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 […]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 […]
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 […]
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beal’s Botanical Laboratory
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.
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.
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.
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: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/3-F-43F/meeting-minutes-october-21-1948/
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, […]
Today is officially Day of Archaeology (#dayofarch). http://www.dayofarchaeology.com 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 […]
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.
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)
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.
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 […]