Still searching for an archaeology field school for this summer? The Campus Archaeology Program will be offering a field school—right here on MSU’s campus—from May 13 to June 7, 2019. A field school is one of the best ways to learn what it takes to […]
Tag: field school
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 […]
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 entire cow skeleton! Below you can read in more detail about each project.(more…)
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 […]
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 had discovered were washed and placed into bags that identify the unit, and the level of said unit, each artifact had been recovered. As a result, CAP now has over sixty bags of unsorted artifacts collected from both this summer’s field school and the shovel test pits (STPs) conducted at Station Terrace in 2016. Now, as an intern for CAP, my primary responsibility is to go through each of the six units and additional STPs – one by one, level by level – and sort through and catalogue all of these artifacts.
Ask anyone involved in the excavations at Station Terrace, and they will assure you the most commonly found artifacts at the site were corroded construction nails. Seeing as how the building experienced fire damage and was subsequently remodeled, plus an expansion in 1910, our discovery of an overwhelming number of nails is not completely surprising. As a result, after all the artifacts have been sorted based on material type – i.e. ceramic vs. bone vs. glass vs. metal – the nails are then further categorized based on their typology. This means that I am sorting the nails based on their length, whether they are square cut nails vs. wire nails, and whether they are common flat head nails vs. brad or any other type of specialized nail. Each of the six excavated units contained a significant number of nails, but Unit A’s Feature 1 and Unit B’s ‘Layer o’ Nails’ by far contain the most. Needless to say, sorting through and categorizing the hundreds of excavated nails is proving to be an extremely time-consuming task. For example, it has taken me an entire month –working three hours a week in the lab– to sort through Unit A in its entirety. Furthermore, at the time of this publication, I have been sorting through Unit B’s Layer o’ Nails for three weeks now, and expect to finish this level during my next scheduled lab day.
The nails we recovered from Station Terrace are being given an unusually large amount of attention. At historic sites nails are typically found in large quantities, and are used for diagnostic dating but typically they are not the focus of larger research questions. As a result, they are usually placed in a single bag and simply counted and weighted. However, since nails were the primary artifact discovered during the field school, and thus practically the only material we have in our possession to further study Station Terrace, they require a detailed analysis.
Nail profiles can be immensely informative in determining the general timeframe in which a structure has been built or remodeled. Given this fact, I have decided to conduct a research project on these nails in which I will attempt to use nail typology to focus on modifications made to Station Terrace over the building’s lifetime. In addition to examining nail typology, I am planning to use portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) on a handful of nails to determine which type of metal – iron, steel, or perhaps something else – these nails are composed of. Through combining these methods, I am hoping to test the plausibility of determining which nails were likely used in the original construction of the building and which ones were likely used during the renovations following the 1903 fire. However, the experiments using the pXRF are not likely to occur for another few weeks, which means I have some more time to continue sorting through the nails and selecting samples I believe will be the most informative in my analysis of the building’s construction.
Despite how long it is taking me to categorize these artifacts, I find myself enjoying the work. Since nails are such a common commodity that is so often overlooked, reading literature on how this technology has evolved over time is rather interesting. By combing through said publications, I am becoming proficient in identifying different types of nails, in addition to learning what kinds of tasks these different types were typically used for – whether it is to mount siding to the exterior of a building, installing roof shingles, or securing floorboards. I will admit that out of all the archaeological topics to become well-versed in, or even in which to develop a fleeting interest, construction nails may seem like an odd subject matter. However, society’s oversight of this simple, yet indispensable, piece of technology has sparked my curiosity about how nails can be productively used to interpret archaeological sites. Thus, as strange as it may sound, the research I am conducting on the Station Terrace nails is turning out to be rather fascinating and informative.
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.
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.