Close Only Counts in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Horseshoe from Brody/Emmons Complex site.

Horseshoe from Brody/Emmons Complex site.

No, I’ll stop any speculation; we haven’t uncovered any hand grenades (think of how much paperwork that would be!). But we do have a horseshoe. Now you might be saying, so what? You’ve surely recovered horseshoes before. And yes, that’s true. We have found full and partial horseshoes at a number of locations around campus. However, this horseshoe from the Brody/Emmons Complex (site of East Lansing’s first landfill) never saw a horses hoof. This horseshoe was made specifically for gaming.

Although much of archaeological evidence relates to the more routine portions of life, such as cooking, hunting, or household structure, archaeologists have also found evidence of sports and gaming. Artifacts that are believed to be associated with games have been found all over the world, such as these 5,000 year old gaming tokens from Turkey, or evidence of Pre-Columbian ball courts. CAP, however, has not uncovered many sports or game related artifacts.

Men playing horseshoes circa. 1942. Image source.

Men playing horseshoes circa. 1942. Image source.

Horseshoes is an outdoors game played between two people, or two teams of two people, using four horseshoes and two targets (stakes) set up in a lawn or sandbox area. Players alternate turns tossing horseshoes at stakes in the ground, which as typically 40 feet apart. There are two ways to score: by throwing the horseshoes nearest to the stake, or by throwing “ringers”. A ringer is when the horseshoe has been thrown in a way that makes it completely encircle the stake. Disputes about the authenticity of a ringer is settled by using a straightedge to touch the end points of the horseshoe, called heel caulks. If the straightedge does not touch the stake, the throw is classified as a ringer.

1929 catalog featuring pitching horseshoes. Image source.

1929 catalog featuring pitching horseshoes. Image source.

It’s possible that this horseshoe was homemade/handmade, but they were also being sold in kits during the early 1900s.  Our horseshoe weights approximately 1 1/2 lbs, but rusting has resulted in some loss.  It is interesting to note that the pitching horseshoe catalog entry on the right sells different weights for men’s pitching horseshoes and women’s pitching horseshoes.  Since our horseshoe is close to the 1 3/4 lb weight range, it’s possible that this horseshoe was meant to be used by women.  Additionally it’s also possible that this horseshoe simply did not meet regulation standards for size and weight requirements.

Horseshoes diagram. Image source.

Horseshoes diagram. Image source.

A 1940s beer advertisement showcasing a family playing horseshoes. Image source.

A 1940s beer advertisement showcasing a family playing horseshoes. Image source.

The first formal rules for the game were established in England in 1869. However the first recorded tournament in the United States wasn’t until 1909 in Bronson, Kansas. Though the popularity of horseshoes had faded some, yard games are easy to spot today at MSU, especially on game days and at tailgates. Games like corn hole (aka bag toss, sack toss, baggo, and many other regional variations of the name) and ladder toss are easy to spot, but a  horseshoe pit is slightly more illusive these days.  Although we’ll never know why someone decided to throw away this horseshoe, we’re happy to have found it.  This artifact provides an interesting viewpoint into East Lansing’s past.

 

References:

http://www.wowhorses.com/horseshoe-sizes-chart.html#.WiloUbQ-cWo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horseshoes

http://www.horseshoepitching.com/

 

 

 

 

 

CAP at MSU Science Fest 2017

This month, Campus Archaeology is participating in MSU’s fifth annual Science Festival. Science Fest celebrates STEAM fields—Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics—by bringing exploration and discovery out of the laboratory and into the public eye. From April 7-23, MSU is hosting a series of free events for people of all ages including demonstrations, panel discussions, tours, open houses, hands-on activities, and science cafes aimed at connecting campus researchers with curious members of the community.

This past Saturday, April 8, CAP participated in the Science Fest Expo Zone Day event. For the Expo Zone, STEAM researchers from all over campus developed hands-on activities with the goal of “sharing the science that inspires them” with aspiring young scientists and their families.

CAP fellows Susan Kooiman, Jeff Painter, and Autumn Beyer help young archaeologists use real screens to sift through buckets of sand for artifacts.

CAP fellows Susan Kooiman, Jeff Painter, and Autumn Beyer help young archaeologists use real screens to sift through buckets of sand for artifacts.

CAP has participated in Science Fest since it began in 2013. Since this wasn’t our first rodeo, we brought two hands-on activities to the Expo Zone that we knew would spark the interest of kids and parents alike. On Saturday, our screening station activity drew big crowds and lots of curious onlookers. CAP volunteers “excavated” buckets of sand and asked visitors to help sift the sand through screens to look for “artifacts.”

We selected a variety of objects to keep things interesting and to represent the types of artifacts we expect to find when excavating on campus: toy plates and cups stood in for dinnerware found across campus; plastic combs represented personal hygiene items, like the privy beard comb; and bone-shaped dog biscuits represented butchered animal bones like the ones CAP Fellow Autumn Beyer is working on analyzing. We also included some fun items for kids to find, like matchbox cars and plastic turtles.

Dr. Heather Walder and undergraduate archaeology student SarahJane Potter explain that archaeologists are interested in people, not dinosaurs.

Dr. Heather Walder and undergraduate archaeology student SarahJane Potter explain that archaeologists are interested in people, not dinosaurs.

After they sifted through all the sand in their buckets, we asked visitors to describe, count, and sort artifacts for us. Finally, they collected them into a box to “take to the lab” for additional analysis. Even though this was a fun activity, we wanted to make sure it resembled real-life archaeology, not “treasure hunting.” At the end of the activity, we paid our budding archaeology assistants for their hard work with chocolate coins or temporary tattoos. If we accomplished nothing else, we successfully indoctrinated the youth with the idea that archaeologists should be paid for their work.

Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright prepares Science Fest visitors to play the artifact matching game.

Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright prepares Science Fest visitors to play the artifact matching game.

When they were done screening, we sent visitors over to the artifacts table to look at some of the real-life objects we’ve excavated right here on MSU’s campus. Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright showed visitors several interesting items including a jar of library paste, porcelain dolls, and uranium glass that glows under black lights. Visitors were allowed to touch and handle some of the sturdier artifacts like laboratory keys, a protractor, and a pocketknife rusted shut. These examples of campus artifacts tied in with the second activity CAP brought to the Expo Zone: the artifact matching game.

The artifact matching game required visitors to play a 3-dimensional game of memory matching, where they matched four historic artifacts with their modern counterparts. Visitors of all ages enjoyed comparing and contrasting modern objects they see and use every day, like light bulbs and pop bottles, with similar items used by MSU students and faculty decades ago. Since many of the Science Fest visitors work on campus or have family members that do, they were excited to make these kinds of connections with campus history.

Archaeology undergraduate Amy Hair shows Science Fest visitors some examples of archaeological tools and artifacts found on MSU’s campus

Archaeology undergraduate Amy Hair shows Science Fest visitors some examples of archaeological tools and artifacts found on MSU’s campus

The Science Fest Expo was a lot of fun, but it also served an important purpose in that it provided a space for us to bring our work into the public sphere. Now, more than ever, scientists have to think about how we can bridge the gap between the public and the academy and make our work relevant and accessible to everyone. While this is a complicated issue, a good first step is to make sure members of the community are familiar with what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. One visitor said they had worked on campus for years and had no idea we did archaeology here!

These in-person events also give us a chance to address common misconceptions about archaeology. When visitors arrived at our booth, we asked them if they could tell us about what archaeologists do. Before doing the activity and talking to us, most people—kids and parents—thought that archaeologists dig up dinosaur fossils! We were able to have one-on-one conversations and explain that paleontologists study dinosaurs, while archaeologists are interested in learning about past people based on the objects they leave behind.

CAP’s next Scincefest outreach event will be a Campus Archaeology Historical Walking Tour on Saturday, April 15 from 1-2 PM. The first 50 people to arrive at the MSU Union will receive a guided tour of archaeological locations important to MSU’s history, led by CAP Director Dr. Lynne Goldstein and Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright. The tour is free and suitable for all ages!