This week marks the start of CAP’s 2021 summer field season; we have completed trainings, designed survey and outreach projects, and finished our academic year. This all means we can now get out into in the field! Over the next few months, we will be …
Tag: field work
While the ground may be covered with inches of snow, CAP is looking ahead to plan for summer construction, in addition to our undergraduate archaeological field school. As you would have read in a previous blog post, the field school will be taking place near …
For the past two weeks, we have been surveying in Munn Field prior to the installation of new astroturf. Last week, a test pit on the western side of the field caused some excitement! It revealed a puzzling amount of iron wire. The wire didn’t start appearing until about 50cm down and increased in frequency until about 60-70cm where what looked like a floor of wire was revealed. We opened up the pit a little more to investigate further and found even more wire as we dug. The “floor” was still covering the bottom of the pit so we decided to open it up even more by setting up a 1-meter by 1-meter excavation unit. As we dug this out, we were finding even more wire, some nails, glass, and other metal bits and upon reaching the wire “floor” we realized it wasn’t actually a floor at all but rather clusters of bundled wire. Some of the wire was braided together, other pieces were looped together, but most of it came out in bundles consisting of numerous strands of wire bound together by several other pieces wrapped around the rest.
Upon removal of these bundles we found pockets of ashy, burnt soil mixed in with this layer of wire. Slag and charcoal were also found throughout this layer in the unit. Underneath the wire, we found several horseshoes, including one fused one, remnants of what appears to have once been a metal box, a Benzedrine inhaler, a math compass, an iron clip, a milk bottle base from a Lansing creamery, more nails, more wire, and a portion of a doll’s face! As can be seen, the unit proved to be very puzzling. Nothing quite seemed to go together and there was really no discernible strata or profile at this layer. Our research at the archives revealed that Munn Field used to be home to several barns, a horse track, and also served as the ROTC drill field for a time. However, what we were finding didn’t really fit into any of those scenarios, or at least not obviously.
One of our team members suggested that it might have something to do with a blacksmith servicing the horses kept on the field. There was some evidence to suggest this, namely the staggering amounts of wire, chunks of metal resembling iron ingots, the horseshoes, and some tools including the compass and the clip. After some research around the internet, I think it is possible that some of these things were used in blacksmithing or in MSU’s machine shop. Based on the Benzedrine inhaler and prior archival research, we are pretty sure that this find would have been from the 1930s-40s. From that time period, the iron we were finding would have likely been wrought iron. After smelting, wrought iron is turned into one of several forms of bar iron for transport and turning into finished materials. One of those forms, rod iron, is used as the raw material for nails and those who read our blog regularly should know that nails are no small part of our finds here on campus! However, the size of the wire we found is a little on the small side for it to be rod iron kept around for working later on. That doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility if blacksmith activity though.
When smithing wire, the iron is pulled through increasingly smaller draw plates, usually made of wrought iron during this period. We found a piece of metal that we had initially thought was part of a door hinge, but it very well might be a draw plate used for smithing wire.
What I think is most likely is that we found a trash pit used during Munn Field’s occupation by the ROTC program. The overall structure of the feature and the artifacts we recovered suggest that this was all trash. The wire was disposed of is loose bundles which would make transporting large amounts of wire easy. The fact that some of the wire was braided and looped makes me think they were meant to be discarded even more. Braiding wires is a method of creating wire rope, which before the widespread availability of steel, was usually made form wrought iron. Some of the wire we recovered was half braided, and some of it was braided and looped at the end, a form of terminating wire rope that we know today as a Flemish Eye. All of this, the braids, the loops, and the straight wire, was all bundled together loosely in several large bundles. The range of materials we recovered, from wire to milk bottles, inhalers to doll parts, makes me increasingly confident that what we found was a discard pile.
What do you think? Evidence of blacksmithing or a trash pit?
On April 12th to 13th, Campus Archaeology is going to be doing an archaeological survey within the Sacred Space. We will be digging East of Cowles House and the Music Practice building, and West of Beaumont Tower. As many of you know, there is extensive work going on as part of the West Circle Steam Tunnel reconstruction project. This includes re-doing a large portion of the roads and digging up parts of the green space within the road. One part of this project calls for construction of an access road from the Southern portion of West Circle Drive up to the road to Cowles House. We are going to be surveying this area to make sure that this temporary road won’t disturb any archaeological material. We will be excavating today from 1 to 4pm and possibly tomorrow also if the survey isn’t completed. Come say hi and visit us!
Today, Thursday and Friday the Campus Archaeology team will be doing archaeological survey at Walter Adams Field on MSU’s campus. The project was set in motion when the physical plant and landscape services decided to replace, add and renovate the irrigation system at Adam’s field. …