Chris Stawski was involved with Campus Archaeology at its inception, beginning as an archaeological technician in the summer of 2008. Chris also held the position of Campus Archaeologist during the 2010-2011 academic year. During his tenure with CAP, he was a […]
Tag: field school
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 […]
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 hard working archaeologists who dig for their supper, shovel bums. Every archaeologist can recognize many types of shovels, and we all know what situations they are best for during excavation. So, it is always fun when we get to use a shovel to dig one up.
During CAP’s 2017 field school at Station Terrace, just such an event occurred. In Unit F, placed within the interior of the building, a large shovel blade was recovered by students (Bright 2017). At about 14 inches wide, 17 inches long, and 4.5 inches deep (give or take a quarter of an inch or so of rust), this was a large metal shovel that, based on its deep well, was designed for scooping (McLeod n.d.). Due to its scoop appearance, this shovel may have been a large-scale mover of things, such as coal, grain, gravel, mulch, etc. But this begs the question: why was this type of shovel in Station Terrace?
Station Terrace, which stood on campus from the early 1890’s until 1924, served many functions during its relatively short life as part of MSU. Early on, it was used as housing for visiting researchers and then for unmarried male instructors, during which it received the great nickname of “the Bull Pen.” From 1903 to 1923, Station Terrace was used as the East Lansing Post Office, while a front room served as a trolley car waiting room. In 1921, the waiting room was turned into a small café, known as the Flower Pot Tea Room (Bright 2016; Michael 2017). Thanks to a house fire in 1903, exterior photographs and the one existing photograph of one of the bedrooms, we know that the building had at least one chimney pre-1910 and two post 1910 expansion(Bright 2016); indicating it had fire places and possibly some other source of internal heating, but there is no mention of a large coal-burning stove that would have required a large shovel for moving coal. It also does not appear that any of the buildings many functions would have required the movement of large amounts of scoop-able materials, unless the post office moved letters and packages by shovel.
So why was this shovel kept in Station Terrace? To me, the mystery of how objects were used in the past can be just as much fun as uncovering tidbits of history that have been lost for thousands of years. Humans are an amazingly creative bunch, meaning that we use objects in many different ways. For example, my wife uses a high-ball glass not for drinking, but for cutting dough to make pierogis. We rarely use this glass for anything else at home; it is reserved for a purpose that many people would not expect. I think the Station Terrace shovel was used in a similar manner. While it may have at one point served to shovel coal, grain, or other materials, I think it was used as a snow shovel at Station Terrace. Being located in Michigan, MSU gets a lot of snow. As Station Terrace served as a post office and trolley stop, moving vehicles, people, and mail carts would have regularly needed access to the building. Snow and ice would have impeded this accessibility, so snow removal was, and still is, essential. As this blog by Tim Heffernan attests, old coal shovels make great snow removal devices thanks to their weight and their metal blades. In the end, it is very difficult to know exactly how this object was used, but context clues suggest that it might have completed a number of jobs in its life, some that are easier to imagine, others that will continue to be a mystery.
2016 “Station Terrace: A Building with Many Identities.” Campus Archaeology Blog. http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=4255.
2017 “2017 Field School Recap: Station Terrace.” Campus Archaeology Blog. http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=5401.
n.d. “Types of Shovels: Your Complete Guide to What Works Best Where.” https://www.backyardboss.net/types-of-shovels/.
2017 “The Flower Pot Tea Room: A Female-Run Student Business on the Early Campus.” Campus Archaeology Blog. http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=4895.
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 […]
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 […]
The 2017 Campus Archaeology field school is done! This year the field school ran from May 30th – June 30th. The goal for this field school was to excavate at the site of Station Terrace. CAP surveyed this area in 2016 ahead of the Abbot Entrance rejuvenation project. One of our test pits uncovered a stone foundation, so we opened up a 2 meter x 2 meter test unit to investigate further. The stone wall started almost 1 meter below the ground surface, and terminated just over 2 meters below ground surface. The east side of the wall was filled with large boulders, but had a cement floor (including a pair of men’s shoes!), leading us to believe that this was likely the interior of the building. The west side of the wall contained a large area of burnt material and cultural debris – including the complete Sanford library paste jar. There were also two large ceramic pipes running along the bottom of the foundation wall.
Even with extensive research there was still many things we still didn’t know about Station Terrace. We don’t know the exact construction date (it’s sometime between 1890-1895), no blue prints have been found, and although we know generally what the building was used for (extension faculty housing, bachelor faculty housing, East Lansing post office, trolley waiting room, Flower Pot tea room) the details remained elusive. So, it was decided that the 2017 field school would excavate more of Station Terrace. Thankfully IPF was incredibly helpful this year, and had a backhoe remove the first 2 1/2 – 3 feet of overburden and dig OSHA compliant terracing around the site.
We had a small group of students this year but much was accomplished. A total of six units were excavated.
Unit A was placed with the unit’s west wall along the building foundation. This unit also slightly overlapped with the 2016 test pit in the northwest corner. In addition to more of the foundation wall (including a corner), a concentration of large boulder debris, Kaleigh and Josh uncovered the ceramic pipes along the foundation base, and hit more of the burn feature.
Unit B was placed at the southern end of the field school excavation area. Though this unit did not hit any structural portion of the building, they had a dense layer of nails directly below a layer of clay, a brick concentration along the northern wall, and a large cement pad along the south wall. The cement pad will require further research, but it’s possible that it is associated with the trolley.
Unit C was placed near the eastern limit of the field school excavation. This unit was closed early as it became apparent that a modern trench transected most of the unit, and there were very limited amounts of artifacts.
Unit D was opened after Unit C was closed. This required the manual removal of the extra over burden as the excavations in Unit’s A and B allowed us to target the interior of the building, as well as follow the corner of the wall in Unit A. Unit D, excavated mainly by Jerica and Alex, had the foundation wall bisect the unit. The south side of the wall is likely a builders trench full of mostly sterile sand. The north side of the wall had many large boulders (likely wall fall from the building being moved). This side also had the cement floor and more intact artifacts closer to this floor; a complete Curtice Brothers ketchup bottle and part of a rubber boot were recovered. There was also a capped drain through the cement floor.
Unit E was opened between Unit D and B to determine if any further structural components of the building were present. Unit E did hit the brick concentration found in Unit B, but artifacts were sparse so the unit was closed to concentrate on our units.
Unit F, a 1×2 meter unit, was opened directly north of Unit D in order to investigate more of the building interior. Unfortunately due to spacial restrictions from the road and newly planted trees limited areas additional units could be placed. Similar to the northern portion of Unit D, Unit F encountered several large boulders and the cement floor. This unit also had several large artifacts, including a metal bucket and a coal shovel.
The artifact cleaning, sorting, cataloging and report writing had just begun. Stay turned for more posts this fall about things learned from the field school.
The field school is coming to a close soon and although we’ve made a lot of progress in Unit B, we still have a lot to accomplish during this last week. We are currently over a meter deep, which has made getting in and out of the unit difficult, and we are still finding things. We haven’t found many artifacts, but we did come across a brick feature and the bottom of the cement wall mentioned in my previous blog post.
The brick feature was found in our northwest corner while we were digging our level 7 guide holes. It consisted of many bricks that seemed to be clustered together in no particular pattern and were different colors. Many were clustered in the northwest corner but a few other bricks were also found near the north wall. After mapping the brick feature, we realized that some bricks were stuck in the wall. Besides those stuck in the wall, we pulled the bricks out and checked to see if any of them had makers marks. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any makers marks on any of the bricks, however we did notice that most of the bricks were pretty light and seemed cheaply made. This caused us to speculate that these bricks could have been made locally. However, without any makers marks, there isn’t much that we can do with these bricks in the lab. However, they seem to make excellent tarp weights! The fact that this brick feature was found so deep is interesting and I’m curious to find out if we will find more as we dig deeper.
Finally finding the bottom of the cement wall in out unit has raised some more questions about its place at Station Terrace. It seems to be too thick too be a walkway or sidewalk and where it stops doesn’t seem even. Now, this could be due to erosion. However, from what we can see, a mold wasn’t used which further supports the theory that this was not a walkway. Also, the gravel layer we found along our west wall seems to be related to cement but it’s a little unusual. The gravel layer is only visible along the west wall despite the fact that the cement wall extends across the entire unit and is very distinct. This has lead us to believe that the cement wall could have been part of the trolley turn around and gravel was placed leading up to the wall. It’s still very unusual that it’s only along the west wall.
Throughout my time as a CAP field school student I have learned a lot about what archaeology is like in practice. I’ve learned the basic procedures and how to think about context. Most importantly, I think I’ve learned to think about the bigger picture and ask questions when I find something. (How does this connect to other units? What does this mean in the context of Station Terrace? What does this mean in the context of MSU?) Although I knew that those questions were important, it was hard for me to think about them when finding artifacts. Things that we may not think are significant can be significant in certain contexts. Our nail layer just seemed like a bunch of nails, but it became something noteworthy because of the context. This experience has helped me to think more like an archaeologist and I can’t wait to see what we can discover in this last week.