Preserving MSU’s Past, One Sidewalk at a Time.

Summer 2013 has provided MSU’s campus community with many changes. While students are partaking in various summer activities away from campus, MSU has push forwarded with various construction projects to revamp an aging campus infrastructure. Returning students in the fall may not recognize parts of the campus that they left in the spring. In particular, campus north of the Red Cedar has been subjected to various projects throughout these spring and summer months. This means that MSU’s Campus Archaeology Program has been out in full force ensuring that MSU’s rich historical past is preserved and to make sure that we mitigate any potential damage.

Shovel testing near Saints Rest, via Katy Meyers

Shovel testing near Saints Rest, via Katy Meyers

On this particular day, we found ourselves working on around fifteen shovel test pits, while monitoring and documenting the continued demolition of Morrill Hall. The area we focused on was a small grass triangle formed by sidewalk borders that were due to be taken up in the next week for reconstruction. This location was of importance to us due to the proximity it had with both the original dorm, Saint’s Rest, and the second dorm, Old Williams Hall. The area of interest is located next to the MSU Museum and the MSU Museum parking lot. The modern day grass triangle is located to southeast of where the Old Williams Hall existed and to the southwest of where Saint’s Rest existed. A potential prime spot for historical artifact concentrations.

Our initial shovel tests (STs) began closes to the east part of the museum and its parking lot, or the west part of the triangle. Most of our test pits showed regular stratigraphy and small or no artifact densities. As we moved to the east of the triangle, closer to Saint’s Rest, we began encountering higher artifact densities. Our test pits closes to Saint’s Rest provided interesting finds. One test pit provided evidence of animal butchering, while another had a high enough concentration of whiteware, stoneware, pipe pieces, and glass that we decided that we should open it up to a one meter by one meter test unit.

Artifacts found from ST near Saints Rest, via Katy Meyers

Artifacts found from ST near Saints Rest, via Katy Meyers

As we dug the test unit, the concentration of artifacts began to wane. This high concentration was only present in the A horizon and the very top of the B horizon. Once we made our way through this artifact concentration we came upon some unique, linear soil lines. One line, separated the north third of the unit from the middle third. The north third of the unit was the natural B horizon, a dark orange loam. This was right next to the middle third of the unit, which was a light tan fill. The south third of the unit was the same as the middle third but had been mostly removed by the original STP. This strange anomaly left us contemplating what might have caused this. Original thoughts were that prior excavations had all ready happened in this area. Why would there be such a distinct, linear line?

Distinct soil difference in the test unit, via Katy Meyers

Distinct soil difference in the test unit, via Katy Meyers

As the modern day archaeologists that we are, we decided to turn to Twitter to see if our follow archaeologists could help us solve this mystery. With the help of past Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock, we were able to determine that the light tan fill of the middle third and south third of the unit was likely due to a backhoe, presumably for a utility trench. To make sure that we were not dealing with a feature of a different kind, we put in test pits about half a meter to the north and south of our test unit. Both of these units had little to no artifact densities, as well as a natural stratigraphy. These final two STP’s helped support the idea that the soil lines in the test unit we were dealing with were due to a utility line disturbance.

Under the Sidewalks of the Sacred Space

If you’ve been following our twitter feed or facebook, you know that we are hard at work surveying beneath the sidewalks around Linton Hall and Beaumont Tower. As part of the campus construction, a majority of the sidewalks within the sacred space are being renovated. Sidewalk replacement involves removal of the old walk, flattening the ground, laying down sand, and then covering the area with fresh cement. This process is fairly quick, and most walks are removed and replaced in an afternoon. However, the sacred space is an important area for MSU’s history. By digging beneath the sidewalks as they are removed we are able to get a glimpse at sections of the sacred space that we haven’t been able to access. These sections are also protected by the sidewalks and are therefore more likely to contain preserved artifacts.

With a team of grad students we began working two weeks ago, and have been fairly busy since then following the demolition crews. So what has been underneath the sidewalks you tread across everyday? Here are some of our finds from these surveys.

Beaumont Northwest Sidewalk Survey: Salt Glazed Stoneware

Ceramics are one of the primary types of objects we find on campus, although usually it is more delicate plain whiteware. This piece of pottery is stoneware. Stoneware is thicker than whiteware and non-porous, which means it is impervious to liquid even without a glaze. This particular piece has a grey glazed exterior, light yellow-white paste, and a brown salt glazed interior. You can see that it has an ‘orange peel’ like interior, which is indicative of the salt glazing process. This glaze is important because it makes the interior even more sealed against liquids and perfect for domestic kitchen use.

Left to Right: Salt Glazed Stoneware, Square Cut Nail, Rusted Square Cut Nail

Beaumont North Sidewalk Survey: Square Cut Nails

When we find metal from the 19th century it is usually so rusted that it makes identification of what it exactly is very difficult. Nails look like reddish brown tree stems (and can be easily confused with them) instead of the smooth grey metal they actually are. While digging to the northwest of Beaumont Tower we found two surprisingly clean square cut nails. This style of nail was used from the 1820’s to 1910’s. Their great preservation makes them an invaluable resource as we can use them to train students in identification. (To learn more about styles of nails we fin on campus you can read a previous blog post on the subject)

Linton Hall South Sidewalk Survey: Glazed Brick

Unit 214 under Linton Hall Sidewalk

Throughout campus we find bricks. They were collected from the demolished historic buildings and used to modify the landscape. We find them primarily around the river banks where they would have been dumped to prevent flooding. During this section of the survey we found dozens of bricks. Since we have found hundreds of these, we don’t usually keep them. We do however keep bricks that have been painted or glazed. We found a number of bricks with a grey glazed exterior. During the firing process, this paint was added. This makes the brick impervious to weather and reduces deterioration. Our bricks appear to have primarily a grey salt glaze to them.

Survey North of Beaumont

Over the next three days, Campus Archaeology is going to be doing an archaeological survey of the soil underneath the sidewalks North of Beaumont Tower. As part of the constant campus construction, they are going to be replacing sections of the sidewalks within the Sacred Space throughout the Fall. The cement is removed, and the ground underneath is left untouched for a number of days to allow Campus Archaeology to conduct a survey. Last week we shovel tested under the walks between Linton Hall and the MSU Museum. This week we will be testing the walks North of Beaumont Tower, and in a few weeks we will be just East of the MSU Museum. As said in a post last week, looking under the sidewalks is important because the cement protects anything that is underneath it from being disturbed. This means we have a higher chance of finding something historic, or even prehistoric!

This area in particular is important because it is the front yard of College Hall. We had previously found part of the foundation of College Hall when the sidewalks directly around Beaumont Tower were removed. The area we are working in won’t have any new campus buildings, but we may find a trash site or some of the original sidewalks. It is also quite close to the area where we found the prehistoric site during our 2011 field school.

Come out and say hi!

Under MSU’s Sidewalks

You may have noticed driving around the newly replaced West Circle Drive that they are beginning to pull up and replace the sidewalks around Linton Hall. Sidewalk removal is a wonderful opportunity for archaeology. Unlike roads which are deeply excavated, sidewalk construction is a shallow job that doesn’t disturb too much of the ground beneath it. Further, anything that is beneath the ground is protected by the sidewalk from further damage or compaction. When sidewalks need to be replaced, this protective concrete layer is removed, the area is leveled out and then a new sidewalk is put in place.

Starting this Wednesday and running into next week, Campus Archaeology is going to be excavating underneath the sidewalks between Linton Hall and the MSU Museum. As the sidewalks are removed, we will follow the construction teams and put in some shovel test pits to see if there is anything historic or prehistoric there. When we are done, the construction team will come in behind us and put in the new sidewalk.

Come out and visit us September 5th and 6th in the afternoons between Linton Hall and the MSU Museum, and the next week near Beaumont Tower.