A Salty Tale I wanted this blog to be about patents, not Ruth Van Tellingen. Or should I call her Ruth Bendel? Or Ruth Elizabeth Thompson? I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we delve into Ruth’s life, let’s review the concept of patents as they …
Wow! Our summer season in 2021 was a complete turnaround from the 2020. The MSU graduate student archaeologists who joined CAP Crew this year worked on four major field and laboratory projects.
From May to late-August members of the CAP Crew completed a federal compliance shovel test survey, excavated a mid-20th century feature at Spartan Village, monitored construction projects and the planting of commemorative trees, surveyed under MSU’s sidewalks, began research projects, and cataloged artifacts into a new on-line database. Looking back, I only now realize how busy we truly were this summer and how much our magnificent CAP Crew accomplished.
CAP Crew 2021:
- Dr. Stacey L. Camp (she/her) – Director
- Jeff Burnett (he/him) – Campus Archaeologist
- Benjamin Akey (they/them) – Archaeologist
- Jack Biggs (he/him) – Archaeologist
- Rhian Dunn (she/her) – Archaeologist
- Aubree Marshall (she/her) – Archaeologist
- Amber Plemons (she/her) – Archaeologist
In this blog I will provide a quick synopsis of the projects and the work done for each. This will serve as an update for all those interested in the cultural heritage of MSU’s historic campus and provide a glimpse into the type of work we do at CAP.
Red Cedar Greenway
This project, known to CAP as the Red Cedar Greenway Project, involved the use of federal funds to improve and expand walking and bike paths in two areas of Campus along the Red Cedar River.
For CAP, this project began in December 2019 when Dr. Camp and I were contacted by MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) and were asked to perform the work necessary to ensure that the project was in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA).
Teaming up with MSU Professor Jessica Flores, an Architectural Historian in the Department of Interior Design, we completed an application for Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) Section 106 Consolation. For CAP, this application included a study of past archaeological work, our assessment of the project’s impacts on archaeological sites, and our plans to survey the area ahead of construction.
Staring on May 4, CAP Crew conducted a shovel test survey in the areas where ground disturbing construction would occur. In the end we excavated, or dug, a total of 130 shovel tests and found no historic properties within the project area.
What we did find were artifacts and soil stratigraphy, or soil layers, that showed evidence of past construction activities in the area. These included the construction of Shaw Hall, ca. 1949, the continual installation and replacement of utilities, and work to build up the river bank. We also encountered evidence of what may have been an asphalt road used to access the old WKAR radio station building ca. 1941.
Following the shovel test survey CAP Crew, led primarily by Jack Biggs and Aubree Marshall, washed and cataloged the artifacts we recovered and monitored construction activities.
By the end of August construction crews had completed all of the major ground disturbing work and CAP Crew ended out monitoring activity just in time for the start of the Fall Semester.
Construction Summer 2021
While the Red Cedar Greenway project took up most of our time, CAP Crew still had to respond to other construction projects on Campus. These projects included shovel testing at Yakeley Hall, Beaumont Tower sidewalks, Shaw Hall sidewalks, the Veterinary Medicine Building, and for the numerous commemorative tree plantings that occur throughout the year at MSU.
CAP’s relationship and ongoing communication with IPF employees and contractors ensures we can effectively mitigate these smaller projects ahead of, or alongside construction. The results of this work shows, unsurprisingly, evidence of archaeological sites relating to Campus at both Beaumont Tower and the former site of Beal’s Laboratory. No evidence of archaeological sites was found at any of the other project areas.
Spartan Village Monitoring
After surveying the Spartan Village site twice during the 2020-2021 academic year, CAP Crew continued work there in the summer, monitoring ground disturbing construction. We focused on an area where a farmhouse stood from ca. 1930 to ca. 1956. In June, construction crews removing the topsoil uncovered several foundation walls where historic maps indicated farm outbuildings would be. CAP Crew excavated a foundation we believe may be a cistern or cesspool.
We defined the foundation and the soils within it as a feature, or a non-moveable element of an archaeological site, and excavated half of it, while leaving the other half intact. This process is known as “bisection” and allows us to take out part of a feature while preserving the internal stratigraphy, or soil layers. Many, many artifacts came out of this feature, including metal toys from the 1950s / 1960s, glass bottles, jars, and cups, and lots of metal artifacts. CAP Crew washed these artifacts in the summer and plan to analyze and catalog them this fall.
Very little of an archaeologist’s work is done in the field. The process of washing, analyzing, and cataloging artifacts and deciphering fieldnotes is where archaeological investigations truly come to life. This summer CAP Crew continued cataloguing the artifacts recovered from 2020’s Service Road Recovery survey, washed and cataloged artifacts recovered in this summer’s excavations, and entered old artifact records into our new online catalog database.
Ben and Aubree began a research project exploring the glass bottles and hotelware ceramics collected from last years Service Road recovery. With these artifacts they dated the site to the 1930s – 1960s, identified four patterns of hotelware vessels used at MSU, explored the soda and medicine consumed on campus, and much more.
This work is ongoing, CAP Fellows may work on parts as part of their yearly research projects. Other parts will be taken up by undergraduate interns as they gain hands-on experience working with real archaeological collections recovered from their Campus community.
We are looking forward to processing all of the data and artifacts collected this summer and adding that to our growing understanding of Michigan State’s historic campus.
Over the next few days MSU will be welcoming some students back and opening up for some in-person and many virtual classes. For CAP, the beginning of a new semester would typically mean welcoming new undergraduate interns, preparing outreach events, and jumping back into our …
Greetings from Dr. Camp, the Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program.
This summer has been one of great concern for our community and nation as well as one where we have had to rethink how we approach Campus Archaeology amid a global pandemic. Under normal circumstances, our staff, which usually includes 6-8 PhD students, would be out on construction projects across campus during the summer. We spend our late winters and springs researching the areas of campus slated for construction so we know what we may find once the ground has been broken. We often do surveys of the landscape and, if we find artifacts or architecture, excavation before construction starts to see if they may be additional artifacts or cultural resources on the area slated for construction. We completed our research in the winter and spring for construction planned this summer, but then COVID-19 descended on our state and community, forcing nearly all workers on MSU’s enormous campus home to work remotely.
Despite the stress and uncertainty of the situation, our outgoing Campus Archaeologist, Autumn Painter, immediately adapted to the situation at hand and figured out creative, safe ways to keep Campus Archaeology running and our staff busy. Under Painter’s leadership, our staff put together fantastic research papers, reports, and innovative digital projects that we will be unveiling this coming year in lieu of the in-person outreach events we usually do. Despite our staff being locked out of their buildings and laboratories this summer, Painter made labwork happen by delivering the labwork to our staff’s doorsteps (with no contact, of course, and following all safety protocols).
Autumn Painter retired as our Campus Archaeologist this past July after serving two years in the role (we miss her already!) and putting in many years of time into Campus Archaeology as a fellow and undergraduate. We wish we could have celebrated her retirement in person, but we hope to do so when it’s safe. Jeff Burnett, a current PhD student and historical archaeologist in our department, is our new Campus Archaeologist, and he will be introducing himself in a blog post later this semester.
As our readers can probably guess, some archaeology cannot be done remotely. Archaeology is considered essential work due to federal compliance regulations, so many professional archaeologists have never stopped working in the field during the pandemic. This includes a few of us in Campus Archaeology. In late May, MSU began working on Service Road to install and extend utility lines. Within days of the project’s start, they hit a substantial archaeological midden, or, in non-archaeological jargon, a trash dump or landfill.
We received permission to have two of us – me, the Director of Campus Archaeology, and one Campus Archaeologist (Autumn or Jeff), work on the site. We completed the appropriate COVID-19 trainings and followed COVID-19 safety guidelines, including wearing a mask while out on the site, taking our temperatures before we came to the site and when we arrived at the site, and using our own field equipment instead of sharing it.
I shared my experience of working on this site with MSU’s Alumni University participants on my YouTube channel this past August. These videos touch upon what it is like to work on a construction project as an archaeologist, what does stratigraphy mean, how to excavate a delicate artifact, and what happens to artifacts once they are taken away from the construction site.
Though it was disappointing to not have our entire crew out investigating the site, we were very thankful for the entire construction crew on-site who were active participants in the project. They helped pull artifacts that they uncovered and put them aside so we could collect and study them. Mike Serafini of Strata Environmental Services, Incorporated corresponded with us daily to let us know how the work was proceeding and if they were hitting more of the archaeological midden during construction, which was a great help to us. Everyone on the site worked as collaborators and partners, sharing their knowledge of historic artifacts with us. It made our work easier given the restrictions and limited staffing we faced. We are so very thankful for all of the people with whom we worked and met this summer amid a stressful time.
We look forward to sharing our discoveries from this site with our followers this coming year as we continue to document MSU’s rich heritage. We also plan to follow through on our commitment to focusing on the diverse people who have been connected with MSU and to the promises we made in our blog earlier this summer. While we are not able to do in-person outreach events this fall, we have developed some exciting new digital content that will hopefully keep you (virtually) connected to MSU. We miss our beautiful campus and are looking forward to the day we can return in-person regularly. For now, we leave you with some photos of our discoveries this summer. Keep an eye out for more artifacts on our other social media platforms!
While the ground may be covered with inches of snow, CAP is looking ahead to plan for summer construction, in addition to our undergraduate archaeological field school. As you would have read in a previous blog post, the field school will be taking place near …
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 …
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.
So how does this all work?
Throughout the year, MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) (https://ipf.msu.edu/) is working on construction plans and creating maps and documents for each change. (See the IPF website to read more about their project phases: https://ipf.msu.edu/construction/business-partners/project-phases.html.) 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!
Author: Autumn Painter
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 …