Navigating campus this summer has been an adventure. While Construction Junction has posed some challenges for drivers and pedestrians alike, we at Campus Archaeology love these opportunities to excavate alongside construction crews: surveying under sidewalks is made considerably easier with their helpful removal of pavement, …
As archaeologists, we often appear as curious creatures to those individuals who are unfamiliar with our work. Unlike most professions whose employees call a cubicle their home base, archaeologists spend their days out in the field digging holes or trenches, but only when our heads …
Campus Archaeology, like Santa Claus and your 4-year-old, never sleeps. Nor does work take a summer vacation, even when Campus Archaeologist Katy Meyers and Program Director Lynne Goldstein leave the country to pursue other research (you can read about Katy here).
In these trying times, a crack team of archaeologists are called in to pool their considerable collective experience: excavation experience from four different continents, 23 seasons of combined field research in historic and prehistoric periods, and seemingly endless hours of laboratory analysis are their core credentials.
It’s a good thing they’re here, too. The summer is construction season. For Campus Archaeology this means a long list of opportunities to look beneath the surface of MSU’s lovely green space, manicured grounds, and physical infrastructure to learn how, how much, and where campus has changed. Our favorite place to study this? Right in the middle of the dizzying construction labyrinth on North campus, in the Sacred Space. This week we’ve been investigating the space between Linton Hall and the Union. “Investigations” have included poring over campus maps and speaking with construction crews, shovel test pits (“STPs“) at regular intervals and even a 2m x 2m test excavation. The excavations are on temporary hiatus while we follow newly-removed walkways, so tune in next week to learn more about the cinder-laid walkways – repurposing MSU’s coal byproducts – that preceded today’s cement versions. And below those? Our STP survey of that area leads us to suspect there may be an ancient trash pit, predating the cinder walking paths.
Towards the end of the week we stumbled across the perfect justification for the STP survey : after 9 “sterile” (no archaeological material found) test pits, we suddenly started finding dense layers of broken and complete bricks and square nails (pre-1880s) across several adjacent test pits.
So what’s going on? Is this fill from an ancient “low spot” that, long ago, MSU tried to even out so that foot traffic on the center of campus was made easier? Or is it something more complicated? Tune in next week, when we’ll be opening a test unit in the middle of it all….
Author: Charlotte Cable
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, Campus Archaeology will be excavating along the North side of West Circle Drive, across from Morrill Hall. As part of the West Circle Steam Tunnel Reconstruction project, the crews are going to be redoing a number of the …
An archaeological survey is the method by which archaeologists search for archaeological sites and collect information about the location, distribution and organization of human activity in the past. On MSU, this means that we survey in order to find the historic campus sites as well as any prehistoric cultural material. Since construction has the potential to destroy archaeological material, we conduct an archaeological investigation any time that there is construction on campus.We cannot do a full archaeological excavation for every single construction project, and many areas are just too big. By conducting a survey, we can get a representative sample of the site to see whether there is anything that would warrant a fuller excavation or whether there isn’t any material, in which case the construction can continue.
The first step before we survey is to determine whether the area has the potential for archaeological material. Areas with a high probability will have a more detailed survey, whereas large areas without a high probably of finding something are going to have a less detailed survey. The difference is that we will dig more holes closer together if we think we might recover something. To determine if there might be something in the area, we look to the archives for information on campus history. The MSU archives and historical records has maps, diaries and photographs starting from the beginning of MSU in 1855. We use this information to determine whether there may be any historic material in the area we are surveying. The next step is to look at previous construction work or archaeological survey to see whether anything has been found in that area before. If we know the area has a lot of material we may survey it again in order to collect more, or do a full excavation. Finally, we look at the GIS to see whether the area has the potential for prehistoric materials. Prehistoric sites are usually recovered on flat, dry ground that is close to water. There are a number of areas on campus which are more likely to have prehistoric materials and need to be carefully surveyed.
After we have done our background research we can begin the actual survey. We survey an area in large squares known as sweeps. Each sweep is divided into evenly spaced rows which are 5 meters apart (10 meters for low probability areas). Within each row we will excavate a small shovel test pit (about 1 foot wide and 3 feet deep) to look for archaeological material. Along the row, the shovel test pits are 5 meters apart. By covering the entire area with test pits that are evenly spaced, we are able to take a representative sample. If a pit has a lot of material we may do more pits in the near vicinity or open the pit into an excavation unit.
Based on the survey we can determine whether the area has a lot of information and needs to be protected from construction or fully excavated. If there isn’t any historic or prehistoric material we will allow construction to move forward. All artifacts found during a survey are taken back to the lab for a full analysis.
Here at CAP we are currently preparing for a number of surveys to begin this Spring. We are in the research and planning phase at the moment. This will help us design a survey plan for the work that needs to be completed prior to summer construction.
Author: Katy Meyers Emery
Today, Thursday and Friday the Campus Archaeology team will be doing archaeological survey at Walter Adams Field on MSU’s campus. The project was set in motion when the physical plant and landscape services decided to replace, add and renovate the irrigation system at Adam’s field. …
For students, first week of any field school is a process of getting your feet wet, getting to understand your surroundings, getting to know your crew mates, and starting to get a feel for how archaeology works. For the directors and supervisors, it’s a time …
Whenever Campus Archaeology is alerted of a construction project on campus, we typically conduct what is called an archaeological survey to determine if there are any potential archaeological sites in the area. This is important because it gives us the opportunity to quickly examine a large area, and then do more detailed archaeological excavations if we are able to determine that possible sites exist. There are a number of different types of survey that are used, each depending on what equipment is available and what the type of environment being surveyed. We are using two survey techniques while we search for the location of the Weather Bureau: Geophysical Survey and Shovel Test Pit Survey. This post will discuss the latter.
Shovel Test Pits, or STPs, are a way for archaeologists to cover a large area quickly. STPs are minimally invasive, meaning that they do not disturb a lot of ground, yet provide enough data for us to determine how viable an area is for further archaeological testing. The STP is a shovel-by-shovel width hole dug straight into the ground. The dirt is sifted, and artifacts are collected and their type and quantity is recorded on a map. We then examine the map for areas where their are significant artifact clusters, and identify those areas as potential archaeological sites that need to be further examined.
Let’s use our survey at the Weather Bureau as an example. Our first step was to establish a grid and pace off the location of where the STPs would go. Because we are in a small area, and were hoping to identify a building location, we decided to put STPs every 5 meters. In larger areas, these STPs would have been spaced at 10 or 15 meters. After this was settled, the STPs were excavated, artifact counts were recorded, and plotted on the map. STPs with significant concentrations are referred to as “positive” while ones with no or few artifacts are “negative”.
When we were finished, definite clusters of positive STPs began to emerge on the map near the north west corner. At this point, it is customary to excavate “radials”. These are additional STPs that are dug to the north, south, east, and west of each positive STPs, giving us a more refined picture of how these clusters are delineated. If a positive STP is surrounded by negative radials, than it is typically assumed there is no site there. In this case, these radials ended up being positive, indicating that there was significant human activity occurring in this space. Because these items were primarily bricks and nails, it is assumed that this was most likely the location of a building, probably the Weather Bureau.
The next step would be to do further testing to determine how much of the building is still intact. It is quite possible that this was just brick rubble and fill from the building’s demolition, not intact features or foundations. Without STP survey, however, we would not have been able to identify where to begin these excavations, making this a critical piece of archaeological methodology to understand.
Author: Terry Brock
Today, the Campus Archaeology Program will be conducting survey excavations at two spots on Abbott Road, across the street from the MSU Union. These sites are location of two structures, one of the Faculty Row buildings, and the old Weather Bureau building. The Faculty Row …