Campus as Museum: A Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience

Here at CAP we think a lot about different ways of sharing our research. We can—and do—present at conferences, give public lectures, and publish site reports and journal articles. While these avenues are great for communicating our work to other experts, they are probably not the most effective ways of engaging the MSU community and the public. This blog is one way we communicate with the public about the campus heritage we uncover through our work. But how can we take this one step further and make the connection between campus heritage and campus space? One idea is to create an experience that turns MSU’s campus into a museum anyone can visit, with exhibits that not only showcase what we’ve discovered through archival and archaeological research, but also the processes involved in uncovering this knowledge.

The first iteration of this idea of campus as museum was msu.seum, a free mobile app that uses geopositioning to identify a user’s location on campus, point them to the nearest site of interest, and provide information on the history and archaeology of the site. Msu.seum was the outcome of collaboration between the Campus Archaeology Program, the Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Initiative, and MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Science. The app was first designed and developed as part of the 2011 CHI Field School led by CHI director and MATRIX associate director Dr. Ethan Watrall. Content for msu.seum was developed by Dr. Goldstein and former Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock.

For my CAP project I have been working to update and help build a Campus Archaeology mobile experience on a new and improved platform that alleviates technical issues with the original msu.seum app and offers exciting new features. The new platform we are using is mbira, an open-source tool specifically designed for building and managing location-based and mobile cultural heritage experiences designed by MATRIX. The site we are building in mbira can be accessed as an app for Android and Apple devices, on mobile web browsers, and as a browser-based web app.

A screenshot of the editor view of the interactive map showing five location points organized within the permanent exhibit "Beginnings." This exhibit covers the first era of MSU's history from 1855 to 1870.

A screenshot of the editor view of the interactive map showing five location points organized within the permanent exhibit “Beginnings.” This exhibit covers the first era of MSU’s history from 1855 to 1870.

So, what exactly will the new Campus Archaeology mobile experience look like? The site has three major levels of organization: locations, exhibits, and explorations. Locations are the most basic level of organization. They appear as pins on an interactive map and are tied to real locations, including past and present campus buildings and sites CAP has excavated. When a user selects a location pin, they are provided with a description of the site’s history, similar to an artifact label in a traditional museum. Unlike traditional museums, locations also include a “Dig Deeper” section exposing the archaeological research that helped generate knowledge about that location, as well as a comment section. Our hope is that eventually users will be able to participate in conversations with us and other users to ask questions, share reactions, and contribute to our knowledge of campus sites.

A historic photo of College Hall, the first building erected on campus and one of the locations users can explore on the Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience. It held classrooms, labs, a museum, a chapel, and administration. This photo taken in 1857 shows the landscape of felled trees that had to be cleared to build campus. (Photo courtesy of MSU Archives, A000157.jpg).

A historic photo of College Hall, the first building erected on campus and one of the locations users can explore on the Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience. It held classrooms, labs, a museum, a chapel, and administration. This photo taken in 1857 shows the landscape of felled trees that had to be cleared to build campus. (Photo courtesy of MSU Archives)

Exhibits provide one option for users to experience locations. Exhibits connect several locations together based on an underlying theme. To date, we have created five permanent exhibits for the mobile experience. Four of these correspond to eras in campus history including Beginnings (1855-1870), Foundation (1870-1900), Expansion (1900-1925), and Legacy (1925-1955). Our fifth permanent exhibit, Discovery, includes locations associated with CAP’s archaeological investigations from 2005 to the present. Explorations provide another way for users to experience locations. Unlike exhibits, explorations join together locations intended to be experienced in a particular sequence. This feature could be used to create a self-guided tour.

A photo of the foundations of College Hall, excavated in 2009 during sidewalk replacement around Beaumont Tower.

A photo of the foundations of College Hall, excavated in 2009 during sidewalk replacement around Beaumont Tower.

So far, my work on this project has primarily focused on building the permanent exhibits. Last semester I updated content previously featured on msu.seum with findings from new investigations. I have also created new content that reflects more recent field schools and sites excavated since 2011. I am now putting the finishing touches on the permanent exhibits including attaching historical photos from MSU Archives and photos of artifacts and archaeological investigations to each of the 27 locations currently added to the site.

As we develop this Campus Archaeology mobile experience, we are continuing to think of new ways to build and expand. We hope to create temporary thematic exhibits and explorations that can be featured at different times throughout the year. One idea is to highlight and connect current CAP research—including research on sustainability, food, and gender—to locations on campus. Another idea is to create a Halloween exploration to coincide with the Haunted Tour Campus Archaeology cohosts with the MSU Paranormal Society.

While this project is still in development, we are looking forward to launching the site soon. In March, Dr. Watrall will be presenting a beta version at the Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries conference in a paper titled “Towards an Approach to Building Mobile Digital Experiences for University Campus Heritage and Archaeology.” He will also be presenting on building mobile experiences for heritage and archaeology in this invited lecture. Stay tuned for the full launch of the CAP mobile experience later this year!


Middle school outreach – reflections on my research

Like Mari Isa, for this blog post, I will be talking about the outreach event that CAP ran for Holmes Middle School in Livonia, MI on Friday, January 19th.  However, I will be discussing it from a different point of view.  In Mari’s blog, she discussed the activity itself: what we had the students look at, what the goals of the activity were, what the outcomes were, etc.  I will be coming from a different standpoint: that of a grad student leading the activity and how it impacted us.

CAP fellow Jeff Painter guides the discussion.

CAP fellow Jeff Painter guides the discussion.

As academics (or in my case, an academic in training), we sometimes forget that our research and our purpose aren’t just to further our knowledge in our respective fields for ourselves or other academics.  It is true that in many cases the audience of our publications are other researchers and those in research institutions.  Yet where we can have the biggest impact is in the public sector through outreach activities such as these.  These types of events were not common or even really practiced when I myself was in middle school or even in high school.  That these outreach events are becoming more prominent and more of the norm is highly encouraging and definitely has an impact on many of the students.  However, this event was not a one-way conversation with us researchers just lecturing about archaeology at the middle schoolers who passively listen.  As an instructor in this exercise, I learned a few very important things/lessons.

1.) This type of outreach matters.  Despite what many students say, they do actually love to learn, especially in a hands-on capacity.  Education can be highly effective by taking a tactile route.  Reading information out of books is highly informative, but actively engaging in the research with tangible objects routes that knowledge in reality and makes that knowledge real.  With every class, there was at least one student or group of students that guessed their “mystery site” dated “to the Neolithic, like Çatal Höyük” (seriously, multiple students said this exact phrase).  The students are learning about ancient cultures and time periods and it is through these types of activities that they get to practice their knowledge and use critical thinking skills.

A student uses a black light to find the uranium glass.

A student uses a black light to find the uranium glass.

2.) The students taught me how to interact with them.  As a graduate student, I interact mostly with my professors and other graduate students, so our topics of conversation sometimes go in directions and use certain jargon that the majority of people don’t understand or don’t care about.  By spending an entire school day with middle schoolers, we all had to reorient how we interact with others when talking about topics that we are all very well-versed in.  We sometimes forget that our research benefits the public and that we therefore need to approach these topics in a way that is meaningful and interesting for the public.  We work for them, so we need to make sure that we include them in our conversations and that our research isn’t just for our own sake.

3.) Building off my second point, it helped me think about how I can make my own research meaningful and pertinent in today’s society.  The biggest and most important question that archaeologists gets asked, and one that can be the most difficult to answer, is: So what?  Why does this matter?  Research for its own sake does nothing for society.  In doing this event, I saw students that were highly engaged, had great theories about their kits/sites, and were generally hungry for knowledge.  I learned that if one aspect of my personal research (which is how childhood was experienced for the ancient Maya) interested them, then I would have succeeded in part of my research goals.  By watching them interact with each other, I took note of how they interacted with the world around them, how they addressed each other, adults, teachers, and us.  How did they experience their world and how can I use that to look at ancient childhood and adolescence?  Additionally, what similarities can I draw from ancient Maya childhood that I see today?

By teaching these middle schoolers about archaeology, they taught me that I don’t give enough credit to middle schoolers.  We sometimes get trapped in our own ivory tower and forget that there is a world below us where most people live and interact.  Participating in outreach programs such as this not only benefits the students, but also teaches us as the experts that our expertise is meaningless and useless if we only discuss things amongst ourselves.  I hope that we continue to conduct these types of events as I think it is imperative in today’s educational climate.  The world needs more bright students to shape our future and it is our job to help make that happen.

Think Like an Archaeologist: Reflections on Outreach Using Site Kits

Given one hour, how do you teach 300 7th graders to think like archaeologists? This was the challenge presented to us when a group of teachers contacted CAP about doing an interactive event to introduce their 7th grade social studies students to archaeology. Although CAP regularly does activity-based engagement with elementary school children, we did not have a ready-made activity appropriate for older students.

Students work in groups to answer questions about artifacts

Students work in groups to answer questions about artifacts

This event presented us with an opportunity to consider which aspects of archaeology we most wanted to share with young members of the public. Since we couldn’t teach 7th graders how to do archaeology in one hour in a classroom, we decided to focus on getting them to understand how archaeologists use material and contextual evidence to draw conclusions, and how archaeology can contribute unique information to our knowledge of the past.

Over the past few weeks, we developed a “site in a box” activity designed to give students an opportunity to think like archaeologists. We assembled boxes containing artifacts, site photos, and maps, with each box representing a “mystery” archaeological site. Lisa wrote in detail about our process in assembling these boxes on the blog last week. Students were instructed to work together, using all available evidence to complete two tasks. The first task was to identify the artifacts and discuss their potential uses. The second task was to use these answers to make larger inferences about the site: What type of site was it? What was the time period and geographic location of the site? What do the artifacts say about the people associated with the site? For example, how did they eat and procure food? How did they dress? Did they see any evidence of belief systems?

Students discussing artifacts and looking at the site map representing a Maya cave site.

Students discussing artifacts and looking at the site map representing a Maya cave site.

We debuted the new activity last Friday at the middle school. On the day of the event, we divided nine CAP representatives including Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, all six CAP fellows, and one undergraduate volunteer across three classrooms to help run the activity. Each classroom of students was divided into five groups, each assigned a different box representing containing the materials from one of the mystery sites.

Each class was 55 minutes long. We typically took the first 10 minutes to explain the activity and answer a few questions. After this introduction, students had about 30-35 minutes to work in groups to complete the activity. During this time, CAP representatives walked around the room answering questions, helping stimulate discussion, and guiding students in identifying some of the trickier artifacts. During the last 15 minutes of class, each group presented their findings, selecting a few artifacts to share along with their conclusions about the site. Finally, they compared their answers with the site descriptions in the answer key.

We found this time frame short enough to keep students engaged throughout the entire class period, but long enough for them to answer most of the questions. Left to their own devices students tended to spend most of their time describing artifacts, so CAP representatives learned to help steer discussions toward interpretations at the halfway mark to keep them on track. While the students did well with most of the physical artifacts, we noticed we needed to clarify what to do with images of artifacts, as students often overlooked or struggled to identify these. In the future we might consider replacing these with physical artifacts or clearer images, along with explicit instructions to look at artifact images.

CAP fellow Susan Kooiman helps guide discussion.

CAP fellow Susan Kooiman helps guide discussion.

Overall, we felt that the activity was a success. The students were engaged, enthusiastic, and seemed to enjoy piecing together the puzzle we presented them. They asked thoughtful questions and came up with interesting interpretations about their sites. We were especially impressed with some of the connections they made based on what they had previously learned in social studies. Several students asked if the presence of corn and eggshells meant the people at their site were domesticating plants and animals.

Although preparation for this event took considerable investment of time and resources, it also presented an opportunity to develop a quality activity we could use for other events. These kits would be appropriate and interesting to audiences from middle school students to adults. Looking forward to our planned outreach events, this activity could easily be used for Grandparents’ University. Finally, putting together this activity made us think about how to convey what makes archaeology a unique and relevant source of information in a meaningful, yet manageable way.



Creating Outreach Site Kits

Outreach isn’t something out of the ordinary for CAP to do. We routinely participate in a wide variety of outreach events ranging from small groups to hundreds of people at large events like Sciencefest.

CAP was recently contacted by a group of Middle School teachers here in Michigan and asked if we would be interested in collaborating. This district had recently changed some of the social science curriculum to include more anthropology/archaeology and study of the ancient past. The teachers asked if we would be willing to come in and conduct an event that would allow their students to interact with archaeologists and to have the opportunity for hands on engagement.

So we were faced with a few new challenges – most hands on events we’ve done in the past are geared towards elementary school students and smaller groups. This event would need to cover 300 7th graders. Thankfully we would be covering individual classes with no more than 30 students per class and a maximum of 3 classes running at once.

We decided to create a “site in a box” activity.  We selected sites that would provide a wide range of time periods, site types, and locations.  The students will be provided with a worksheet that asks them to identify the artifacts, consider who the people that used them were, what time frame these objects are from, and where in the world the site may be.  Each site box has 10-11 artifacts, and a series of additional clues like maps or site photos.

Site A – Alameda-Stone Cemetery

The Alameda-Stone cemetery is located in Tucson, Arizona.  It was used by local community members from the early 1860s through 1881.

Site A - "Alameda-Stone Cemetery" artifacts

Site A – “Alameda-Stone Cemetery” artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Bone
  2. Rosary
  3. Part of a shoe
  4. Coffin nails
  5. Coffin hardware
  6. Buckle
  7. Earring
  8. Coffin Wood
  9. Buttons
  10. Cloth


The box also includes a map of the entire cemetery, a close up of an individual burial, and an artifact image.

Overview of the excavated cemetery. Image from the excavation report.

Overview of the excavated cemetery. Image from the excavation report.

Image of  burial from Alameda-Stone cemetery. Image from excavation report.

Image of a shoe recovered from an excavated burial. Image from the excavation report.

Shoe recovered from an burial. Image from the excavation report.

Site B – Historic Privy on MSU’s Campus

The west circle privy was excavated in 2015.  The artifacts in the structure date to the 1850s and 1860s.  This is the only privy that has been located on campus.

Site B - MSU Historic Privy artifacts

Site B – MSU Historic Privy artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Raspberry seeds
  2. Plate
  3. Fish bones
  4. Glass cup
  5. Egg shell
  6. Doll fragments
  7. Plate
  8. Violin flask bottle picture
  9. Comb
  10. Ceramic tea/coffee cup
  11. Buttons


Site B - West Circle Privy during excavation

Site B – West Circle Privy during excavation

Sketch map of the west circle privy

Site C – Aztalan

We wanted to include a prehistoric site in the Midwest to be able to provide a local connection for the students.  With Dr. Goldstein’s extensive experience at Aztalan it was an easy choice.  The site of Aztalan is located in present day southern Wisconsin and was occupied between 1050 and 1200 AD.

Site C - Aztalan artifacts

Site C – Aztalan artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Shell beads
  2. Arrowhead
  3. Pot fragment
  4. *artifact photo
  5. Duck bones
  6. Photograph of mounds
  7. Photograph of stratigraphy
  8. Daub
  9. Stone tool flakes
  10. Shells



Site D – Mayan Cave Burial 

The cave burial site of Actun Kabul was selected for site D. Actun Kabul (Actun is the word for cave in the Mayan language) is a cave deep within the jungles of Belize in Central America.

Site D - Actun Kabul artifacts

Site D – Actun Kabul artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Human bone
  2. Jade
  3. Pot Fragment
  4. Figurine Fragment
  5. Shell
  6. Corn
  7. Pepper seeds
  8. Human teeth
  9. Stingray spine
  10. Glyph carving
  11. Obsidian


We also provide the students with a map of the cave.

Map of Site D - Actun Kabul

Map of Site D – Actun Kabul


Site E – Professor Gunson’s Trash Pit

For our final site we selected the site the 2015 CAP field school excavated – Professor Gunson’s trash deposit.

Site E - Professor Gunson's Trash Pit artifacts

Site E – Professor Gunson’s Trash Pit artifacts

This sites artifacts include:

  1. Laboratory equipment
  2. Vaseline Glass
  3. Window Glass
  4. Ketchup Bottle
  5. Ceramic plate
  6. Nails
  7. Decorated ceramic
  8. Bottle
  9. Flower pot frag
  10. Brick


Since we needed to make 15 total kits, there was no way we could include actual artifacts.  The objects in the kits are a combination of online purchases, hunting at the University Surplus Store, donations from CAP fellows/faculty, and some creative saving (this week I boiled a chicken carcass for the bones, saved all of my egg shells, and picked out seeds from bell peppers). Each kit also contains an envelope with an answer key that identifies each of the artifacts, and provides a narrative of the site.  The envelope also contains more details maps and photos of the archaeological site.

Today we’re putting these kits to the test!  We’ll be posting throughout the day on social media, and stay tuned for a follow up post about the event later this month.


4th Annual Apparitions & Archaeology Tour Recap

Happy Halloween! This past week the Campus Archaeology Program and the MSU Paranormal Society hosted their fourth annual Apparitions and Archaeology: A Haunted Campus Tour! While it was a little chilly out, we had a record number of attendees, with over 200 people touring!

Spooky artifacts were displayed for visitors to see. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

Spooky artifacts were displayed for visitors to see. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

Similar to previous years, there were stops at several of the important landmarks on campus. Everyone started their tour at Beaumont Tower where Dr. Lynne Goldstein, the director of the Campus Archaeology Program gave an introduction to the event and a history of the tower area. After this introduction, everyone was welcome to take the tour in any order they preferred, with additional stops at Saint’s Rest, Sleepy Hallow, the fountain, Morrill Hall, and Mary Mayo Hall.

A tour participant holds the haunted tour map. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

A tour participant holds the haunted tour map. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

At each stop, a Campus Archaeology Fellow gave a brief history of their area as well information about what has been found archaeologically, both prehistoric and historic. We also explain how this archaeological data can be used to learn more about the experiences of past MSU students, faculty, and staff, as well as earlier inhabitants of the region. In addition to learning about the archaeology conducted throughout MSU’s campus, the MSU Paranormal Society told stories of the MSU’s haunted past, and showed some of their equipment that they use while conducting paranormal investigations including EMF meters and a spirit box.

One of our favorite parts of this event is interacting with the public about our archaeological investigations of MSU’s campus. We love to hear questions and stories from past and present MSU students, faculty, and staff, the greater MSU Community, and from our future Spartan visitors!

A tour group waits at the horse fountain. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

A tour group waits at the horse fountain. Photo credit: Courtney Rae Pasek

One fun story we heard from a future Spartan was at the Saint’s Rest stop, the location of the first dormitory on campus. Lisa Bright, the current campus archaeologist talked to the visitors about the privy associated with this dorm, where excavations several years ago recovered a lot of artifacts, including a ceramic doll! The reason archaeologists like excavating privy’s so much is because when someone drops something down in a privy, they are probably not going to go after it, leaving an exciting archaeological record! One boy mentioned how that makes sense because his brother once dropped a pencil down the toilet and they didn’t want to go after it!

Another great question from a future Spartan was from a girl who asked the MSU Paranormal Society if they have ever gotten responses from ghost animals through the spirit box! While they haven’t gotten any yet, they said that they wouldn’t be surprised to get a woof or meow response someday!

For those of you who weren’t able to make it to the tour check out the YouTube video the State News made from the tour! And stay on the lookout for the tour next year!

Do you have any questions about MSU’s past? Ask them in the comment section!


Many thanks to undergrad volunteer Courtney Rae Pasek for taking the photos.


Big Changes Coming in MSU Campus Archaeology’s Future

The 2017-18 academic year will be a momentous one for MSU Campus Archaeology. We are now an established entity in the University with our own budget and clear goals, but as of May 2018, I (Lynne Goldstein) will be retiring from MSU, and the MSU Campus Archaeology Program will have a new Director and, hopefully, even more exciting and new directions.

Thanks to the assistance of Dean Rachel Croson of the College of Social Science, MSU has hired Dr. Stacey Camp as an Associate Professor of Anthropology who will become Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program in May 2018. We have the good fortune to be able to spend this year making sure that we have everything in good shape, and preparing Stacey for the details of running this unique program.

MSU has been extraordinarily generous and supportive of the Campus Archaeology Program, and I cannot thank the Administration enough for their vision in championing the program and providing both undergraduate and graduate students unique and important training and career opportunities.

The rest of this post is written by Stacey Camp, introducing herself to MSU Campus Archaeology Program supporters.

Lynne Goldstein

Dr. Stacey Camp

Dr. Stacey Camp, Associate Professor of Anthropology and future director of CAP

I am honored and excited to be joining Michigan State University as a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology and as the Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program. I appreciate the opportunity to shadow Dr. Goldstein to ensure continuity in the MSU Campus Archaeology Program. I come from the University of Idaho where I spent 9 years as a faculty member and close to 4 years as the director of one of three state repositories in Idaho.

I have admired the MSU Campus Archaeology Program’s work from afar for many years, attending sessions on the project at conferences, reading its blog, and following its Twitter account. I was attracted to the program because of my own research projects, which have foregrounded a publicly engaged approach to archaeology.

My research takes a comparative approach to understanding the lives of migrants inhabiting the late 19th and early 20th century Western United States. My first large-scale public archaeology project examined the lives and archaeology of Mexican migrant laborers and their families, which I blogged about on a now defunct website. My latest project looks at the archaeology of Japanese American prisoners incarcerated in a World War II internment camp, and has likewise been documented on the web.

One of things I have appreciated about the MSU Campus Archaeology Program is its innovative and creative approach to placing the history of higher education in Michigan into the public’s hands. Their recent historic “MSU dinner” and their ongoing partnership with the MSU Paranormal Society to offer historic haunted tours are just a few examples of this type of engagement. I look forward to collaborating with students, colleagues, and community partners on the MSU Campus Archaeology Program to continue to develop new strategies to push the boundaries of public archaeology at MSU.

Stacey Camp

MSU Campus Archaeology Receives 2017 Michigan Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation

Members of the Michigan Legislature present Dan Bollman (MSU Infrastructure Planning & Facilities), Jodie O'Gorman (MSU Dept. of Anthropology), and Lynne Goldstein ( CAP Director) with the award.

Members of the Michigan Legislature present Dan Bollman (MSU Infrastructure Planning & Facilities), Jodie O’Gorman (MSU Dept. of Anthropology), and Lynne Goldstein ( CAP Director) with the award.

On Tuesday, May 2nd, MSU’s Department of Anthropology, Department of Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, and the Office of the President received the Michigan Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation and a special tribute from the State of Michigan Legislature on behalf of MSU Campus Archaeology. The award was given for their combined efforts to preserve the cultural resources found on Michigan State University’s campus. This award, sponsored by Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office and State Historic Preservation Review Board, recognizes individuals, companies, and institutions that strive to protect, preserve, and study the many historic resources within the state of Michigan (For a complete list of those who received the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation this year, click here).

Poster highlighting CAP's work on display at the award ceremony.

Poster highlighting CAP’s work on display at the award ceremony.

Since 2005, MSU’s Campus Archaeology Program has worked to excavate and recover the material remains of MSU’s history, as well as the history of those who lived here prior to the university.  Combining salvage archaeology, field schools, and archival research, CAP has contributed greatly to our understanding of MSU’s past, while also training numerous students in archaeological methods and the importance of cultural resource management and preservation. Not only focused on excavation and research, CAP also works to communicate this history and the importance of archaeology to members of the community through outreach events like MSU’s Science Festival, MSU Grandparents University, the CAP MSU Haunted Campus tour, and participation in other local events. As Governor Snyder reminds us, these preservation and research efforts have impacts beyond just the MSU community, contributing to “our sense of place, and our identity as Michiganders.”

Special Tribute from State of Michigan

Special Tribute from State of Michigan

2017 Governor's Award for Historic Preservation

2017 Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation










In the future, Campus Archaeology will continue to work toward preserving and understanding the history of our small slice of the state of Michigan, despite a political climate that is increasingly antagonistic toward cultural and natural resource management and preservation. Preservation, when done properly, helps to build a stronger sense of self and identity for neighborhoods, regions, and even nations, which can act as guiding principles for future action. The preservation of buildings and archaeological sites also provides stark physical reminders of who we are, where we came from, and what we strive to become in the future.  They remind us of how much we have achieved, but also how far we have left to go. Further, monuments and other preserved sites allow us to interact with and experience our heritage, or the heritage of others, in a way that cannot be reproduced through other means. Beyond this cultural and social value, preservation efforts also generate economic opportunities by creating jobs, increasing tourism, increasing property values, and attracting businesses who want to benefit from this improved traffic. Most importantly, these resources are non-renewable; they cannot be reclaimed once they are gone, so we must work to preserve them now before they are lost forever. We congratulate all of the current and previous winners of the Michigan Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation for their great work, and we hope they continue this work far into the future.

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!


CAP CAFE! The Public and MSU Archaeology

Last night was the first official CAP Cafe with a presentation by Dr. Jodi O’Gorman, chair of the MSU Department of Anthropology. We are excited to launch this series of public oriented lectures about some of the archaeology projects from our department and gather with archaeologists here in the area. Here are our dates for this semester:

February 25th: Dr. Lovis
March 31st: Dr. Watrall
April 14th: CAP

All presentations are at 7pm. February is in McDonel Hall C103, March is in the LEADR lab, and April is part of ScienceFest!
So come and join us to interact with archaeologists at MSU!

Here is a recap of last night’s CAP Cafe:

Dr. O'Gorman presents

Dr. O’Gorman presents Breaking Bread and Building Bridges

Dr. O’Gorman’s presentation, “Breaking Bread and Building Bridges: A Foodways Perspective on Negotiating Pre-Columbian Conflict in the Midwest” was based on her long term research project at Morton Village in central Illinois. This project is near and dear to our hearts here at MSU because most students join the site to work on the various projects and to develop their archaeological training. This 14th century village is related to a cemetery and mound complex in the Central Illonios river valley. The site is located in a region that overlaps the indigenous Mississpian cultural groups to the south and the Oneota from northern Illinois and Wisconsin.

The presentation focused on the relationships between changes in foodways and the development of multiculturalism in the Midwest during the 1300s. Dr. O’Gorman used a variety of approaches; lipid analysis, statistical analysis, and shape/form analysis to understand the production and use of bowls and plates at the site. This information may reveal that these two cultures developed an integrated way of manufacturing, preparing, and displaying food. Dr. O’Gorman highlighted a particular deep rimmed plate style that had typical Mississipian cultural form but used Oneota stylistic motiffs. She suggested that the persistence of the shape type for both groups can demonstrate a need to maintain some cultural element in the face of change as “community and group persistence were important.” Dr. O’Gorman suggested that these instances of integration and separation that occured in this boarder region can ultimately reveal how and when these two groups developed multicultural behaviors during their interactions.

After the discussion we visited the laboratories to see the artifacts up close and get a sense of the different shapes and motifs of the Misssisspian and Oneota cultural groups. This hands-on experience was a bonus addition to the presentation, a unique asset of our CAP CAFE series.

Ceramic frags in the lab

Ceramic frags in the lab

Oneota and Mississippian Jars

Oneota and Mississippian Jars

Dr. O'Gorman and Amy Michael discuss a poster presentation

Dr. O’Gorman and Amy Michael discuss a poster presentation

The first presentation of the CAP CAFE series was a hit! We learned about foodways, Oneota culture, and were able to see the artifacts up close. Be sure to join us next month to learn more about archaeology at MSU!


Introducing CAP Cafe

This year CAP will be introducing a new public outreach series called CAP Cafe. This will be a monthly series geared towards the general public, and it will explore all things archaeology. While Campus Archaeology regularly presents for public outreach events, such as MSU Science Festival and Grandparents University, it often ends up being for a limited audience. CAP Cafe will allow us to educate and entertain the public about the awesome world of archaeology.

The first CAP Cafe will be our second annual Apparitions and Archaeology Campus Tour, on October 29th, 7pm. This free event will give a historic tour of MSU’s campus, stopping at the most haunted locations. MSU’s Paranormal Society will join CAP for this event and test areas for any paranormal activity. Join us in this haunting experience to learn about the spooky history of MSU, the archaeology of each historic site, and maybe meet some of MSU’s historic residents, i.e. ghosts.

Because we want the CAP Cafe series to be engaging to the public, we’ll be switching up the content and format every month. Some months  will be structured as a discussion on an archaeological topic and some months will be geared more towards kids with hands-on activities. Our goal is to engage the entire spectrum of the general public. While a majority of the CAP Cafe series will revolve around Campus Archaeology and our collections, we’ll also have other MSU archaeology professors and grad students present their archaeological research.

A few ideas for our upcoming CAP Cafes are:

“What we did this Summer”- Learn about CAP’s awesome discoveries on campus this summer, which include MSU’s first privy, and our excavations of Professor Gunson’s garbage.

Flint Knapping- Ever been curious about how stone tools are made? Join us for an instructional tutorial on making a projectile point.

Map Making- Every archaeologist needs to know how to create a site map. This workshop will explain the importance of maps in archaeology, show the utility of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and explain how to make a sketch map with only a compass.

Since we want the CAP Cafe series to engage the public, we want to hear from you. What specific archaeological things would you like to see, or learn about for the series? Are there areas or time periods that interest you? Do you want to know more about the archaeological process? Do you just want to meet some really cool archaeologists? Give us your comments, find us on Facebook (, or Tweet us @capmsu.