CAP at MSU Science Fest 2017

This month, Campus Archaeology is participating in MSU’s fifth annual Science Festival. Science Fest celebrates STEAM fields—Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics—by bringing exploration and discovery out of the laboratory and into the public eye. From April 7-23, MSU is hosting a series of free events for people of all ages including demonstrations, panel discussions, tours, open houses, hands-on activities, and science cafes aimed at connecting campus researchers with curious members of the community.

This past Saturday, April 8, CAP participated in the Science Fest Expo Zone Day event. For the Expo Zone, STEAM researchers from all over campus developed hands-on activities with the goal of “sharing the science that inspires them” with aspiring young scientists and their families.

CAP fellows Susan Kooiman, Jeff Painter, and Autumn Beyer help young archaeologists use real screens to sift through buckets of sand for artifacts.

CAP fellows Susan Kooiman, Jeff Painter, and Autumn Beyer help young archaeologists use real screens to sift through buckets of sand for artifacts.

CAP has participated in Science Fest since it began in 2013. Since this wasn’t our first rodeo, we brought two hands-on activities to the Expo Zone that we knew would spark the interest of kids and parents alike. On Saturday, our screening station activity drew big crowds and lots of curious onlookers. CAP volunteers “excavated” buckets of sand and asked visitors to help sift the sand through screens to look for “artifacts.”

We selected a variety of objects to keep things interesting and to represent the types of artifacts we expect to find when excavating on campus: toy plates and cups stood in for dinnerware found across campus; plastic combs represented personal hygiene items, like the privy beard comb; and bone-shaped dog biscuits represented butchered animal bones like the ones CAP Fellow Autumn Beyer is working on analyzing. We also included some fun items for kids to find, like matchbox cars and plastic turtles.

Dr. Heather Walder and undergraduate archaeology student SarahJane Potter explain that archaeologists are interested in people, not dinosaurs.

Dr. Heather Walder and undergraduate archaeology student SarahJane Potter explain that archaeologists are interested in people, not dinosaurs.

After they sifted through all the sand in their buckets, we asked visitors to describe, count, and sort artifacts for us. Finally, they collected them into a box to “take to the lab” for additional analysis. Even though this was a fun activity, we wanted to make sure it resembled real-life archaeology, not “treasure hunting.” At the end of the activity, we paid our budding archaeology assistants for their hard work with chocolate coins or temporary tattoos. If we accomplished nothing else, we successfully indoctrinated the youth with the idea that archaeologists should be paid for their work.

Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright prepares Science Fest visitors to play the artifact matching game.

Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright prepares Science Fest visitors to play the artifact matching game.

When they were done screening, we sent visitors over to the artifacts table to look at some of the real-life objects we’ve excavated right here on MSU’s campus. Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright showed visitors several interesting items including a jar of library paste, porcelain dolls, and uranium glass that glows under black lights. Visitors were allowed to touch and handle some of the sturdier artifacts like laboratory keys, a protractor, and a pocketknife rusted shut. These examples of campus artifacts tied in with the second activity CAP brought to the Expo Zone: the artifact matching game.

The artifact matching game required visitors to play a 3-dimensional game of memory matching, where they matched four historic artifacts with their modern counterparts. Visitors of all ages enjoyed comparing and contrasting modern objects they see and use every day, like light bulbs and pop bottles, with similar items used by MSU students and faculty decades ago. Since many of the Science Fest visitors work on campus or have family members that do, they were excited to make these kinds of connections with campus history.

Archaeology undergraduate Amy Hair shows Science Fest visitors some examples of archaeological tools and artifacts found on MSU’s campus

Archaeology undergraduate Amy Hair shows Science Fest visitors some examples of archaeological tools and artifacts found on MSU’s campus

The Science Fest Expo was a lot of fun, but it also served an important purpose in that it provided a space for us to bring our work into the public sphere. Now, more than ever, scientists have to think about how we can bridge the gap between the public and the academy and make our work relevant and accessible to everyone. While this is a complicated issue, a good first step is to make sure members of the community are familiar with what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. One visitor said they had worked on campus for years and had no idea we did archaeology here!

These in-person events also give us a chance to address common misconceptions about archaeology. When visitors arrived at our booth, we asked them if they could tell us about what archaeologists do. Before doing the activity and talking to us, most people—kids and parents—thought that archaeologists dig up dinosaur fossils! We were able to have one-on-one conversations and explain that paleontologists study dinosaurs, while archaeologists are interested in learning about past people based on the objects they leave behind.

CAP’s next Scincefest outreach event will be a Campus Archaeology Historical Walking Tour on Saturday, April 15 from 1-2 PM. The first 50 people to arrive at the MSU Union will receive a guided tour of archaeological locations important to MSU’s history, led by CAP Director Dr. Lynne Goldstein and Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright. The tour is free and suitable for all ages!


Campus Archaeology at MSU’s Science Festival

Via Science Fest MSU

This year, Michigan State University will hold its first ever Science Festival (!  This 10-day celebration of all things science will be held on campus from April 12 – 21st, 2013 and will include lectures, hands-on activities, excursions, demonstrations, tours, and other platforms of engagement with the wider community.  This event, which will be run by MSU students, faculty, and staff, is anticipated to attract many, many people from throughout the state of Michigan, and beyond.  Sponsored by MSU’s University Outreach and Engagement, Renee Leone and her assistant Blair Zaid (also a CAP researcher!)   have been doing a great job with planning this event from the ground-up.

Campus Archaeology is very excited to announce that we will be taking part in this celebration of science!  Although currently tentative, we have scheduled two hands-on activities and we invite people from all age groups to come and engage with Campus Archaeology staff.  Our planned activities will be held on Saturday, April 13th and Friday, April 19th, respectively, from 10am – 12pm.  By participating in our hands-on activities, we hope that people will be able to learn more about archaeology and about the kinds of inferences we make based on evidence recovered from the archaeological record.

Dr. Lynne Goldstein (Director, Campus Archaeology), Katy Meyers (Campus Archaeologist) and CAP researchers Sabrina Perlman, Amy Michael, Blair Starnes, and myself (Sylvia Deskaj) will all be participating in these planned activities.  As a member of Campus Archaeology, I am very excited to be able to talk about pot sherds, lithics (i.e. stone tools), glass, nails – and other kinds of artifacts typically found during archaeological investigations –  to lifelong learners (both young and old!).  Mark your calendars and be sure to come out and say hello!


CAP Campus Outreach: The MSU Science Festival

Students screen for artifacts

Students screen for artifacts

CAP has several outreach events scheduled for this semester: from teaching anthropologists how to construct digital identities to Grandparents Day for alumni and their grandchildren this summer. One new exciting addition to our outreach lineup is the MSU Science Festival.

The MSU Science Festival is a 10-day on campus event that brings science, technology, and exploration out of MSU classrooms and into the public sphere through hands-on activities, demonstrations, panel discussion on the science that effects our everyday lives from April 12-21. Science Festivals are popping up across the nation and as MSU seeks to hold the first of this scale in Michigan, we knew this would be an excellent opportunity for CAP to advance its educational outreach with Mid-Michigan.

So, how will CAP participate in the MSU Science Festival? Well I have begun to peruse different online resources and touch the tip of the archaeology outreach iceberg. As archaeologists struggle with questions about the relationships between our work and “the public” these battles are often fought in the hands-on demonstrations or poster boards in local events. Choosing how CAP will combine archaeology-science-education is no small task!

Here are some ideas I pulled from the Society for Historic Archaeology’s education/ outreach blogs on how to have fun and teach archaeology to K-5th graders (SHA Blogs):

  1. Washing Station
    The washing station is aimed at demonstrating the delicate nature and care given to some of the types of artifacts we find in the ground. This activity requires the participants to use toothbrushes, cloths, and water to clean the dirt and debris off of a set of objects we place in the water bucket.
  2. Seed Sorting Station
    This activity will essentially have the participant sorting a large variety of seeds into different categories and then explaining why they chose a particular strategy. Then CAP members will explain the value of these strategies and how differences among participant’s strategies can lead to interesting archaeological interpretations.
  3. Artifact Sorting Station
    This activity is similar to the seed sorting only we would use objects that are similar to those we find in the ground. This strategy may work better for younger participants who may not be able to grasp the significance of the seeds.
  4. Archaeology in a Jar
    While this activity requires a little more preparation, reconstructing mini archaeology sites in jars can help demonstrate key concepts in archaeology such as stratigraphy and superposition.
  5. Rock Art painting
    Rock art painting is a cool activity because it allows participants to explore their own creativity and reflect on what they deem worthy of inscribing in stone. This activity may work for all ages and allows the participants to take their final works of art home.

Overall in addition to being fun, these activities help explain some of the key features of archaeology and demonstrate to a variety of ages the thoughts and ideas that go into archaeological investigations and analysis. These activities are some of the things CAP may have at our Expo Tent table this April. What are some ways you demonstrate archaeology in public outreach events?

For more information about the MSU Science Festival, please visit