticed a concentration of bricks and dark soil near the Museum. As previously mentioned, the first week of the season we located the partial foundation of Williams Hall near the museum, so a find in this area wasn’t surprising. However, what this new site ended up being surprised us all.

Monday afternoon was spent locating the limits of the brick concentration. Consulting some of the overlay maps, we hypothesized that this may be part of the northern portion of the old Engineering Shop. But it didn’t match quite up well enough to the engineering shop on the maps. Upon further reflection the shape of the structure (a 2 meter by 2 meter square) with close proximity to Saint’s Rest and concentrations of extremely dark soil lead us to one conclusion, that this was most likely a privy. This is the first historic privy that CAP has located.

Bottom of Level 1, West Circle Privy

Bottom of Level 1, West Circle Privy

Privy’s are always extremely exciting finds because they inevitably contain large quantities of artifacts. Throughout the life of a privy, objects are both inadvertently dropped into the holding tank, and intentionally deposited as a means of disposal. They also tend to be very intact because even after it is decommissioned it is avoided because no one wishes to disturb its contents. This privy did not disappoint in terms of artifact quantity and quality.

The top of the foundation has only been mildly disturbed by the construction. We worked to first expose all four walls of the privy before excavating the center, and east/west extensions. Once the ruble layer had been removed, a large night soil layer was encountered. Night soil is a polite term for the remnants of human waste that collects inside privies (and other areas). It is a very dark black making is easily distinguishable from the surrounding soil, and only slightly stinky. (We were later told by the Field School that they could smell us approaching for lunch)

Part of the large porcelain doll

Part of the large porcelain doll



Violin Flask Cologne Bottle

Violin Flask Cologne Bottle







The night soil layer produced an incredible amount of artifacts for such a small area. Some of what we uncovered includes whole plates, drinking tumblers, intact bottles, eggshell, a large quantity of fish bones, and two porcelain dolls (one large, and one small). Preliminary research indicates that this deposit is likely from the mid to late 1800’s, with everything examined thus far dating pre 1890. This is an incredible find and we look forward to analyzing the collection and reporting on it as we move forward.

Excavation Crew in Completed Privy

Excavation Crew in Completed Privy


Expecting the unexpected for summer construction projects

As students begin to file out of campus, the orange cones start lining up as a sign of the upcoming summer construction projects. This will be my second summer as Campus Archaeologist and I feel much more prepared this year to expect the unexpected. We’ve been researching in the archives for the past couple of months to make sure we are prepared for every historic feature that may be potentially disturbed throughout the summer. While last year I was caught off-guard with our early discovery of the first Vet Lab, this summer I have a full crew on deck and historic maps in my pocket, so we’re ready to tackle the summer.

The main summer construction project that will occupy CAP is the Phase 4 (final phase) of the North Campus Infrastructure Improvements, or the West Circle steam tunnel renovations. This project will occur in the area between the MSU Museum, Olds Hall and the Library, a very old part of campus. There are three historic buildings that will most likely be affected: the first Williams Hall, the second Wells Hall, and the mechanical engineering shops. CAP is working closely with Granger Construction to insure that we have time to properly survey these areas, and if necessary excavate.

If you’ve been following our blog you know that the second Wells Hall, built in 1916, was torn down in the 1956 to accommodate the new library. Part of the footprint of the second Wells Hall is under the Library’s east parking lot. This parking lost is slated to be torn up and resurfaced, so CAP can sneak in during this process and shovel test. When we shovel test for Wells Hall we want to see if any of the foundation is buried, or if it was completely removed when is was razed. Also, we’re hoping to find artifacts that tell us about the early days of dorm life at MSU.

A new area that we haven’t surveyed too much is the area of the mechanical engineering shops. These shops would have been located to the east of Olds Hall and used for the mechanical engineering program. Associated with the mechanical shops was the power plant, built in 1884, to provide steam forced heat for the university. Previous research on the history of MSU’s power plants indicated that at its inceptions, MSU students were required to feed the coal burning power plant. This adds an interesting element to the potential archaeology of the area since student activity and use of the area was mandatory in order to keep the university heated.

Finally, the West Circle steam tunnel renovations may disturb the foundation of the original Williams Hall. Williams Hall was built in 1869 and burned in 1919. This building housed 80 students and the basement was the cafeteria that fed the university for decades. CAP found a cornerstone of Williams Hall back in 2009, so we know the foundation still exists.

We’ll keep you updated as the construction gets underway.