Tag: Public Outreach

Digging Into The Past: Girl Scout Badge

Digging Into The Past: Girl Scout Badge

The Campus Archaeology Program has been hard at work this semester prepping for our collaborative event with Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan. The goal of this event is to teach young women about a career path in archaeology and award them with an archaeology badge 

CAP Lab Open House

CAP Lab Open House

Last Tuesday, November 12, 2019, Campus Archaeology hosted their first Open House. For two hours, Campus Archaeology opened our lab doors to the public. Campus Archaeology strives to have a standing relationship with the community through our numerous outreach events each year, as well as 

Emphasizing Laboratory Work in Archaeology: A New Outreach Activity

Emphasizing Laboratory Work in Archaeology: A New Outreach Activity

MSU’s Campus Archaeology Program is well known in our community for our public outreach events and our archaeological excavations. These activities allow our archaeologists to be visible members of our MSU community and gets us out of our laboratories so we can teach and dig! However, most of the work we do at CAP occurs behind the scenes, after excavations end and between outreach events we clean and catalog artifacts, we analyze these collections and research sites, the artifacts and historic landscapes we excavated, and we write about those projects. We want to share that side of our work with the community just as we do the excavations and the researched artifacts and have been working to develop outreach activities to bring the lab to the public.

Our idea was to produce a game which let people reconstruct ceramic vessels out of broken sherds, letting us talk about how most of the artifacts we find during excavations are fragmentary, not the whole vessels they see in the display boxes. We also thought it would help us demonstrate how archaeologists turn these fragments into whole objects, how difficult it can be, and how it helps archaeologists learn. We wanted to have a version of this game ready for Michigan Archaeology Day.    

Early 20th Century Mercer Pottery Co. “Bordeaux” Pattern http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=5002

One common bit of lab work archaeologists do is reconstruct the ceramic pottery we find during our excavations. Only rarely do we find intact vessels or tableware, most often the objects we find are highly fragmented. Having only fragments makes it difficult to identify what the ceramic would have been used for (usually determined by its form and material) and when it would have been used (can determined by decoration). A great blog post by former CAP fellow Jeff Painter demonstrates the connections between refitting and identification for historic ceramics.

Archaeologists use artifacts to ask questions about the people who would have used them, to ask the most interesting questions we need try to get the most detailed information as possible. To transform the fragments into complete or nearly complete ceramics archaeologists work to refit, or reconnect, the pieces. It can be similar to working on a puzzle, except our puzzles are three-dimensional, most of the pieces are missing, and you have to use lots of glue – better not make a mistake or leave gaps!

Our Goals

Archaeologies actually get really excited when fragments of the same vessel fit together, or cross-mend, because we know we can use this information to better understand the site and the people who lived, visited, or worked there. We wanted our puzzle game to convey this experience, both the joy that comes from completing a refit and the new insights that come from seeing an intact vessel compared to a pile of fragments.

Our Design

To achieve our goals, we decided we would break actual, though non-archaeologically sourced, ceramics and use magnets to allow users to refit them without glue. We believed having actual ceramics which would hopefully hold their shape would best show the vessel’s form. To assist in this, we planned to prompt prospective puzzlers to guess if it was a plate, bowl, cup, chamber pot, etc. before they completed the refit and then ask the same question afterwards.

Our Build

We had to start out build by first breaking our newly purchased ceramics. Wearing safety googles and gloves, we dropped these into the sinks in our lab. Surprisingly, each one broke on the first drop, though the finer ceramics (porcelains) were so highly fragmented that they could not be used. Our suggestion is using other ceramics or possibly dropping them from a lower height, we will try this next time.

Next, we sanded the edges down so the edges would be smooth and safe, ceramics can cut like glass!

After that we drilled holes into the now smoothed edges, dropped in a small amount of super glue, inserted 0.1 inch diameter disk magnets, and added a coating of glue to the outside to help secure the magnets. It was important to ensure the magnets on the edges we wanted to refit were polar opposites, otherwise they pieces would repel and never cross-mend. Once or twice the small margents flipped on us and we had to extract and re-set them. We also experimented with putting magnets on one edge and ferrous metal fragments on its opposite, which saved time and drill bits, but was less secure then having magnets on both sides.

Playing the game

The game worked! The people who came to our table during Michigan Archaeology Day seemed to really enjoy the puzzle, though some were frustrated trying to figure out how it fit together, a feeling all archaeologists can empathize with. We hope they gained a better sense of what archaeologists do in the lab and all the work which occurs after excavations. Though we did not do an official survey, participants seemed to make more informed guesses as to the vessel’s form. When it was a pile of fragments many said they had no idea, but after working on it they often stated that our shallow bowl reconstruction looked like a bowl or it looked like a plate.


This design is a working prototype and throughout the construction process we learned that there is plenty of room for improvement.

  • The first area is that we need to locate softer paste ceramics, today’s kitchenware and porcelain are fired at incredibly high temperatures, meaning that their paste is incredibly hard, we quickly exhausted our supply of drill bits.
  • Secondly, and related to the first, we needed more magnets, especially for using curved bodied vessels, to ensure they hold up on their own. Because the ceramics we used were so hard, we put fewer magnets than we probably should have.
  • Thirdly, we need to make sure to drill the magnets deeper into the fabric of the pottery. If they extend to far out the pieces being to offset and large gaps appear. In addition to the refit appearing less fine, it also artificially increased the difficulty of the puzzle and reduced the structural integrity of the mended fragments.  
  • Lastly, people told us they were disappointed that we didn’t provide the entire ceramic for them to refit. Only having a portion of a vessel is a common frustration for archaeologists, but it was not one we were really expecting the puzzlers to feel and not something that we prioritized in our design. Our decision to use a section of the ceramic was related to the difficulty of drilling into the paste and the related time constraints. We will make sure our next version of this game includes ceramics which are more, if not entirely, complete.  


If you are looking forward to trying our new outreach activity and seeing how we have improved it the Campus Archaeology Program will be at MSU’s Science Fest in April 2020. Hope to see you there!

Summer 2019 Re-CAP

Summer 2019 Re-CAP

Campus Archaeology had an exciting summer field season, from the archaeological field school to field crew work across campus. We also hosted a class for Grandparent’s University and painted the MSU Rock! Below you can read more about each project. Archaeological Field School This summer 

Furthering Open Archaeology: Development of the CAP Digital Repository

Furthering Open Archaeology: Development of the CAP Digital Repository

In our previous blog, Jeff Bennett introduced the concept of Open Archaeology and some of the ways that Campus Archaeology (CAP) is maintaining and furthering our position within the framework of Open Archaeology. One of the ways in which we plan to further our efforts 

Happy Anthropology Day!

Happy Anthropology Day!

To celebrate Anthropology Day, we decided to share a little bit about what each of us typically does during a day or what a good day as an anthropologist looks like!

Dr. Camp in Ireland c. 1998-1998

Dr. Stacey Camp:
As an academic, my work varies from day to day, month to month, and even from year to year. Some years are busier than others, especially if they involve field schools or big publications (like a book or site report). Other years have more downtime so that laboratory research and writing associated with field school work can get done. As a result, I try to think about what I need to accomplish professional 5 to 10 years out. This helps me figure out what I absolutely need to get done in order to move projects forward (e.g. getting grants, finishing laboratory work, etc.) and publish about them.

My day to day work as an academic is varied, which I enjoy. Here’s what today looks like:

7:50am: Get my daughter on the school bus and say goodbye to my son, who goes to school with my husband.
9am: Arrive at my office. Check email and say hello to my colleagues.
9:40am: Set out ceramics and artifacts to prepare students in my laboratory class for a quiz this Friday.
10:20am-11:10am: Teach my laboratory methods class.
11:10-11:30am: Talk to students from the class about my field school and answer any class questions.
11:30am-12pm: Pack up the ceramics I pulled out for class and start reviewing the artifact cataloging work my lab methods class started this week.
12pm: Eat lunch with my colleagues and graduate students in the archaeology wing of my department.
1pm-2pm: Hold our weekly MSU Campus Archaeology Program project meeting with graduate student fellows and our Campus Archaeologist.
2pm-3pm: Host our weekly MSU Campus Archaeology Program writing hour.
3pm-3:30pm: Meet with an undergraduate student who is working on an article with me.
3:30pm-4pm: Catch up on work emails.
4pm-5pm: Grade discussion papers from my laboratory methods class; enter attendance data; start planning for Friday’s lecture on identifying historic glass.

Every now and then I have the opportunity to do something really exciting. Last week, I was able to visit the University of Helsinki (courtesy of faculty member Dr. Suzie Thomas) to give two talks and learn more about the WWII and POW heritage of Finland. I was able to spend my days meeting with scholars about their research. I was able to visit the National Museum of Finland as well as the World Heritage Site of Suomenlinna, a historic fortress that dates to the mid-18th century.

Mari Isa:
I would guess my day usually starts off like most people’s days: I get to the office and respond to emails. This semester most of the emails I receive are from students in the class I am teaching—Forensic Anthropology and Osteology. I spend at least part of every day doing something related to teaching: preparing lectures, giving lectures, meeting with students, or grading papers. I really enjoy this part of my day! Other mornings might start off at the morgue assisting with a forensic case. Every case is different. Our lab might be asked to analyze a skeleton and develop a biological profile—including sex, age, ancestry, and stature—to compare to missing person’s reports. Another type of case involves identifying a deceased person by comparing x-rays taken at the morgue to medical x-rays taken while the person was alive. When I get back to the office after the case, I write up a report to give to the medical examiner. The rest of the day I spend working on my dissertation research, which takes an experimental approach to studying skeletal trauma. Research work looks a little different depending on the day. On experiment days I work with a team of anthropologists and engineers to observe how bones break in a controlled laboratory setting. Other days I spend reading so I can develop better research questions or try to figure out what my results mean. Other days I collect data. Right now I am using methods from the field of fractography (the study of broken surfaces) to look at experimentally broken bones. I am trying to see if I can use these methods to figure out where a fracture started and ended. If it does work, this could help anthropologists figure out how a bone in a forensic or bioarchaeological case was broken.

Jeff Painter, CAP Fellow

Jeff Painter:
If I am not out in the field excavating, I spend my days bouncing between various projects. These projects keep me busy and ensure that I interact with a number of different people each day.  I am currently teaching my first course, on ‘Great Discoveries in Archaeology.’ My early mornings are often filled with lecturing, grading, or preparing for a future lecture. This week I am preparing lectures on paleolithic cave art! I will then spend some time down in one of our archaeology labs, collecting data on ceramics and other artifacts in order to look at past food practices and what they can tell us about various aspects of ancient society. In the afternoons, I try to spend some time analyzing collected data or writing, either on my dissertation, a publication, or the occasional grant proposal.

Jack Biggs:
For me, a typical day as an anthropologist involves the both the physical and digital preservation of artifacts and physical remains. As a bioarchaeologist, I reconstruct human remains that have broken down over time. Most of the human skeletal remains I work with come from heavily looted contexts so our excavations are commonly salvage in nature. Reconstructing these remains allows us give back some of the humanity to these individuals rather than being seen as bones that were in the way of ancient pots that looters were looking for. Furthermore, I routinely employ photogrammetry in my work which takes sets of images of an object and creates a 3D model. These models digitally preserve both human and material remains that may continue to degrade. By digitally preserving these as 3D models, these objects can be studied long after the materials break down and can be easily shared to other researchers or the public. As an anthropologist, getting to be a part of cultural preservation for future generations is incredibly gratifying and makes coming to work each day feel like a gift rather than a job.

Amber Plemons:
A day in the life of Biological Anthropologist looks different from day to day. We study human skeletal remains to answer questions about people from the past and the present. A typical day for me is jumping between tasks from conducting and writing research to working with medical examiners and law enforcement across the state to help solve crimes. We visit medical examiners offices where we compare x-rays of a deceased individual, one x-ray taken while the person was alive and one taken after death. We can compare the shape and features of bones between the two images to try to identify the person and return them to their families for a proper burial. Sometimes, we may bring the skeleton of an unknown individual back to our lab where we can measure and analyze the bones and determine the person’s ancestry, sex, age, and stature. After hours of closely examining the bones, I return to my desk to write an official report of my findings and submit the report to the medical examiner in charge of the case. The legal system will them compare my findings to missing persons reports in attempts of matching demographic information between the missing person and the unknown decedent leading to an identification. In my downtime, I work on my personal research examining the role of climate and genetics in shaping the human facial skeleton to understand human variation on a global scale.

Autumn Painter, Campus Archaeologist

Autumn Painter:
Each day as the MSU Campus Archaeologist looks a little different! This time of the year is filled with preparations for field work that will begin at the start of the summer semester. Some days I attend meetings with IPF (Infrastructure Planning and Facilities) at MSU to discuss their planned construction projects and if any of them would impact an archaeological resources. However, I usually spend my days working with graduate fellows on their research projects as needed, researching potential areas of impact for upcoming campus construction projects, writing reports from the previous field season, and doing lab work. In addition to my duties as campus archaeologist, I am also preparing to take my comprehensive exams and writing my dissertation proposal for my personal research on prehistoric foodways and social interaction.

Jeff Burnett, CAP Fellow

Jeff Burnett:
As an anthropologist and archaeologist, a good day is one in which I gain a new perspective on a particular history. This can involve being part of an archaeological excavation where a team of archaeologists and associated stakeholders recover some material culture, an artifact or feature, that expands our understanding of history or a group of people. A day where I gain a new perspective may involve laboratory work. In the lab archaeologists wash, analyses, sort, or catalogue the material remains they found in excavations, often during the activates archaeologists reveal new information about the artifacts. Finding an inscription on an object or a specific decorative pattern on a ceramic plate can give the researcher a completely new understanding of the place or group of people they are investigating. I might also gain a new perspective through a day where I engage in archival research, looking at historic documents and writings of past peoples. These documents can give context to my research and guide my questions, but they can also indicate something different than what the archaeology found, which is always interesting. The final way that I may gain a new perspective on history is speaking with non-archaeologists about the lives of their families and ancestors. In anthropology these individuals or descendant communities provide important connections between our work and the real people we are studying, they also have their own meaningful questions and perspectives that make descendants an essential aspect of many archaeological investigation. If any of these many events were to occur in a particular day my understanding of the past would be expanded and I would consider that a very good day.



        Chris Stawski was involved with Campus Archaeology at its inception, beginning as an archaeological technician in the summer of 2008.  Chris also held the position of Campus Archaeologist during the 2010-2011 academic year.  During his tenure with CAP, he was a 

Creating a New Outreach Activity

Creating a New Outreach Activity

Those who follow us know that outreach is a big part of what we do in the Campus Archaeology Program. Every year, CAP participates in several public outreach events including Michigan Archaeology Day, Grandparents University, ScienceFest, and more. These events are important because it gives 

Making Memories Through Campus Archaeology

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

MSU Campus Archaeology & Day of Archaeology

Today is officially Day of Archaeology (#dayofarch). http://www.dayofarchaeology.com 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