Making Memories Through Campus Archaeology

Throughout our careers, we as archaeologists participate in public outreach programs. Whether through public dig sites, school programs or artifact identifications, outreach programs come in many shapes and sizes and can be rewarding in unexpected ways for everyone involved. Being raised by my grandparents, I grew up surrounded by my elders. My afternoons were spent playing checkers in the senior retirement complex activity rooms and having dinner with my great-grandparents. My grandfather would meet me after kindergarten and take me to the park every day after school. In the evenings, before dinner we would watch the birds at their bird feeders and pull out their Little Golden Guide to Birds to find out what we were seeing. These are special memories for me.

Sadly, this past spring, my grandmother walked on to join my grandfather. When Dr. Goldstein approached us asking who would like to speak at Crosaires Assisted Living Facility about Campus Archaeology, I immediately responded. The campus archaeologist, Lisa Bright and I, answered the call for a presentation about MSU’s history. In early November, Lisa and I presented artifacts and visual representations of the excavations done on campus, documenting MSU’s extensive history. In attendance at Crosaires were a woman named Alex, her son, a graduate of MSU history, two other residents and the director. We passed around artifacts from the various periods of MSU’s past and listened as elders told us their own stories about the artifacts. Alex and her son were avid participants in our discussion, asking questions and offering anecdotal stories about the things we had documented through archaeology. Alex’s son remembered many of the changed landscapes we discussed from his time at MSU some forty years ago. Before leaving for the evening, the residents, family and director all expressed their appreciation for our work, saying that it made them feel good that young people actively sought to remember and educate others about the past. It made them feel important that the things they remember from their youth are being studied and discussed by younger generations. Lisa and I were very happy to have had this experience and touched that they were proud of our work.

Before leaving for the AAA’s, we received an email informing us that Alex had passed three days after we left. As I read my email before I left for the airport I got teary eyed. The director from Crosaires wanted to express her son’s appreciation for the presentation and the hands-on approach we took. He asked the director to express his gratefulness for the work we do and that we provided a beautiful last experience he got to share with his mother.

As an academic, I often struggle to find ways to explain my work to the general population. Many of us often feel that public outreach is not heard or noticed. It is a rare treat to truly feel the impact your work can have on the general public and to realize the unexpected ways you can impact people’s lives simply by explaining what you do. Campus Archaeology is one of the most publicly visible programs that our department has and our outreach is a vital part of it. People connect with the past and present simultaneously through the artifacts we recover and public outreach is our vehicle allowing that connection to be made.

MSU Campus Archaeology & Day of Archaeology

Today is officially Day of Archaeology (#dayofarch).
Here at Michigan State, we have finished the field school, completed most construction-related projects, and are cleaning artifacts, organizing things and preparing for the new school year. I (Lynne Goldstein) am personally doing conference calls and trying to catch up on a variety of things that are due.

The field school was in a great location this year – along the river and right behind the Administration Building. The location was not only lovely and prime territory for duck and goose watching, but it is also a high traffic area, with lots of people – including administrators – walking by daily. Here is a shot I took from the Provost’s office: IMG_1788

And here is our end-of-dig crew shot: IMG_2092

Archaeological work outside the field may sound dull, but it really is not always the case, as I noted yesterday on Facebook:
“Sometimes meetings are very enjoyable. Just returned from a meeting about new campus historical markers, focusing on the “Sleepy Hollow” area. MSU wants to include info on the prehistoric site we found at the edge of the hollow, as well as info the MSU Campus Archaeology Program has on historic sites and events in the area.
After the meeting, we went and inspected a couple of sites, then I visited the Beal Botanical Garden because all of the Eastern Agricultural Complex domesticates were blooming – goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), marshelder (Iva annua), and squash (Cucurbita pepo).”

The Lansing State Journal ran an article this week on archaeology in Michigan, and we are very pleased that we are featured, along with Fort Michilimackinac and others.

The field school excavated a really interesting historic site that was apparently a single dump episode – in 1924, the head of grounds for the campus (also a Professor of Horticulture) remodeled and modernized his house and used the construction debris as fill for a low spot along the river, not far from the house. Everything we found dates from 1890s-1925. Field school students blogged about the work and what they found, and you can find those posts here:

Our regular CAP posts continue, and this link tells you about the outhouse we found which is probably linked to Saints Rest, the very first dormitory on campus. We are very excited about this find because we have been searching for an outhouse associated with the dorm for a long time. Archaeologists like outhouses (well, old ones that don’t smell anymore) because no one goes after anything they dropped into one, and people also often used them as a dump for debris.

We do have some sidewalk work to do on campus, and this often yields really interesting things. The University replaces sidewalks with some regularity (they are now trying to install “green” sidewalks everywhere), and there is often undisturbed stuff beneath the old sidewalks.

Campus Archaeology and Public Outreach

Co-written by Lisa Bright and Nicole Geske

Campus Archaeology participates in community education and outreach when possible, especially when we are specifically asked. But, with limited resources and time, we can often only accommodate large educational or MSU sponsored events. Therefore we find ourselves debating what is the best use of our time in terms of our educational programs and outreach. In other words, how can we get the most “bang for our buck”, while still providing quality education to the community?

Lately we have been weighing the relative advantages and disadvantages of working one on one with groups of children, versus supplying teachers with educational material that allows them to conduct educational programs. Participating in larger class room, or school wide, events requires the scheduling of several campus archaeology fellows to lead the activity, as well as transportation and travel time. Although we are happy to personally conduct educational workshops, creating educational packets for teachers to use (and re-use) may allow campus archaeology to have a bigger impact, while getting across many important concepts.

Other archaeological programs and institutions that offer educational and outreach opportunities to children have developed the use of “toolboxes.” These boxes contain materials that can be loaned out to interested individuals, teachers, or other educational programs. They also revolve around specific themes and contain information for teachers and students, lesson plans and activities, and actual artifact materials. Through researching this type of community engagement, we believe that CAP and our neighboring community would benefit from us creating toolboxes such as these.

Our goal is to develop material and resources for specific age groups, or grade levels, that revolve around Michigan’s past. We plan to have multiple boxes that focus on specific archaeological cultures, such as Paleoindian, Archaic, and Woodland. We will also have boxes that will demonstrate how archaeologists excavate and analyze artifacts.

Also, because of Campus Archaeology’s mission for archaeology at Michigan State, we will have a box that focuses on the University, its history, and what it means to be a Spartan! The connection the community has to MSU goes deep, and creating easily usable educational material that connects something so well known in the community with archaeological concepts provides a unique educational opportunity.

As we work on creating these toolboxes, we would love to hear your suggestions!  Additionally, in a few weeks campus archaeology is participating in a local elementary school’s science fair, and we will be testing some new interactive activities that could be scaled down for the teacher’s toolbox.  We will also be posting follow up blogs throughout the semester to document the creation and implementation process.

CAP interns where are they now-Part I

Campus Archaeology is proud that we can give undergraduate students at MSU such an intensive, hands-on experience in archaeology. Our interns are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in every aspect of archaeology, from the research, to the lab work, all the way to full-scale excavations. Because of this, our interns continue in their careers/studies with a solid background in archaeology. We always like to keep up with what our previous interns are up to and get their feedback on how well CAP prepared them for their future careers. Kaitlin Scharra and Bethany Slon are two such previous interns, check out what they are up to.

Kaitlin Scharra

Katie Scharra and Katy Meyers working on the West Circle Steam II project

Katie Scharra and Katy Meyers working on the West Circle Steam II project

I graduated from MSU in December 2012.  During the following spring and summer, I was both a Laboratory Intern and Summer Survey Crew Member with Campus Archaeology.  My focus during my time as a Laboratory Intern was on creating a functional classification for the artifacts from Saint’s Rest.  The aim was to create an interpretation of the collection that the public could identify and engage with.  Creating this personal bridge between the artifacts and the public became very important to me at this time and is now my biggest motivation.

After deciding to move to Detroit to be closer to my family, I was encouraged to check out Wayne State University’s program by none other than Kate Frederick.  I was fortunate enough to join the Unearthing Detroit project.  This is a collections-based research project which reanalyzes collections recovered from the salvage digs in the mid-1900s. Our biggest and most researched collection comes from the construction of the Renaissance Center.  Like the collections at Michigan State, these are historic artifacts dating to the 19th Century.  They are the artifacts from family households, hotels, a marketplace, bars, and boarding homes for the working class of trade commerce on the river and the Grand Trunk Railroad.  The area, which is only about the size of  West Circle, tells us the story of a very diverse and continually changing community.  I also have enjoyed being able to compare this urban collection to that of my work in the Campus Archaeology collection.  It really illustrates the differences between urban and rural settings in the 1800s.

My main job on the Unearthing Detroit team is to develop public outreach.  This means I am the one who writes our weekly blog series, develops our face-to-face programs, and is constantly interacting with the public and other programs through social media.

This fall I will be beginning my Master’s in Anthropology here at Wayne State.  I will be exploring the different avenues of public outreach.  I hope to discover what are the advantages and disadvantages of public outreach and work towards creating efficient and useful methods.

You can follow the work of me and the Unearthing Detroit team through our blog,, on twitter @UnearthDetroit, and our Facebook.


Bethany Slon

I had the pleasure of working with CAP for two years, but sadly I had to say goodbye to the team last month, in order to pursue my research interests. Right now I am spending five months in Central Mexico, where I am assisting a Ph.D. student from the University of California Riverside with an excavation of a pre-Aztec elite residence.

Bethany working at her new site in Mexico

Bethany working at her new site in Mexico

We’ve only been digging for a couple of weeks, so a lot of what we are going to find is unclear, but I can say for sure that all of my experiences with CAP have really prepared me for what I’ve been here. I’m used to being on the digging side of things, but here I was entrusted to managing my own section of the excavation. This means that I have to use everything I’ve learned with CAP to make sure everything is perfect in regards to correct archaeology. This includes setting up grid units, taking substantial field notes, and directing my crew in ways that will be most efficient to the excavation. Thankfully. Campus Archaeology has taught me everything I need to know, and I will forever be thankful for the time I got to spend with CAP. As for future plans, I’ll be applying to graduate school while in Mexico, and I hope to be entering a graduate program in the fall of 2015.