Identifying the former location of historical features can be an invaluable part of designing archaeological investigations, allowing researchers to tailor survey and excavation plans to spaces in which they are interested in, or assess which features might be impacted by development plans. In many cases, …
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 …
Hi, I’m Jasmine Smith, and I’m a CAP undergrad intern this semester. I’ve been working with CAP since I participated in the Summer 2015 field school. I also did an internship during Fall 2015 where I examined the laboratory glass found at the Gunson site. I was also able to work as part of the CAP field crew this summer. My project for CAP this semester involves working with a geographic information system to create a map showing where CAP has found artifacts from different time periods. The four historical periods CAP focuses on are separated into phases: phase 1 (1855-1870), phase 2 (1870-1900) and phase 3 (1900-1925) and phase 4 (1925-1955). Using GIS will allow us to visualize the distribution of artifacts we have found from each of these phases.
This past Tuesday I was able to go into the lab and look at artifacts from past excavations to get an idea of what time periods the artifacts come from. We can usually give an estimate of how old an assemblage of artifacts is depending on what we know about the site from archival research and what types of artifacts were found. Now that I have an idea of what artifacts are from each phase, I can figure out how I want to display this in the GIS.
CAP has used ArcMap for several years to do a number of projects. One of the things I use the most is a map that show’s every single place CAP has dug on campus. This map is basically an aerial photograph of MSU’s campus with different layers for each of the sites we’ve excavated. Each layer includes either point data that represents individual shovel test pits or polygons that represent trenches/pits. Each layer also consists of a detailed description of the site and what was found there. We also have a layer that shows historical buildings that are no longer standing. This is very helpful for giving us an idea of where we should dig on campus.
During the semester I will be adding new layers to this map for the sites we excavated the past two summers, as well as entering metadata missing for sites excavated in previous years. Other ideas that might be interesting to explore using GIS would be creating a map of the most interesting artifacts CAP has found. This would include artifacts we mention often such as the doll head from the historic privy, the men’s shoes from station terrace, etc. Another thing that might be interesting to do in the future would be to create a map showing the distribution of different artifact types around campus.
Working with GIS is something that is very new to me. I never thought much about it until this past spring semester when I took GEO 221, Intro to Geographic Information. After talking to people in the Anthropology department, I learned that GIS is a very sought after skill in Archaeology. This summer Lisa Bright, the campus archaeologist, suggested I do an internship working with CAP’s GIS. I thought this would be an awesome opportunity and so far I’ve learned a lot. I am definitely seeing how GIS can benefit archaeology.
For the Midwest Archaeology Conference (November 5-7, 2015) this year, I’m going to be co-authoring an oral presentation on how we maintain continuity in the MSU Campus Archaeology Program when we have a consistently shifting group of graduate and undergraduates working for it. This is …
Well over half of CAP’s last two weeks of summer work involved an extensive survey of People’s Park. People’s Park, for those who have never heard the term, is the open area between Wells Hall, the Red Cedar River, Erickson Hall, and the International Center. Its name comes from a series of protests that happened there in the spring of 1970. Our primary goal for the survey was to locate the Chittenden Memorial Cabin, a cabin built in the area by Forestry students to commemorate A. K. Chittenden, a beloved Forestry professor. A historical marker was recently put up outside Wells Hall about the cabin.
We ended up surveying much of People’s Park via a shovel test pit grid at 5 meter intervals. The areas we surveyed can be seen to the left in light green. Aside from unusually compact gravelly soil, the area held few surprises. The first day of digging, we did find a large, triangular piece of concrete, presumably from an old sidewalk and continued to find large pieces of concrete throughout the week. There were only two STPs of significant interest in our survey. The first was found on the first day and, after expanding, consisted of several large (almost foundation sized) stones, and bricks, concrete, and large fragments of what we think are drainage pipes. This was located at the light blue dot on the below map. The other surprise came later in the week, and was cut short by a short rain storm. The STP marked by a light green dot on the below map had a much higher artifact concentration (including some decorated whiteware) than the rest of People’s Park as well as what appeared to be a burned layer in the stratigraphy, where a good portion of the artifacts were found. Based on the location of the short course dormitories (seen in yellow below), there is a chance it may have been a small trash pit for them, although the density of artifacts was lower and the stratigraphy was different than other trash pits found on campus.
The above map was the result of some GIS research I did to further understand the area we were surveying. I used a 1952 map of campus and georeferenced it with our existing CAP GIS database to reveal the approximate locations of the buildings we were searching for. The yellow buildings are the ones found on the 1952 map while the brown ones are modern buildings. It turns out that the memorial cabin is currently mostly located underneath the sidewalk patio outside of the C-Wing of Wells Hall. This georeference in GIS helped us tailor our survey to hit potential “hot-spots” or areas where we were most likely to come across artifacts.
Author: Josh Schnell
This semester I have continued to work on the GIS for Campus Archaeology and will be presenting a poster at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) this coming spring. In deciding on a research topic and a question I wanted to answer, it …
The large amount of rain East Lansing has experienced over the past three weeks has deeply affected the construction and archaeology on campus. This delay in work has allowed us at the Campus Archaeology Program to turn our attention to the other side of archaeology: finds …
As anyone even remotely connected to the field of archaeology can tell you, we record EVERYTHING. Note-taking and record-keeping is just as much a part of archaeology as the iconic trowel, perhaps even more so! Archaeologists must keep track of and record as much as possible at the dig site, everything from location, maps and diagrams, weather, time, spatial distribution, artifacts found, soil types, color, and stratigraphy (and even this list is nowhere near exhaustive). All of this seemingly excessive record-keeping is an effort by archaeologists to preserve what we are excavating as best as possible. Archaeology is a destructive discipline, and by that I mean, as we excavate, we destroy the very archaeological record we are seeking to understand, and because of that, it is absolutely crucial that we record as much as possible to be able to recreate and study the dig site after excavation. Good note keeping is also very helpful to anyone looking at and potentially working with a project in the future.
I spent much of the last semester learning the basics of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) as a volunteer with the Campus Archaeology Program. It was my job to go through field notebooks from past projects and field schools and enter all of the data into the GIS. Where the project took place, what was done (shovel test pits or excavation units), who was on the team, when the project happened, and whether or not artifacts were found all goes into the GIS, and my work rested entirely on the notes of past Campus Archaeologists, Field School assistants and attendees, and volunteers. Trying to match hand drawn maps to a physical location on a satellite image of campus takes some practice, and it can be even further complicated when two different maps from two separate people working on the same project contradict each other. Differences in the field journals of individuals all working on the same project made gathering a complete picture of the project and what went on very difficult at times. Often times though, I had to deal with the lack of recorded data, missing dates, STPs on the maps that had no data associated with them, and not knowing who was excavating. That resulted in a scramble through many additional notebooks from Field School students in hopes of finding the missing data. Piecing together past archaeological projects for present-day digitization is a lot like detective work and again, relies on the record-keeping of those involved in the project.
This summer, as part of the CAP survey team, I am again in charge of entering all of our projects into the GIS, and I can tell you first-hand that doing it immediately after a project you just participated in is a whole different story. Not only do you have memory of what went on and where, but being present also gives you some control over the record-keeping for the project, especially knowing that later it has to be entered into the computer. My task became so much easier working from projects that I had worked on within the few weeks prior. After seeing just how troublesome even a couple of small discrepancies in field notebooks can be, I definitely understand how important note taking is in the field, and that was just from doing GIS work, I can hardly imagine trying to study a past archaeological project that was the victim of poor record-keeping!
So for those aspiring to be archaeologists, I have one piece of advice for you: develop good and consistent note taking skills!
Author: Josh Schnell