A Closer Look at the Berlin Swirl Ceramic Pattern

Happy Fat Tuesday! After flocking to the nearest paczki-filled bakery, I hope that you sit down and enjoy your Polish donut on some fine china. Perhaps, if you’re historically or archaeologically inclined, you might want to enjoy your treat on a nice British ceramic plate. Enter: the Berlin Swirl pattern.

"Berlin Swirl" pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

“Berlin Swirl” pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

Here at CAP we’ve encountered the Berlin Swirl pattern in both the West Circle Privy, and the Saint’s Rest trash area.  Lisa Bright has researched the specifics of the Berlin Swirl fragments found in the historic privy on campus. The ceramics found in the privy are all characterized as institutional whiteware. The following is taken from Lisa’s summary of the privy assemblage from the forthcoming West Circle Privy Report:

“The Berlin Swirl pattern is characterized by a series of paired plumes following the rim of the plate, or around the body of cups.  Interestingly there are two different manufacturers of this plate represented; Mayer Brothers & Elliot, Mayer & Elliot, and Liddle Elliot & Son. Although the pattern was produced in a wide variety of  vessel types, the privy only contains dishes of varying size, and handless cups and sauces.  Plates were produced in dimensions from 6” to 10 ½”. The privy contained many ceramic fragments, but many of the ceramics could be reconstructed.  Of those with half or more of the vessel present include: 3 handless cups, 2 saucers (6” diameter), 1 small bowl (5.3” diameter), 1 small plate (6.3” diameter), 1 medium plate (7.5” diameter), and 2 large plates (9.5” diameter).

A Berlin Swirl plate bears a British registered design mark indicating a production date of December 18th, 1856; It was produced by Mayer Brothers & Elliot.  Mayer Brothers & Elliot produced ceramics under that name between 1855-1858.  They changed the name to simply Mayer & Elliot and continued production between 1858-1861.  In 1861 the        name was changed to Liddle Elliot & Son, which produced ceramics from 1862- 1869.  After 1869 the name was once again. This provides a narrow date range of 1855- 1869 for the production of the Berlin Swirl plates recovered from the privy.  There are additional illegible stamps on the base of the plates.”

We’re still in the midst of re-analyzing the ceramics from the trash pit, but it appears that additional Berlin Swirl forms may be present such as the soup tureen or tea set!

"Berlin Swirl" Plates recovered from West Circle Privy dating to 1860s.

“Berlin Swirl” Plates recovered from West Circle Privy dating to 1860s.

In the late 1800s, Americans were thought to favor “plain white vessels with comparatively unobtrusive molded decoration” (Lawrence and Davies 2010:304). By contrast, countries within the British Empire chose transfer prints with bright colors over the whiteware of their American counterparts (Lawrence and Davies 2010). By the 1840s, the first “Berlin Ironstone” appears under the maker’s mark T.J. & J.Mayer. This article provides a brief history of the progression of this style leading up to the Berlin Swirl pattern found on campus. The embossed style and edging of the Berlin Swirl pattern illustrates the craftsmanship involved in the molding of these pieces. One researcher even hypothesized that the stylistic curvature of the mold, in addition to the tall jugs and posts with paneling, may have been designed by persons involved with some familiarity with architecture.

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy.

The Civil War disrupted the trade of British-manufactured ceramic wares to the American market and Brooks (2005) has hypothesized that the rise in exports of white Berlin Swirl patterns to Australia is a response to the declining American demand. Archaeological excavations in Australia demonstrate that Berlin Swirl is found at various sites during the American Civil War (Lawrence and Davies 2010). The Berlin Swirl pattern is noted in a volume with a title that really says it all, “Good Taste, Fashion, and Luxury: A Genteel Melbourne Family and Their Rubbish” (2014), a detailed review of a wealthy family with a large collection of ceramics. Clearly, the Berlin Swirl was considered desirable enough to make it to the dinner table of a wealthy Australian family. However, the pattern also occurs at sites associated with decidedly lower class families. The Museums Victoria Collections has a wonderful review of the archaeology of the “Little Lon” working class district, a poor mid to late 19th century neighborhood in Melbourne, where many lower income and transient individuals took up residence. Fragments of Berlin Swirl ceramics were found during an excavation in the late 1980s but, interestingly, many of the ceramic pieces feature patterns or designs that are flawed in some way. Perhaps the rejected wares not suitable for sale to the American market were making their way to the working class neighborhoods in Australia.

Liddle Elliot & Sons makers mark from Berlin Swirl Dish - recovered from West Circle Privy

Liddle Elliot & Sons makers mark from Berlin Swirl Dish – recovered from West Circle Privy

The maker’s marks on the bases of the Berlin Swirl fragments in the privy provide tight date ranges for deposition and use. While researching this blog, I was reminded of how powerful maker’s marks are for historical archaeologists, not just in terms of dating but also in thinking about trade relationships around the globe. The Australian examples from both high and low income neighborhoods also remind us that ceramics can speak to aesthetic choice/selection as related to social class. I found it interesting that the working class neighborhoods were incorporating elegant china into their households likely as a result of a decline in the American market due to the Civil War! Archaeological analysis proves, yet again, the interconnectedness of consumer demand for products, status-related items, and increasingly global economies.


Works Cited

Brooks, Alasdair. “An archaeological guide to British ceramics in Australia 1788-1901.” (2005).

White Ironstone China Association Inc. White Ironstone Notes Vol 5 Issue 3 – Winter 1998.

Hayes, Sarah. Good Taste, Fashion, Luxury: a genteel Melbourne family and their rubbish. Vol. 5. Sydney University Press, 2014.

Lawrence, Susan, and Peter Davies. An archaeology of Australia since 1788. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010.



Let’s Get Trashed! A Comparison of the Saint’s Rest Dorm, Privy, and Trash Pit.

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy.

Archaeologists care a lot about garbage. We can learn a great deal from looking through what people throw out, how much they throw out, and when they throw it out. Because trash is the byproduct of what humans consume and use in their daily lives, middens and refuse deposits can help us fill in the gaps of our knowledge about the historic campus experience and student behavior.

Campus Archaeology has been involved in excavations of three separate components of life at Saint’s Rest Dorm: the refuse pit from Saint’s Rest, the West Circle privy, and the excavation of the building itself. Several blogs have been written on each of these sites, but no comparison between sites has yet been done.

"Scalloped Decagonal" serving dish. Most likely made by Davenport but no makers mark present. Image source: Lisa Bright

“Scalloped Decagonal” serving dish. Most likely made by Davenport but no makers mark present. Recovered from Saints Rest trash pit. Image source: Lisa Bright

This semester, Lisa Bright and I will work on re-cataloging and accessioning artifacts from the 2011 trash pit excavation (with some help from several undergraduate honors students from ANP 203) so that we may get a better sense of what is present (and, interestingly, what is absent). For now, we have some general observations about each site such as abundance of serving dishes in the trash pit, but only dining plates being present in the privy. The trash pit and the privy also contain some of the same ceramic patterns. The location of each site also serves as an interesting variable for comparison. Because the building and trash sites were likely public and at least partially, if not totally, accessible, the artifacts found at each site are expected to be reflective of daily life (e.g. bones from butchered animals, empty food containers, etc.) and human error (e.g. broken plates, bowls, lamps, etc.). In contrast, the assemblage within the privy is potentially reflective of secrecy, prohibition, or mishap. Knowing that no one would retrieve items from a privy, students may have thrown items away in this space (or perhaps dropped them accidentally). Saint’s Rest  burned down in December of 1876.  The accidental destruction of the building also creates a different context for the artifacts compared to the trash pit and the privy.  These items were still in use, and their owners were not, at that time, intending to dispose of them.

Decorated porcelain fragments recovered during 2005 Saints Rest excavation. Image source: Lisa Bright

Decorated porcelain fragments recovered during 2005 Saints Rest excavation. Image source: Lisa Bright

Lisa and I believe that comparing the assemblages from these sites will be useful in piecing together student and faculty behavior as well as use of space on the campus. The opportunity to compare and contrast three sites from the same time period, but with disparate function, allows us to examine some largely intangible aspects of the past. Last semester we finished the privy report, so this semester we will do a quick re-analysis of some the Saint’s Rest materials and dig further into their meaning. Stay tuned for our findings!


Privy Seed Germination Experiment: Introduction to Intern Becca Albert’s Project

Hi, I’m Becca Albert, and I’m a CAP undergrad intern this semester.  I participated in the 2015 field school, volunteered in the CAP lab last year, and worked on the field crew last summer. My internship project for this semester includes testing to see whether seeds found in the West Circle privy in June 2015 will germinate. These seeds were identified as raspberry seeds (id courtesy of Dr. Katie Egan-Bruhy) it will be difficult to determine what species they are until they grow (if they grow!) The privy is dated to campus’s Phase I (1855-1870), with diagnostic artifacts dating to the 1860’s and 1870’s. University archival records of the Board of Trustee meeting minutes from 1875 indicate that Beal ordered around 300 raspberry bushes to be planted on campus. Whether these were for botanical experiments or for food sources is unknown, however it is unlikely that these weren’t used as a food source, as foraging for berries in the area and farming was a great contributor of food for the students. Financial records from Saint’s Rest also indicate that the boarding hall was purchasing upwards of 130 quarts of berries a week during the summer. Again, no specific species is indicated, but this does provide archival evidence of berry consumption. These seeds were found in association with a flower pot, so although these could have been digested, these could also have been the product of a failed botanical experiment.

Seed from the privy under magnification. Image source: Amy Michael

Seed from the privy under magnification. Image source: Amy Michael

The seeds I am using for my experiment were first separated from 10 grams of night soil by hand and then weighed. The total weight of all the seeds was 0.2 grams, so not a very hefty sample size. These seeds were evaluated under a stereomicroscope to make sure what we picked out were actually seeds, and were counted. The total number of seeds from this sample was 174 seeds – that’s about .001 of a gram for each seed. To test whether these seeds germinate, we will be using two experimental methods. The first method is a simpler experiment, like one that you might try as an elementary school experiment – this follows some of the thinking for an experiment I tried with Lima beans in third grade! Several seeds will be placed in between some damp paper towels, which will then be placed on a plate, and sealed into a plastic bag. This bag will then be placed somewhere warm, like on top of a refrigerator, and will be checked periodically to see whether some of the seeds germinate. The sealed plastic bag will allow the moisture and humidity inside the bag to stay constant, however after a week or so, these paper towels will be replaced with new moist paper towels both to prevent mold, germinated seeds from attaching to the paper towel, and to increase the humidity inside the bag periodically. These methods are adapted from this article from the SFGate Home Guides Website, however many modes of basic seed germination follow steps similar to these.

Man digging up seeds for viability experiment, likely H. T. Darlington. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Man digging up seeds for viability experiment, likely H. T. Darlington. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The second method is one that is more scientifically rigorous, and includes following methods that are used in Beal’s famous seed longevity experiment. Beal’s experiment essentially asks the question of how long can a seed lie dormant before it cannot germinate. This experiment is in its 137th year, with the next experiment occurring in 2020. The previous testing year for the Beal seed experiment reported three species as germinating, with around a 46% success rate for one species, a 2% success rate from a second species, and a 4% success rate for the third species (Telewski 2002). CAP is working under the assumption that the privy was likely damaged in the 1876 fire that destroyed Saints Rest, making these seeds 3 years older than the Beal seeds.

My experiment includes placing approximately 50 seeds in a growth chamber for a specified day/night cycle, humidity, and temperature. The seeds themselves are placed in a pre-determined soil mixture and kept in damp soil. The seeds will be checked periodically to see if germination occurred, and to keep the soil damp. Following the methods used for Beal’s experiment will not provide an opportunity to test their methods, but is also an homage to the man who provided a lot MSU’s more interesting early history.

Several scientists around the world have been able to germinate seeds from prehistoric contexts (Sallon 2008, Yashina 2012). Archaeologists in the United States have found seeds in historic privy excavations however, germination experiments have not been attempted because they are generally larger assemblages with a variety of species and a greater importance has been placed on determining the species present (Trigg 2011, Meyers 2011, Beaudry 2010, Dudek 1998). If these seeds germinate, it would be an interesting addition to the germination of seeds well past their prime.

Stay tuned for updates as the experiment progresses!


MSU Archives & Historical Collections:
– Madison Kuhn Collection Volume 82, Folder 11, Box 2531, Collection IA 17.107 (Records for July 1870).
– UA 1 State Board of Agriculture/Board of Trustee Records. Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1875

Meyers, Ciana Faye, 2011. The Marketplace of Boston: Macrobotanical Remains from Faneuil Hall. Thesis.

Beaudry, M. C, 2010. Privy to the feast: eighty to supper tonight. Table Settings: The Material Culture and Social Context of Dining in the Old and New Worlds AD, pp. 1700-1900.

Dudek, Martin G., Lawrence Kaplan, and Marie Mansfield King, 1998. Botanical Remains from a Seventeenth-Century Privy at the Cross Street Back Lot Site. Historical Archaeology, pp. 63-71.

Meyers, Ciana Faye, 2011. The Marketplace of Boston: Macrobotanical Remains from Faneuil Hall. Thesis.

Sallon, Sarah, Elaine Solowey, Yuval Cohen, Raia Korchinsky, Markus Egli, Ivan Woodhatch, Orit Simchoni, and Modechai Kislev, 2008. Germination, Genetics, and Growth of an Ancient Date Seed. Science 5882(320), pp. 1464.

Telewski, FW and JAD Zeevaart, 2002. The 120-yr period for Dr. Beal’s seed viability experiment. American Journal of Botany, 89(8), pp. 1285-1288.

Trigg, Heather, Susan Jacobucci, and Marisa D. Patalano, 2011. Parasitological and Macrobotanical Analyses of a Late 18th Century Privy, Portsmouth New Hampshire.

Yashina, Svetlana, Stanislav Gubin, Stanislav Maksimovich, Alexandra Yashina, Edith Gakhova, and David Gilichinsky, 2012. Regeneration of whole fertile plants from 30,000 y-old fruit tissue buried in Siberian permafrost. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109(10) pp. 4008-4013.

How to Germinate with Paper Towels. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/germinate-paper-towels-22813.html


Combing Through the Artifacts

While Lisa Bright and I were accessioning artifacts from the West Circle Drive privy excavation, we noticed that one of the short combs had some lettering. Faint, tiny print spelled out, “IRC CO. G YEARS” with a few other letters (or numbers) that we could not read. Some quick Googling brought up the India Rubber Company based out of New York City, one of the first two hard rubber companies to sell products made through the process of vulcanization.

India Rubber Company Ad - Image Source

India Rubber Company Ad – Image Source

India Rubber Company Ad for Unbreakable Combs - Image Source

India Rubber Company Ad for Unbreakable Combs – Image Source

Charles and Nelson Goodyear developed the vulcanization process, or applying heat to rubber treated with sulfur, in 1839 which allowed for hard rubber products to be produced in mass quantities. Through experimentation, Charles Goodyear was able to turn raw rubber into a malleable, stable substance, while Nelson Goodyear figured out how to adapt the pliable rubber into vulcanite (hard rubber) that could be used to make a number of personal items including buttons and brushes1. In the mid-1850s, ivory and wooden combs were largely en vogue until the Goodyear brothers utilized vulcanite to manufacture rubber combs of all sizes. Initially, the vulcanite combs cost twenty times as much as the combs previously in use, but (presumably) the superior quality of the rubber combs produced by the Goodyears contributed to their staying power2. Specialists who were originally trained in making each ivory and tortoiseshell by hand were replaced by comb-cutting machines by 18653. Mechanized production eventually allowed for the creation of two combs, whereby one comb was created from the spaces of the teeth of the other comb. Increased production and eventual expiration of hard rubber patents led to significant expansion in comb manufacturing, so India Rubber Company began to stamp each comb with the manufacturing date and a guarantee against breakage for twelve months3.

Indian rubber comb ad

India Rubber Comb Ad – Image Source

So what does vulcanized rubber have to do with Campus Archaeology? Enter: the beard (and mustache?) comb!

Comb from West Circle Privy - Image Source Amy Michael

Comb from West Circle Privy – Image Source Amy Michael

The comb measures approximately 3.5 inches in length and 1.25 inches in width, making it fairly small. Since the comb wound up in the privy, we can only assume that a recently clean shaven man was just done with all facial hair maintenance! Just kidding. It’s likely that the comb ended up in the privy accidentally, as the India Rubber Company was very proud of the durability of their allegedly unbreakable combs. Perhaps one of these guys, or someone similar to them, used the comb:

Photo of Faculty with facial hair, 1888. Image Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Photo of Faculty with facial hair, 1888. Image Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Hard rubber combs from the same time period have been found in other archaeological contexts and even wind up in art museums. Check out a fancy 1851 comb manufactured by India Rubber Company that is in the collections at the Met: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/16809. The excavation of the SS Republic, a famous shipwreck, yielded a number of artifacts produced by the India Rubber Company including combs, a woman’s headband, and even a hygienic douche (check out the artifacts here: http://odysseysvirtualmuseum.com/categories/SS-Republic/Artifacts/Personal-Necessities/).

As we go through the rest of the privy materials, we will continue to do historical research on each of the personal items found in the assemblage. Perhaps we will get lucky and find another dateable piece!



2Depew, Chauncey Mitchell, ed. 1795-1895. One Hundred Years of American Commerce…: A History of American Commerce by One Hundred Americans, with a Chronological Table of the Important Events of American Commerce and Invention Within the Past One Hundred Years. DO Haynes & Company, 1895.

3The India-Rubber Journal. The History of a Large Rubber Firm. May 21, 1906.

Wisconsin Extracts: A Tasteful Tale of Artificial Flavoring in the Midwest

I am from Wisconsin. Not only was I born and raised there, but I am also a Wisconsin stereotype—I grew up on a dairy farm. After 25 years in the Dairy State, I relocated to Illinois, but I never felt at home on the flat plains. I moved to Michigan a few years later and although the Great Lakes State has its own unique cultural flavor, there is a sense of familiarity here among the lakes and woods.

However, a sense of excitement still moves through me whenever I find a connection to my home state here in Michigan. The discovery that yet another treasure from the privy excavated by CAP last summer also originated in Wisconsin filled me with curiosity. The artifact in question is a bottle embossed with the words “Flavoring Extract” on the front panel and “Tallman and Collins” on the side.

Extract Bottle from West Circle Privy

Extract Bottle from West Circle Privy

Side of Extract Bottle from West Circle Privy - Reads "Tallman & Collins"

Side of Extract Bottle from West Circle Privy – Reads “Tallman & Collins”

William Henry Tallman - Image Source

William Henry Tallman – Image Source

Tallman and Collins Manufacturing was a company in Janesville, WI. The company’s founder, William Henry Tallman, was the son of William Morrison Tallman, a renowned lawyer and abolitionists, whose grand house (now a museum in Janesville) hosted a short stay from Abraham Lincoln in 1859. William Henry did not follow in his father’s political footsteps, instead purchasing a stake in a local drugstore business. By 1857, Tallman was running the company and took on Henry W. Collins as his new partner. Initially, Tallman and Collins was an import and wholesale business, selling medicine, drugs, chemicals, perfumery, and liquors. By 1864, Tallman expanded the business to include manufacturing a new line of perfumes and extracts. However, by 1869, Tallman and Collins ended their business partnership and Tallman continued on, focusing solely on perfume manufacture. Tallman perfumes and colognes were incredibly popular in the 1870s, but the company closed in 1883 due to William’s poor health.

Tallman and Collins offices, 609 W. Court St, Janesville, WI

Tallman and Collins offices, 609 W. Court St, Janesville, WI – Image Source

While it may seem odd that a company known for its perfumes also manufactured flavoring extracts, it was, in fact, a common pairing. The rise of organic chemistry in the mid-nineteenth century led to a flourishing field of crafting new fragrances, and given the close relationship between smell and taste, also led to the discovery of synthetic flavors. Various fruit-flavored candies, full of delicious synthetic flavor, were one of the attractions of the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibition in London, which was a celebration of the world’s technological advancements.

Advertisement in the Wisconsin and Minnesota Gazetteer, Shipper's Guide and Business Directory for 1865-'66

Advertisement in the Wisconsin and Minnesota Gazetteer, Shipper’s Guide and Business Directory for 1865-’66

In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution and increasingly mass-produced food, there was a need to make otherwise bland processed foods a bit more palatable. Spices and natural flavoring extracts, a major component of worldwide trade, were expensive, so chemically synthesized flavors became a cheaper alternative for giving food some extra delicious flavor. Tallman and Collin’s company jumped on the flavoring market a mere thirteen years after its world debut, demonstrating Tallman’s business acumen. Although better know for his perfumery, the presence of its extracts in Michigan suggest their demand was great enough to warrant distribution to other parts of the Midwest.

Cheese extract - it actually exists!"

Cheese extract – it actually exists!

The flavor contained within our privy bottle remains a mystery (a chemical analysis of the contents are perhaps a bit out of the scope of CAP’s resources). The likeliest candidate is the one of the earliest and most common artificial flavors, vanilla (synthesized through the chemical vanillin), used to make early MSU campus food just a smidge less bland. However, in my vivid imagination, it contained cheese extract, obtained by another Wisconsinite desperate for the flavor of home while away at school. Fanciful interpretations aside, this small bottle provides us the opportunity to explore the history of chemistry, product distribution, and food trends and preferences of the recent past, a delicious addition to our knowledge, indeed.


Hayes, Dayle and Rachel Laudan
2009    Food and Nutrition, Volume 7: South Asian Cuisines to Yogurt. Marshall Cavendish, Tarrytown, NY.

Wisconsin and Minnesota State Gazetteer, Shippers’ Guide and Business Directory for 1865-’66. Geo. W. Hawes, Publisher and Compiler, Indianapolis.




An inkling from the privy: Cox’s Carmine Ink

In June of 2015, CAP discovered a privy during archaeological monitoring. This discovery was the first privy to ever be excavated on campus. From the collection of artifacts recovered during the excavation, this structure has been narrowed down to a decade of use, from 1850’s-1860’s[1]. (To learn more about this excavation click here.) During this excavation, two ink bottles were recovered, shown here. The one on the right is clearly decorative, probably being placed on a desk and used as an ink well. The one on the left however has been the subject of a many empty searches.

Ink bottle/well found in the privy. Left: Cox's Carmine Ink, Right: Cobalt Conical Inkwell

Ink bottle/well found in the privy. Left: Cox’s Carmine Ink, Right: Cobalt Conical Inkwell

The bottle on the left is an ink bottle, used to refill wells and other ink receptacles. It is embossed with the phrase, “Cox’s Carmine Ink.” As with most of our artifacts here at Campus Archaeology, the fun part of lab work is chasing leads on artifacts. This is one of the benefits of archaeology. Once the artifacts are excavated, cleaned and catalogued the fun begins. Historic archaeology is unique in that it allows us to create a very narrow timeline for the use life of the artifacts recovered based upon historic records. Usually, these lines of research yield a wealth of information. However, in some cases, we need to put a shout to the public to see if they know of any information about our items. This is the case with our Cox’s Carmine Ink bottle.

Cox's Carmine Ink Bottle from West Circle Privy

Cox’s Carmine Ink Bottle from West Circle Privy

There is no information on the bottle other than the lettering and no mold seams are evident on the bottle. I was unable to find a Cox’s Ink company but there is a wealth of information on carmine ink itself. Carmine ink has a very long history. Carmine dye, used to make the ink, is made from the cochineal, a scale insect that is crushed to produce a deep red hue that is illustrated in the border of the picture. These insects are native to Central and South America. It has been exported since the 1500’s from Central America and most assuredly used long before that by the native populations of Central and South America[2]. Aside from fabric dyes, carmine was used to make any colored inks that contained a red pigment, such as red, pink, purple, blue and black. There are formulas that mix it with a Cox’s gelatin to make a paint for ceramics and china.[3]

Base of Cox's Carmine Ink Bottle from West Circle Privy

Base of Cox’s Carmine Ink Bottle from West Circle Privy

Today, carmine is also called crimson lake, natural red 4, and cochineal and is often produced synthetically. It is used to color foods, watercolour paints, artificial flowers, and cosmetics such as rouge[4]. Some of its other uses include thermal inks for x-rays, fax machines and screen printing. A true carmine ink or paint is higher in quality and thus more expensive than it’s synthetic counterpart[5]. It’s use in food is highly regulated today in both the EU and the USA as allerigies to it have occurred[6].

So, what does all this mean for our bottle? Well, we can speculate many uses for this ink from red ink used to grade papers, an additive for a ink solution used to decorate cakes or other foods, an additive used to make paints for ceramics/china to an ink used for x-rays. All of these uses make sense on a college campus during the 1850’s and 1860’s. Information about Cox’s Ink company still remains a mystery however. If anyone reading this blog has information about this company, please contact either myself (@nicolle1977 on Twitter, nicoleraslich.wordpress.com) or campus archaeology at (@capmsu or campusarch.msu.edu).


1.More Than Just Nightsoil: Preliminary Findings from MSU’s First Privy., Bright, Meyers Emery & Michael. 2015. http://campusarch.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/PrivyPosterMAC.pdf

2.Cochineal https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochineal

3.“How to Paint on China”. The Art Amateur. Kellogg, Lavinia Steele. 1884 http://www.jstor.org/stable/25628234?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

4.Carmine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmine

5.Watercolour paints. http://watercolorpainting.com/pigments

6.Asthma and allergy due to carmine dye. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13679965


Mable, Take a Bow: Piecing Together the Biography of a Doll

Mable Reconstructed

Mable Post-Reconstruction

If you follow us on Twitter, read this post about 3D printing, or if you came to the Apparitions and Archaeology tour last fall, you may have heard about Mable, the undisputed star of 2015 CAP excavations. During the excavation of the historic privy on campus last year, a fragmented doll’s head was recovered (creepy!). Luckily for CAP crew members, the excavation took place in broad daylight and no one has reported much psychological trauma…yet.

Made of china, or the material porcelain, the figurine sports a hairstyle known as a “flat-top”which became popular during the Civil War days. We can reasonably assume that the doll originated during this period and so Lisa Bright, Campus Archaeologist, named the doll Mable following a popular name of the 1860s. Mable does not have any maker’s marks aside from a hand-scripted numeral 7 on her inside bust. The holes in Mable’s bust would have articulated with a cloth body and at one time she would have had hands and feet made from the same china material as her head.

Hand scripted 7 inside Mable's bust

Hand scripted 7 inside Mable’s bust

Complete doll from 1860s - Mable would have been similar

Complete doll from 1860s – Mable would have been similar. Image Source

The first porcelain flat-top or “highbrow” dolls were styled after women in the 1800s, so called after the flat-top hairstyle of the dolls (1). Because early dolls did not usually have maker’s marks or mold numbers, they can be dated and distinguished by their hairstyles (1) – doesn’t sound like a bad way to date when you consider 80s hair VS. today’s hair! Initial manufacturing occurred in Germany and France by doll-makers who crafted unique faces and styles, before the mass production of porcelain heads, hands, and feet in later years (2). We can assume that Mable has German roots as the country led the manufacture of these dolls between 1840-1940 (3).

Putting Mable back together in the field - Privy can be seen in background

Putting Mable back together in the field – Privy can be seen in background

Due to Mable’s finely painted face, we suspect that she may have been a treasured item for her previous owner. China dolls like Mable enjoyed immense popularity with children for about 50 years (1840-1890) and were easily sourced (3). A rise in reproductions of the dolls occurred in the mid-1900s in the United States (3). I was not able to determine how much an original flat-top doll would have cost at the height of their popularity, but the figures now command upwards of $300 on the collector’s market.

We can, of course, only speculate about why Mable ended up discarded as trash. Perhaps her cloth body was damaged or she was no longer favored by her child owner. Maybe the child simply outgrew Mable. We welcome her here at CAP, resurrected from the privy and living on in our lab!

Mabel in pieces

Mabel in pieces

For more on dating hairstyles of dolls see: http://dollreference.com/china_head_dolls.html


(1) http://dollreference.com/china_head_dolls.html

(2) http://www.ebay.com.au/gds/The-Ultimate-Porcelain-Doll-Buying-Guide-/10000000177627406/g.html

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_doll

Frozen Charlotte: A Cautionary Tale Baked into a Cake

Today is a holiday that goes by many names: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. The day involves the practice of eating richer and fatty foods before Ash Wednesday when Lenten begins. It is celebrated in different ways depending on where you are. In England it is also known as Pancake Tuesday and, not surprisingly, involves eating rich pancakes. In New Orleans it is a colorful celebration with parades, dancing, eating and drinking. One of the more interesting traditions of this celebration is the King’s Cake– a cinnamon sugar dough twisted into a ring and decorated with icing and purple, green and yellow sugar. Most importantly, baked within the cake, it a small plastic or porcelain baby meant to symbolize the Jesus, and whomever gets the slice of cake with the Jesus becomes the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ for the day and gets a prize or special privileges. But this isn’t the only type of doll found in a cake…

Our Frozen Charlotte, about four inches tall

Our Frozen Charlotte, about four inches tall

This past summer, we excavated a privy to the southwest of Saints’ Rest, and found two dolls. One of those is a fairly intact bust of a larger doll, but the other is a small porcelain girl with few features. When we started looking into the history of this smaller doll, we learned that this was a very important figurine in the late 19th century, and has a slightly morbid story behind it.

Her name is Frozen Charlotte

The doll was first created in Germany in 1850 as a playmate for bath time, perfect since the doll does not have clothing in many instances. However, it quickly became associated with a dark Victorian poem by Seba Smith. In the poem, a young woman named Charlotte who takes a sleigh ride with her beau on New Years Eve. As she leaves her home, her mother warns her to bundle up against the cold weather.

“O, daughter dear,” her mother cried,
“This blanket ’round you fold;
It is a dreadful night tonight,
You’ll catch your death of cold.”

“O, nay! O, nay!” young Charlotte cried,
And she laughed like a gypsy queen;
“To ride in blankets muffled up,
I never would be seen.”

Charlotte doesn’t take her mother’s advice, and rides through the night without a blanket so that everyone can see her clothing and beauty. When Charles and Charlotte arrive to the party, he holds his hand out to her, but she isn’t responsive.

“He stripped the mantle off her brow,
And the pale stars on her shone,
And quickly into the lighted hall,
Her helpless form was born.
They tried all within their power,
Her life for to restore,
But Charlotte was a frozen corpse,
And is never to speak more.”

The poem and doll became a cautionary tale for children. The dolls sold for a penny, and were extremely popular in America. It may seem morbid, but for the time period this type of children’s story was actually quite common. Struwwelpeter was a popular book of children’s stories from this period that included children being burned alive after playing with matches, becoming sick after being naughty, and having their thumbs cut off if they sucked on them. Pretty gruesome.

What does this all have to do with King’s Cake and Fat Tuesday? Well, similar to the King’s Cake Baby, Frozen Charlottes were often baked into cakes or other desserts for children as a nice surprise during Christmastime! Perhaps our Frozen Charlotte was hidden within a cherry pie and accidentally discarded?


Happy Birthday! There’s a Corpse in your Cake. Nourishing Death. https://nourishingdeath.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/happy-birthday-theres-a-corpse-in-your-cake/

Frozen Charlotte. Dangerous Minds. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/frozen_charlotte_the_creepy_victorian-era_dolls_that_slept_in_coffins_and_w

Frozen Charlotte- Full Poem. Whimsical Flea Market. http://awhimsicalfleamarket.blogspot.com/p/frozen-charlotte-story_21.html


Throw the Pipe Down the Pooper! Smoking and Subterfuge at MSU

As CAP fellows and volunteers continue to research and analyze materials excavated from the earth closet this past summer, we are slowly becoming more “privy to the past” (yes, I’ll wait for the laughter to subside). Thus far we have covered several individual objects from the privy, each item highlighting a new aspect of MSU’s past. The most recent object of interest is one of scandal and intrigue!! Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it does relate to mildly illicit behavior on campus.

Pipe fragment from west circle privy

Pipe fragment from west circle privy

This object is a fragment of a clay pipe stem encircled by two rows of oak leaves in relief. Our cunning Campus Archaeologist, Lisa, determined that this was a decoration distinctive of “Peter Dorni” pipes. This type of clay (kaolin) pipe is a bit of a puzzle to historical archaeologists. They have distinctive stem decoration, which include the name Peter Dorni in block letter in relief on a rectangular panel, which is book-ended by four rows of deep, rouletted lines and two rows of oak leaves (Mayer 1994:10). The original manufacturer of this style is said to be a pipemaker in northern France, who was active from approximately 1850 to 1880, a possible “Peter Dornier” who shortened his name (Mayer 1994). However, nobody has been able to confirm the existence of Dorni/Dornier or the exact location of manufacture (Hinshelwood 1994).

Peter Dorni pipe - source

Peter Dorni pipe – source

Whatever the identity of this mysterious pipemaker, his pipes were popular enough that they were copied by manufacturers in Gouda, Holland, who took a break from cheese-making to export the copycat pipes to the United States. Others believe that pipes made in the Dorni style were also manufactured in Scotland and Germany (Mayer 1994:11), and no one seems to know how to tell the real Dorni pipes from the copies. No matter the origin of our leafy little pipe stem, it seems to fit well with the dates we believe the privy to have been in operation, from the 1850s to ca. 1876, when nearby Saints’ Rest burned down.

Rules at Saints Rest Dormitory

Rules at Saints Rest Dormitory

Another mystery, however, is raised by the mere presence of the pipe on the MSU campus at this time, because smoking was banned in the early days of the campus. The original rules for Saints’ Rest, the first dormitory, state that “the use of tobacco and other narcotics” is prohibited, a policy that lasted into the 20th century. A 1922 issue of the M.A.C. Record reported that the “restriction of the ‘NO SMOKING’ tradition on the campus so that it shall no longer apply to the athletic field was voted by the student body” (Vol. XXVII No. 2, March 17, 1922), attesting to the longevity of the ban.

The pipe is evidence that the smoking ban was occasionally (or often) ignored. Eighty-eight clay pipe fragments were found during the excavation of Saints’ Rest (Mustonen 2007), and there are photographs of students smoking pipes in the dorms during the time of the ban. Since smoking was against the rules, the owner of our Dorni pipe could not casually dispose of it, but had to throw it away in a location not likely to be seen by faculty members. The privy was the perfect place for the perpetrator (or poopetrator, should we say?) to get rid of any evidence of their rule-breaking. Archaeologists can attest that privies were frequently used to dispose of contraband, since only archaeologists are crazy enough to dig through all the… crap.

Students smoking and drinking in dorm c. 1906 - Image courtesy of MSU Archives

Students smoking and drinking in dorm c. 1906 – Image courtesy of MSU Archives

As a new smoking ban is set to take effect on the MSU campus in August 2016, it undoubtedly will not quell all smoking activity on campus. History has shown that students will always find ways to sneak around the rules, so you can put that in your pipe and smoke it! (But please don’t, it’s not good for you).


Works Cited

Hinshelwood, Andrew
1994   Additional Peter Dorni Pipe Data. Arch Notes (Ontario Archaeological Society Newsletter) 94-5:5-14.

Mayer, Robert G.
1994   Some Research Notes on Peter Dorni Pipes in Ontario. Arch Notes (Ontario Archaeological Society Newsletter) 94-3:10-22.

Mustonen, Heather L.

2007   Public Archaeology and Community Engagement at Michigan State University: The Saints’ Rest Archaeological Project. Masters Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing.

More Than Just Nightsoil: Preliminary Findings from MSU’s First Privy (MAC Poster Presentation)

At the Midwest Archaeological Conference, Lisa, Amy and myself got the opportunity to present some of our preliminary findings from the privy that we uncovered during Summer 2015. Here, I’m going to share some of the findings from our poster, and the poster itself for those who are interested!

In June, 2015 during routine construction monitoring, the Campus Archaeology Program survey crew noticed a disturbed area of bricks and dark soil. The salvage excavation determined that it was a brick privy. This is the only privy we have unearthed on campus, and date ranges from diagnostic artifacts (1850’s-60’s) indicate that this privy was used during the earliest years of the university.

The Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was opened to students in 1855, and consisted of two primary buildings: College Hall, the main classroom and library space, and Saints’ Rest, a dormitory. Rapid development and the poor construction of the buildings led to new structures being built, old structures lost to fire, and expansion of the campus across the landscape. Despite finding many of these early buildings, the Campus Archaeology program hadn’t discovered evidence of any privies or earth-closets.

Privies at MSU

Privies were variably constructed from brick, wood, or stone as small, sturdy receptacles for human waste before the invention of the flush toilet. Due to their necessity and use by individuals from all social tiers, privies are located across all manner of sites.

Often, items were discarded into privies due to either intentional disposal or accidental loss. The assemblages in privies often reflect a mixture of artifacts that hint at daily activities and lifeway practices, but these spaces were not used as everyday trash pits. Through disposal of artifacts into the dark hole of the privy, peoples of the past were unintentionally creating a unique cultural assemblage. Archaeological excavations of privies have ranged from Australian convict hospital grounds that revealed medical treatments performed on prisoners (Starr 2001), to archaeo-entomological investigations of insect species to understand displacement of native fauna (Bain 1998), to tracing the use of nightsoil practices in early major American cities (Roberts and Barrett 1984). Even early anatomical techniques can be reconstructed through privy excavation; a report of a privy on the property of a 19th century doctor contained human bones with evidence of postmortem surgical incisions (Mann et al. 1991). Beyond material culture, privies also contain botanical remains that can inform of historical subsistence behavior.

Discovery and Excavation

Bottom of Level 1, West Circle Privy

Bottom of Level 1, West Circle Privy

The privy was discovered on June 2nd, 2015 during routine monitoring of construction. The location of the privy is approximately 10 meters southwest of the first dormitory, and had been protected over the last century by the roadways that covered it. The majority of the artifacts and the nightsoil were concentrated in the northeast quadrant.

The structure consists of a brick wall creating a sunken area about 2 meters by 2 meters, and 0.25 meters deep. On the western edge, there are two angled chutes leading into the sunken area and a central brick pier or pedastal. We conclude that the building had two stalls, allowing multiple people to use the privy at the same time, and two chutes to allow for dumping and removal of nightsoil. The shallow depth and chutes tell us that this was an earth-closet, rather than a privy.

Artifacts from the Nightsoil

Part of the large porcelain doll

Part of the large porcelain doll

Dozens of artifacts were recovered from the nightsoil in the privy. Many of these have been found in other areas on campus: buttons, medicine bottles, inkwells, combs, floral and faunal remains, and more. It also revealed a number of unique artifacts and assemblages that add to our understanding of what it was like to be a member of the 19th century Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. These unique pieces include an entire set of dishware, violin-shaped cologne bottle, and two dolls, one complete figurine type and another consisting of the bust. Here are some of the amazing finds from the privy.

The lack of privies on MSU’s historic campus has always been a mystery, and this first find represents a major boon to our research. Over the next year, we will be looking more closely into MSU’s Archives and Historical Records in order to learn more about privies at MSU, analyzing the artifacts, and determining a more exact date range for the building. This building, despite its mundane function, provides us a unique glimpse into life on MSU’s 19th century campus.

Interested in the complete poster? Download it here! 

Works Cited

Bain A. 1998. A seventeenth-century beetle fauna from colonial Boston. Historical Archaeology 32:38-48.

Mann RW, Owsley DW, Shackel PA. 1991. A reconstruction of 19th century surgical techniques: bones in Dr. Thompson’s privy. Historical Archaeology 25:106-112.

Roberts DG, Barrett D. 1984. Nightsoil disposal practices of the 19th century and the origin of artifacts in plowzone proveniences. Historical Archaeology 18:108-115.

Starr F. 2001. Convict artefacts from the Civil Hospital on Norfolk Island. Australasian Historical Archaeology 19:39-47.