Tag: research

To MSU and Beyond: Sharing Excavation Findings using KnightLab StoryMapJS

To MSU and Beyond: Sharing Excavation Findings using KnightLab StoryMapJS

This academic year has allowed me to explore several digital methods I had little to no knowledge about. This is partially due to my teaching position at MSU in the Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR). While in this position, I 

Campus Archaeology Director (Dr. Stacey Camp) Belated Fall 2023 Update

Campus Archaeology Director (Dr. Stacey Camp) Belated Fall 2023 Update

This past summer has been one of the busiest, if not the busiest, summers of my time as director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program. While we did not have a field school as we generally run them every other year, a remarkable discovery was 

Spill the Tea: The history of tea in Michigan

Spill the Tea: The history of tea in Michigan

Holly Long

I love tea; I drink it every single day. It is warm, hydrating, and is known for healing properties. But the tea leaves most drink today are imported and are not indigenous to North America and are rarely grown here. Tea leaves, not including herbal blends, all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, a tropical flora not suitable to the drastic climatic changes found in Michigan. This plant grows at many altitudes and can be dried or roasted to produce the variety of “colors” we can purchase today. It has been utilized for medicinal and social consumption for centuries, depending on preparation and its caffeinated properties. Though it does contain caffeine, it has lower levels than coffee beans once it is brewed, making it a less popular drink among the caffeine addicted populations in North America.

An image of a Yaupon Holyl bush with bright red berries.
Yaupon Holly bush. Image from Wikipedia.

But if we cannot grow this plant in Michigan, how could people have been drinking tea (dried leaves in water) for ages? While tea comes from Camellia sinensis, dried leaves, herbs, and berries steeped in water were consumed long before commercial tea plantations came to fruition. Other plants were used, depending on the local flora, to create ritual or nutritional drinks. The Yaupon, a relative in the Holly family, is the only native plant in Michigan to contain caffeine, allowing for its medicinal use. Caffeine is a toxin produced by plants to ward off insects and to stop them from eating the leaves but such low levels are almost harmless to humans (not including the caffeine addicted today). However, the effects can be felt and can provide short term energy and the feeling of being wide awake which made it ideal for rituals or being included in fasting periods. One example of archaeological evidence for the consumption of holly comes from outside of Michigan at the site of Cahokia, near modern-day St. Louis, Missouri. Known as a site where many individuals converge for ceremonial purposes (bringing a variety of trade goods with them), the ceramic pots left at the site were scraped and analyzed by archaeologists to determine their former contents. Substances such as caffeine and methylxanthines were detected and the ratios of these chemicals corroborates the use of the holly plant in these vessels. This confirms that people have been utilizing the plant life around them for hot and cold drinks for thousands of years for a variety of purposes.

But not all teas were used for its caffeine in rituals and fasting. Some teas were utilized for the nutrients they provided. In the harsh winters here in the north, food becomes scarcer and less various which means certain nutrient deficiencies might set in. Using the abundant pine needles in the area made tea that added much needed vitamin C back in the diet and provided a warm drink during cold times. Many plants in this area were known for their medicinal properties and were utilized by the native people to cure ailments of the stomach, throats, skin, and joints. Edible plants such as the yarrow, mullein, blackberries, wild rose, and honeysuckle and herbs like sage, mint, and rosemary can be dried and steeped or mashed into liquids to help ease different pains and issues. Many of these plants were not found during the winter and were dried to preserve them much like the leaves of Camellia sinensis are dried and oxidized for tea-drinking purposes.

A top down image of botanical ingredients laid out next to a ceramic mortar and pestle, which is held by a hand of a person out of frame.
Images of medicinal plants. Image from PPM Tree.

Not only could these plants be consumed but they were used to heal wounds on the body as well through poultices. Autumn is the time of harvest, the perfect time to finish foraging for these plants and drying them in preparation of Winter. In the final few days of sunny weather, you can embrace the Michigander’s love of the outdoors and learn to drink these nourishing and healing plants that may grow in your own backyard.


(n.d.). Camellia sinensis. PLANTS RESCUE. https://www.plantsrescue.com/posts/camellia-sinensis

Bowers, C. (2020, March 6). Wild thing: Pine Needle Tea. Edible Communities. https://www.ediblecommunities.com/featured/wild-thing-pine-needle-tea/

Ching, T. (2021, November 9). How to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day with tea. https://tching.com/2021/10/how-to-celebrate-indigenous-peoples-day-with-tea/

Crown, P. L., Emerson, T. E., Gu, J., Hurst, W. J., Pauketat, T. R., & Ward, T. (2012). Ritual black drink consumption at Cahokia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(35), 13944–13949. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1208404109

Real Green Digital. (2018, July 2). 10 Michigan plants Native Americans used every day. PPM Tree Service & Arbor Care, LLC. https://ppmtree.com/2018/07/02/michigan-homeopathic-plants/

Wendell, M. T. (n.d.). The origins and history of tea: Where did tea originate? https://marktwendell.com/historyoftea

Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, October 24). Ilex vomitoria. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilex_vomitoria

Doing the Dishes: Institutional Ceramics from the Service Road Collection

Doing the Dishes: Institutional Ceramics from the Service Road Collection

Construction along Service Road in 2020 found a mid-20th-century midden. The artifacts found were associated with the history of temporary post-World War II student housing on Michigan State’s campus. After the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the GI Bill, became law, college enrollment increased 

Archaeology, Communities, and Civil Rights: A Review of the 2022 Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference

Archaeology, Communities, and Civil Rights: A Review of the 2022 Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference

As we near the end of the semester, I want to reflect on one of my favorite experiences of fall 2022: the Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference! This year’s conference was organized by: Dr. Michael S. Nassaney, Professor Emeritus of Western Michigan University; our own Director 

Another day, another mystery in the CAP lab…

Another day, another mystery in the CAP lab…

While cataloguing artifacts from Service Road, we stumbled across an intriguing piece of a milk glass jar featuring an applied color label with bright red and blue hues. I say it was intriguing because many of the artifacts we have left from Service Road are unlabeled or small fragments, providing few clues beyond their shape of what they once held or were used for. So it was no surprise that the faint etchings of letters and color on this container drew my eye – however, my intrigue quickly turned into bewilderment when I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what those letters said!

A photo of the artifact being discussed: a white milk-glass jar with red and blue applied color lettering and decoration. The jar is fragmentary, with only one face fully intact.

The mix of fading and unique font produced the perfect storm, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the bottle was missing most of its bottom, with only “DE / .A.” still visible. While this did clue us in that this bottle was “MADE IN U.S.A.”, if a maker’s mark existed, it was lost along with the whole back side of the jar. So we knew the letters were the key to solve this puzzle!

After some debate with another CAP fellow on whether the last two letters were a “ZA” or were not letters but “2A,” and the use of some eye drops to see if that would help clear up my vision, we decided it was time to try another strategy. First, we tried using the UV light method that Aubree, another CAP fellow, introduced in her blog last year – however, while we have seen great results on other artifacts, it wasn’t able to do the trick for us with this particular label. So we moved on to Plan B: holding up a good ole iPhone flashlight behind the label to provide some back light. And it worked!

We could now make out what we thought was an “R U T M Z A.” Although Plan C, or a quick google search, helped us realize we were a little off, as google suggested that what we were really looking for was in fact “NUTMEG” – and it was right! (And maybe a bit too smart for its own good!) And with that, our now our artifact is no longer a mystery, but one of a set of Dutch stylized spice jars, often purchased by collectors today.

A photo depicting an intact set of Frank Tea and Spice jars, including the artifact discussed in this blog post. Jars are milk-glass with red and blue applied color lettering, and feature a lid with punctured holes for applying contents to foodstuffs.

To complement our struggles reading the label, our archival research similarly led us down a few rabbit holes, as these jars have been attributed to a few different companies, including McKee Tipp City and Hazel Atlas. However, after matching our artifact to a picture of a spice jar for sale online with its brand label still in place, we realized that they were likely made as part of Frank’s Dove Brand, by the Frank Tea and Spice Company, which produced spices, food extracts, food colorings, apple butter, sauces, olive oil, and olives – quite the array of goods! Originally started in 1896 by three brothers in Cincinnati, Ohio, who aimed to replace the purchase of bulk goods with smaller, self-sized products, you might be more familiar with their Frank’s® RedHot® buffalo sauce, a popular product still in stores today!

As for our artifact, and the production of nutmeg jars of the Dutch style, the trademark logo dates between 1938 and 1996. Although a big range, this overlaps with other dates we’ve found of other Service Road artifacts and gives us some insight into ingredients used for cooking – we can only imagine some of the nutmeg recipes used by the person who threw away this jar!

A Look Back at CAP’s 2022 Field School

A Look Back at CAP’s 2022 Field School

This past summer, the Campus Archaeology program had the opportunity to offer a field school to archaeology students from MSU and across the state—our first field school since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Directly taking part in ongoing CAP research into life in the 

All the Names She Could not Bear

All the Names She Could not Bear

A Salty Tale I wanted this blog to be about patents, not Ruth Van Tellingen. Or should I call her Ruth Bendel? Or Ruth Elizabeth Thompson? I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we delve into Ruth’s life, let’s review the concept of patents as they 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Dr. Camp looking out at an archaeological site on MSU's campus wearing a hard hat and yellow vest.
Dr. Camp, Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program, photographed by Nick Schrader, IPF Visual Communications Manager. ©Nick Schrader, All Rights Reserved


For those of you just joining our blog for the first time, I am Dr. Camp, the Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program (CAP). I am entering my 5th year here at MSU, and my 13th teaching as a tenure track faculty member at a land grant university.

This past year and a half has been one filled with anxiety and challenges. We mourn all of the people lost to COVID and the substantial impact it has had on our lives.

While most of our campus was remote up until August 2021, CAP worked on construction projects during the pandemic to ensure the university remained in compliance with federal and state guidelines concerning below ground heritage.

We never stopped working.

In fact, this past year was one of the busiest for our program due to taking on a federal compliance project that involved campus, city, state, federal, and tribal agencies. We learned how to go through the Section 106 process with the aid of many on and off campus partners. This included assessing, mitigating, and monitoring the construction of a substantial bike pathway that transverses much of our beautiful campus. Our CAP fellows and staff spent the summer overseeing the project, laboring in the heat with masks on to keep each other safe.

The MSU Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) staff conducting shovel tests along the Red Cedar River as part of the Red Cedar Greenway bike path project, May 2021.

We also oversaw a substantial construction project at the beginning of the pandemic back in May 2020. The project lasted through August 2020. This project has resulted in several forthcoming publications and multiple public (online/remote) talks about our findings at conferences and at the MSU Science Festival in the spring of 2021. Artifacts from this construction site, which is located on Service Road, reveal campus life during the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s.

Children’s toys recovered by the MSU Campus Archaeology Program during the summer 2020 Service Road construction project.
A) Yellow plastic toy microscope; B) Celluloid squeaker doll likely made between 1940 and 1947 by the Irwin Corporation of New Hampshire; and C) Yellow plastic toy car likely manufactured by the Renwal Manufacturing Company dating from the 1940s to the mid-1950s.
Photographs taken by Autumn Painter, Campus Archaeologist from 2018 through the summer of 2020.

We oversaw a smaller, but equally important construction project involving the area known as Spartan Village, which is most recently used to house graduate students. Part of that property has been converted to build a new TechSmith building. After conducting substantial historical research on the property, we conducted a geophysical survey with the assistance of MSU alumni Dr. Duane Quates in the fall of 2020. We used Dr. Quates’ data to help inform test excavations on the site later during the 2020-2021 academic year. We monitored construction on the site this summer (2021), which revealed numerous artifacts and building foundations.

The MSU Campus Archaeology Program staff working at Spartan Village, the new location of TechSmith’s building. Summer 2021. Photographed by Nick Schrader, IPF Visual Communications Manager. ©Nick Schrader, All Rights Reserved

We also continue to be involved in tree plantings on campus to ensure dirt removed as part of their planting is screened for artifacts.

The MSU Campus Archaeology Program monitors tree plantings to ensure archaeological sites and artifacts are not disturbed.

We moved much of our traditionally in-person outreach to online formats, including a new digital tour of MSU’s historic Faculty Row and our annual Apparitions and Archaeology Haunted Tour.

Though our mission will remains clear – to protect and mitigate below ground resources on MSU’s campus while training students in archaeological research and public history – this year has also given us time and space to reflect upon what we have accomplished and what we would like to do for our community in the coming years. As we discussed in our blog last summer, we are working towards sharing more about the diverse communities who have lived and work on campus.

We have committed towards working closely with communities we have yet to serve in our surrounding region, but much of this work is on pause until we feel it is safe to do so. And while we have fallen short of some of our ambitious goals for this past year due to the burnt out, stress, and exhaustion that comes with living and working through a pandemic, we intend to keep them at the forefront of our planning for the coming years. We wish to work with the many communities who have resided on and owned MSU’s land and plan to develop policies that ensure proper consultation during construction projects.

I want to conclude by thanking all of our CAP staff and fellows for working so hard and learning to quickly adapt to in-flux new protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also want to thank the many staff with whom we have worked this past year+ of a pandemic. I also want to thank the undergraduates who helped us this summer with cataloging amid still very stressful times. We appreciate the ongoing support for CAP.

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