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 […]
Tag: field school
While archaeologists are trained in a number of different skills and techniques, there is one thing that all archaeologists know and love: shovels. Shovels are just as much a part of archaeology as the ubiquitous trowel, and even lend their name to the title of […]
While archaeologists are great at identifying artifacts that we recover, we occasionally find objects that are a mystery. Even on campus, we sometimes find intriguing objects in our excavations that take some investigative work to identify. One group of objects that has piqued our interest were a number of small black cylinders recovered during the 2015 CAP field school at the late 19th-early 20th century Gunson site. Ambiguous enough to make finding a function difficult, the current Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright suggested that they might have originally served as carbon rods within batteries. After doing some research, she appears to be right!
Carbon rods are found in the center of zinc-carbon batteries, today’s basic household battery. In general, these batteries produce energy through chemical reactions that take place between their component parts. As these reactions release energy, the centrally placed carbon rod functions as a positive electrode, helping to funnel the released energy into whatever device the battery is powering (Frood 2003; Schumm 2011). These batteries can come in both flat or cylindrical forms, and can be stacked together to generate even larger electric potential (Schumm 2011). Based on the shape and the length of the carbon rods recovered by CAP, it is likely that they originated from within cylinder batteries.
If, like me, you tend to image the late 18th-early 19th century as battery free, they actually have a much deeper history than many realize. The first batteries that we know of were actually created centuries ago, sometime between 200 B.C. or A.D. 600. Known as “Baghdad Batteries,” these devices, constructed from metal and liquid components placed in clay jars, were capable of producing a small electric charge, but it is unknown how they would have been used (Frood 2003). Much later, in 1866, the same concepts were used by Georges-Lionel LeClanche to invent the LeClanche wet cell battery. Housed in a glass mason jar, this early battery was used to power important technologies like telegraph machines and railroad signals. In 1888, Carl Gassner improved this model and created the first dry cell battery, which used a solid medium instead of a liquid one. This improvement made these batteries spill-proof, and are the ancestor of all of our modern batteries today (Schumm 2011). Both wet and dry cell batteries utilized carbon rods to help channel the battery’s energy, but based on the dates from the Gunson site (late 19th-early 20th century), these rods would have been from dry cell batteries.
Batteries may have had numerous roles on campus. Starting in the 1890s, MSU officials were working on initiatives to power many parts of campus through the use of electricity (Meeting Minutes of Offices of Board of Trustees and President 1892, 1894, 1898). A few departments also requested and received funding to purchase electrical equipment for power sources and experiments. For example, in 1890 and 1895, the College approved the purchase of a mysterious “electric apparatus” for two different professors (Meeting Minutes of Offices of the Board of Trustees and President 1890, 1895). In 1898, they also approved the purchase of an electrical motor to power the equipment within the mechanical shops (Meeting Minutes of Offices of the Board of Trustees and President 1898). Batteries are also occasionally mentioned, as in 1904, when a large storage battery (think like a large car battery) was purchased and installed for the Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering (M.A.C. Record, Dec. 13th, 1904). Batteries also may have been used to power technologies mentioned earlier, such as communication equipment.
It is hard to know how Gunson, a horticulturalist by trade, would have used these batteries. While it is likely that he and his family may have used them within their home for some purpose, another clue is found in an 1896 edition of the M.A.C. Record. Within, there is a small discussion of an experiment conducted by a few men in Chicago, who used electricity produced by an electric engine and then storage batteries attached to a cart to kill weeds along a railroad line (M.A.C, Record, Oct. 20th, 1896). While the validity of such experiments is called into question by this article, it shows that people in many scientific fields were experimenting with electricity during this time, even horticulturalists and botanists. As such, some of the batteries we have recovered may have served household functions, but others may have been used in experiments conducted in Gunson’s greenhouse or around the campus grounds.
2003 “Riddle of ‘Baghdad Batteries.’” BBC News website. Accessed Feb. 7th, 2018.
MSU Archives and Historical Collections
1896 M.A.C. Record, October 20th, 1896.
1904 M.A.C. Record, December 13th, 1904.
1890 Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.
1892 Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.
1894 Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.
1895 Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.
1898 Meeting Minutes of the Offices of the Board of Trustees and President.
Schumm, Brooke Jr.
2011 Zin-Carbon Batteries. In Linden’s Handbook of Batteries, edited by Thomas B. Reddy and David Linden. McGraw Hill, Columbus OH.
During this past summer’s field school, our six-person team excavated the remains of a building known as Station Terrace, which once stood on Abbot Road, just a stone’s throw from where the MSU Union currently stands. Following the field school, all of the artifacts we […]
As this field school comes to an end, I sit to reflect on what an awesome journey this has been. When the field school first started, I was a little nervous about the type of work that we were going to be doing because I had never used a shovel or trowel before. I had never dug anything in my life. So being a part of this experience was going to help me learn new skills and techniques.
Starting off in Unit C, helped me get the practice that I needed to understand the different steps that are part of an archaeological excavation. Learning everything from measuring and digging a 2×2 meter unit, to marking the coordinates to screening the soil, to doing a Munsell Test.
One of my favorite things to do was doing the Munsell test because it was challenging in the sense that I had to pay close attention to the texture and different colors in the soil. Paying close attention to the soil to tell whether it had a more dull or bright color to it and figuring out a way of identifying the right shade so it could match the color seen by the professor. Making observations and being descriptive is very important because it tells us more about its history.
I also found it interesting to see the different colors and textures of the soil as we went deeper in the unit. I remember back in Week 2 when Alex and I were working on level two and three and there was a spot on the floor that looked like mac-n-cheese. So whenever I tell my friends and coworkers about the dig, I mention this to them because it is easier for them to understand what I am saying when I describe the experience and what I see when I use words that they can understand.
Even though this field school required a lot of physical work, I would definitely do it again. It is definitely worth it and it is very enriching. I am an Anthropology major student, not an Archaeology student, but this helped me understand part of our school’s history in a more material and physical context.
After completion of nearly five weeks of the field school, it is finally coming to an end. Since the first day, our work area, the pit, has changed quite a bit. Unit C has come and gone and has been completely filled up with screened dirt, and three more units have popped up near the Station Terrace wall where we have been excavating. The process has truly been something else. For starters, my body aches, my knees hurt, and I’m constantly tired, so this is some pretty tough labor. Secondly, working with other people in the pit is kind of an intimate process. You definitely get to know the people around you to some degree, especially the squadmate in your Unit. It’s an interesting experience. I know that if this wasn’t a class, we would probably go out to a bar or get something to eat, so our time together is coming to an end and hopefully I’ll see my fellow pit buddies throughout my last semester at MSU.
The limitations of starting this project with only six students has also been apparent. I’ve felt the pressure to do my job quickly and accurately to make up for our small group, but and even though the process has been slow, it has also been sweet. The number one thing that I try to keep in mind is that I’m partaking in archaeology’s greatest past-time, digging. My trowel and my body are both acting in tandem to uncover secrets of the past. Sure, I may not be in Egypt or South America, digging in an un-excavated tomb, but I am still traveling through time, learning about what it was like on campus in the late 1800’s.
This is a class, and as such I’ve learned quite a bit. Firstly, I’ve learned to take care of my body. I don’t want my knees to explode and I want to be a healthy old man one day, so now I know I need to stretch and I need to keep weight and tension off of my knees while I work. Secondly, I learned that the feelings of my fellow classmates/workers matters greatly. Having someone or something negatively impact the mentality of a fellow coworker can be disastrous, both for the mindset of the archaeologist and also in regards to how much work can and will be done. Working together, being patient, caring about one another, and understanding where everyone comes from is crucial for the sake of the project and for the sake of the humanity of the people you are around for 7 hours a day.
And the final thing I’ve learned is something that hasn’t necessarily been taught directly. I’ve learned how important archaeology is to history and culture. We would be lost without the understanding of who people were in the past through analysis of their material culture. Even if written documents exist in a particular time period, excavation of artifacts yields such a tremendous amount of knowledge about who people were and what they did that I honestly believe that we would be blind about history without archaeology. I’ll take what I have learned from Anthro and apply it for the rest of my life, and hopefully, if you have read these blogs from these humble students, you have learned something too.
Our last week has certainly been eventful, we have all been working hard to finish up before Friday, while also having a lot of visitors come by to learn more about what we were excavating. Last Wednesday a Vacation Bible School group came to learn about […]