2017 Field School Recap: Station Terrace

Stone wall from Station Terrace basement

Stone foundation wall uncovered by 2016 survey.

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.

Sanford's Library Paste Jar discovered at Station Terrace - Image Source: Lisa Bright

Sanford’s Library Paste Jar discovered at Station Terrace – Image Source: Lisa Bright

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

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.

Josh Eads and Kaleigh Perry work to excavate under the large ceramic pipes located along the foundation wall in Unit A.

Josh Eads and Kaleigh Perry work to excavate under the large ceramic pipes located along the foundation wall in Unit A.

Unit A West Wall - showing foundation wall, builders trench, and ceramic pipes.

Unit A West Wall – showing foundation wall, builders trench, and ceramic pipes.

Unit A North Wall - Amazing stratigraphy showing prior unit, burn feature, and fill.

Unit A North Wall – Amazing stratigraphy showing prior unit, burn feature, and fill.

Unit B

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 B south wall - large cement pad.

Unit B south wall – large cement pad.

Unit B west wall - brick concentration and gravel layer.

Unit B west wall – brick concentration and gravel layer.

Unit C

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 C floor - modern trench disturbance visible.

Unit C floor – modern trench disturbance visible.

Unit D

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 D during excavation. Stone foundation wall and boulder fill.

Unit D during excavation. Stone foundation wall and boulder fill.

Unit D after excavation. The cement floor, foundation wall, and builders trench pictured.

Unit D after excavation. The cement floor, foundation wall, and builders trench pictured.

Unit E

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 E - brick concentration in upper left corner.

Unit E – brick concentration in upper left corner.

Unit F

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.

Unit F - large stones, in situ shovel.

Unit F – large stones, in situ shovel.

High school volunteer Spencer W holds the shovel from Unit F.

High school volunteer Spencer W holds the shovel from Unit F.

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.



Wrapping up the official field school

Jerica working in Unit D.

Jerica working in Unit D.

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.


Wrapping Up (For Most of Us, Anyway)

Lets just have a little wrap up of what the site looked like when we left today, what I did this week, and what’s happening next.

This week I continued to excavate in Unit D with help from Jerica on Tuesday and Wednesday and Becca today (Thursday). At the end of today we were down a bit shy of 70cm on our fourth level. Level four has been particularly difficult because it has a lot of larger rocks in it. In fact, when Jerica and I were digging 20cm guide holes at the start of this level we ended up starting skimming without having a Northwest corner guide hole at all because I got down to about a 60cm depth and hit rocks covering the entire bottom of the hole. Expanding the hole just led to finding more rocks so Dr Goldstein and Lisa decided we could just go on without it.

While Becca was helping me skim down this afternoon, holes started opening between the rocks (of which there were 15-20 depending on where you draw the line between a small rock and a big stone). Becca had to leave early today so after she left I mapped out where the rocks currently exposed were and then Lisa removed the majority of the rocks that were in the level so we’d be able to keep going down past them to finish out the level.  There were two or three that were in so deep that they were in the next level some so we couldn’t remove them yet but there is actually enough space to fit a shovel in across the majority of the level which is a change from before it.

Unit D large stones in level 4.

Unit D large stones in level 4.

Unit D after the larger stones were removed (after mapping).

Unit D after the larger stones were removed (after mapping).

At the end of the day…

  • Unit F has only produced a few small artifacts per level despite Josh B. and Spencer’s best efforts.
  • Unit E stayed closed all day with no one to work in it (though Susan Kooiman and Becca were working in there yesterday).
  • Unit B is so deep that Dr Goldstein had to bring in a step ladder for Cooper and Desiree to use to get in and out. They feel very isolated in their unit, you can’t see them most of the time and the walls muffle all of the sound from outside of it so they can’t easily participate in any of the conversations going on across the other units.
  • Unit A has passed their own large rock layer and found two pipes. One is a broken off terracotta one in the wall that’s strange flat bottom that implies that it is an old sewer pipe (a realization that came about after Kayleigh had stuck her hand in it to clean it out). The other pipe, a bit lower than the first, was also terracotta but wasn’t broken off. It ran all the way across the western wall of their unit.

What happens next


The field crew and a few members of our group including Cooper, Becca, and both Joshs will be returning to the field on Monday to spend a week or so finishing up everything we didn’t get done during the month we’ve been working.

CAP Field School: The Final Countdown

Unit B brick feature.

Unit B brick feature.

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.

Cement feature along south wall of Unit B.

Cement feature along south wall of Unit B.

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.

Gravel layer along west wall of Unit B.

Gravel layer along west wall of Unit B.

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.

Final Week

Working hard at the field school!

Working hard at the field school!

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.

Kaleigh and Josh map a level floor.

Kaleigh and Josh map a level floor.

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.

Thank you.

Finishing up the Field School

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 Archaeology and looking at artifacts that we had found.  They had a great time screening dirt and finding artifacts like nails.  Today Dr. Goldstein hosted a lecture for Grandparents University so some grandparents and their grandchildren also came out to see what we were working on, some were really interested in our unit and some of the artifacts we were finding like the bone in our west wall.

Northwest corner of Unit B showing gravel layer and brick concentration.

Northwest corner of Unit B showing gravel layer and brick concentration.

While shovel skimming to get deeper we started finding a large number bricks in the northwest corner and there were a few more following the north wall.  They mostly seemed to be broken fragments.  There was one large, intact brick running along the middle of our eastern wall.  We had to map each brick, and then pull them up while troweling so we could try and find a mark identifying who made it.  We were hoping the one brick not broken would be the one to tell us, but it too had no mark.  When we pulled it up, we could see another brick that was laid beside it going into the eastern wall.  The intact brick and a few other pieces seem to have small breaks almost like stress fractures as if it used to support something heavy that was laid across it, one theory is that it could have to do with supporting the trolley.

Cooper and Desiree excavating Unit B.

Cooper and Desiree excavating Unit B.

We finally got to the bottom of the cement structure that could be a piece of the trolley turnaround, has told us that it is most likely not a sidewalk because of how thick it is.  We are deep enough that we can see how interesting our stratigraphy is.  The gravel layer seems to come out from the middle of the cement feature, suggesting that it could have been poured as a walkway or at least at the same time the feature was built.  In the northwest corner near the bricks it looks like it could be connected to the gravel layer, almost like the bricks were dumped first and the gravel was poured over it.  We also found a piece of glass right outside the pile of bricks near the northwest corner.

IPF came out again to help with roots in the newly opened Unit F.  The roots were so thick that they actually broke the first axe they brought so someone ended up having to come back with another later in the day.    Unit A found a piece of a pipe coming out of the center of the southern wall, which if it is not just a broken piece, could continue into Unit E, which also could have more pieces of our brick feature and the gravel layer.  We should finish up our next level early in the morning, hoping to find out more answer about what our cement feature could be.


Goodbye Unit C, Hello Unit D

Beginning of the wall in Unit D.

Beginning of the wall in Unit D.

After working in Unit C for three weeks, with unsuccessful attempts at finding much of anything, it was decided that the unit was going to be closed. My field school partner and I were moved to Unit D. Unit D features a perpendicular wall that intersects the wall found in Unit A. This wall averages 50 centimeters in width and runs west/east. We think that it is an exterior wall because of how wide it is. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make new discoveries that will provide us with more information.

As I reflected on the transition from Unit C to Unit D, I was able to see Unit C as my “test-run” unit, where I was able to learn the steps of excavating and practicing until I could get it right. Once I started working in Unit D, I had a better understanding of the skills and what was expected. This allowed for me to finish tasks in less time and maintain a rhythm so I would not lose focus.

One of my proud moments this week was being able to match all the colors of the soil to the correct color on the Munsell Test. It required some concentration but I was able to get them right.

Kids from a local summer camp stopped by the field school.

Kids from a local summer camp stopped by the field school.

Another highlight from this week was getting a group of children visitors from a christian school. They came to learn a little about archaeology and try screening dirt. I was one of the volunteers who got to help show the kids how to screen. I work with children at my regular job, but this time, it was different because I was showing them one of the skills related to my major. So it was a great opportunity to share with them what I have learned and hopefully I inspired one or two of them to pursue this profession.

As we near the end of the field school, I can look back and compare how much I have learned and how many new skills I have acquired. I has definitely been challenging but worth that sweat. This job requires a lot of physical work and discipline in order to advance at a steady pace. Determination to look ahead to the final goal and a positive attitude to endure the hardships and overcome them.

Discovering more everyday

Butchered bone in west wall.

Butchered bone in west wall.

After our nail layer we were not finding much besides mortar and a few screws until we found something sticking out of our west wall.  We can tell that it is a bone, but until we are finished with out unit we have to leave it be, although I’m not sure how we will decide who gets to pull it out.  There are signs of butchering done to the bone, and because of its size and the cow scapula that was found nearby in Unit D we believe it could also be cow.

Besides the bone we were not finding much else than nails and mortar, until I felt something that felt like scraping concrete while shovel skimming near the southeast corner.  After getting a better look with the use of a trowel, we knew that we were looking at a small foundation or wall of some kind that was running along our south wall, but it was much different in material and size than the other walls found in Units A and D.  It also seems to be slightly off from true cardinal directions much like how the other wall is, although it is deeper.  Until we get down deeper we will be unable to determine what it is exactly, and we are hoping the new Unit E (courtesy of CAP grad students and interns) could help us to figure out if the walls connect or what their relation were to each other.

Cement feature running along Unit B's south wall.

Cement feature running along Unit B’s south wall.

Around the same depth as the wall we did notice a layer of gravel that was found mostly on the western side, which could have been used as a kind of filler or pathway around the time the wall or foundation was built.  When looking at the west wall near the northwest corner you can see the gravel line in the stratigraphy, it is very uneven so we are still not sure if it is natural or man-made.  If it is man-made then perhaps it will show up again in Unit E, which shares balk our unit.

Gravel layer.

Gravel layer.

Starting above the wall were 2 roots that were as thick as an arm coming out of the southwest corner running in different directions throughout our unit.  One came out of the west wall, dropped down to the depth with the wall, running alongside it into the east wall.  The other one also came out of the west wall near the same spot, but ran down and through the middle of our unit, spreading in multiple directions into the north and east walls.  Most of the roots were removed in pieces as we would get down deep enough to remove another piece.  The roots we cut turn an odd green color, we only have guesses as to what it is or if it’s related to the disease that caused the tree’s removal.  Under where a root was we also found a piece of brick near the center of our unit that leads us to believe that there is still more below for us to find.

Beginning Unit D

Unit C is totally closed and now serving as a place to screen into for unit B and now unit D is now officially being excavated.

Our first level was originally going to be a 20 cm level but, after we began uncovering what seemed to be the first course of a stone wall, Dr Goldstein had us continue down another 10 cm (making that first level 30 cm total) so it took a bit of time but the level is finally there. Today Josh from the field crew and Jerica were cleaning the walls and floors of the bottom of the level while I screened the dirt they were removing, cut roots, and generally tried to help them out without being in their way (an about 2×2 meter square is kind of small for 3 people to begin with but once you throw a ~50 cm wall into the mix as well, it’s not really do-able).

A view of the wall in unit A and the one in unit D when the latter was being uncovered on Friday. (Image courtesy of MSU Campus Archaeology Twitter)

We’ve also cut the unit wall on the eastern side back until we found the other side of the wall in unit A (only about 3.5 cm outside of our unit). With more of the wall exposed on our side, the wall in unit A seems to run straight and then turn a corner into our unit but we can’t tell yet if it turns there or if the wall in D is just another wall off of A’s initial wall and the wall in A simply has an opening in it for some reason we cannot yet determine.

Helpful picture showing the way the walls in A and D seem to connect (also from Friday, it’s much more distinct now) Image courtesy of the MSU Campus Archaeology Instagram

We’ve even found a few things in this unit already. Nothing major but after the last three levels of C having nothing but a nail or two even the bottom of one bottle and the mouth of another, a penny (year unknown until we can get it to the lab and clean it off a bit), a piece of terracotta, and, of course, the ever ubiquitous nails seem pretty exciting.

We’re still not sure which side(s) of the walls would have been inside of the building and which were outside. To figure that out we need to determine if the walls we’ve found are foundation or interior walls. While the walls are very thick like foundation walls are, we can’t say for sure which it is just yet.

We’ve even added another unit to the site. Unit E is between units A and B and is being excavated by field crew member Becca (with the help of Susan Kooiman today). If we’re listing miscellaneous things from the whole site, Unit B has their own wall (or wall-like thing) now too. It might be a lintel or sidewalk of some kind but it’s too soon to tell what it might be.

CAP 2017: Week 3 and 4

Last week, we dealt with horrible humidity and soaring temperatures. This week, we start off strong with a new weather predicament: heavy rain. During the weekend, the East Lansing area experienced some decent downfall. The result of this was a nice-sized swimming pool in our units. Okay, it may not have been that bad, but it was the first time we had to use buckets to gather up the water and dump it out else wear. But hey, at least we had some tasty drinking water for the day!

The other side-effect from the rain was that the soil in our units was much more damp than usual. Even after skimming off the top layer of our unit, the soil was still much higher in moisture content than usual. This resulted in soil that deformed with every step or knee, which made it pretty difficult to level out the floor of the level. However, today, Tuesday the 20th of June, provided near-perfect weather. The sun was not too harsh, but it helped to dry out the soil, which made it far easier to deal with.

Josh and Kaleigh excavate the Unit A feature.

Josh and Kaleigh excavate the Unit A feature.

With regards to the unit KP and I work in, we have some interesting developments. Firstly, the “feature” that we found is much larger than we could have imagined. So, it was decided that we close up shop and continue on as though the burn layer full of coal and nails is its own strata. This was mainly done because treating it as a feature would be unwise due to the sheer size of it. The fact that it was filled with so much cultural material does indicate something interesting, but we have to move on and see what is further below before we make a decision as to what it could have been.

Secondly, as we reach the bottom of the 5th level, was have come across some very large rocks all throughout the Eastern half. Although we have not dug down deep, my speculation is that the rocks could have been placed there to control the flow of water, as in, keep water out or in. Only time will tell as my squadmate and I continue to dig deep beneath the surface of the Earth (about half a meter.)

Stone wall along Unit A's western boarder.

Stone wall along Unit A’s western boarder.

Some exciting news, however, is that all of the active units have human-made walls in them. Yay! Unit B is slightly different though. Other than my own Unit A and the newly opened unit D, Unit C’s structure/wall is of a different composition. While the walls in Unit C are composed of large stones and plaster, Unit C’s wall seems to be made up of cement, which may indicate that it was once a sidewalk or cement lintel. Digging deeper may give us the answer. Let’s go DQ and CD!

On one last note, I would like to say this. Working in the pit, soft soil or not, can be pretty tiring on the body. I find that my knees are week and my arms are heavy. There’s sweat on my shirt already, and I’m as weak as spaghetti. Above the surface, I looked calm and ready, but in the pit I’m drained and unsteady. So, for anyone who thinks archaeology is just fun in the dirt, it isn’t. It’s both fun AND taxing on the body. So please, for the love of all that is holy, stretch so that your knees don’t explode. At least, that’s what I’m going to do.