Another Persons Trash (Midden) is an Archaeologists Treasure

As you may know from my previous blog posts, I have been working on analyzing the faunal remains from Campus Archaeology excavations. My current research project focuses on the Saints’ Rest trash midden, excavated in several seasons by CAP near the location where Saints’ Rest once stood. Because of the sites’ use as a small public dumping area, the artifacts recovered are expected to reflect the daily life of those living at and nearby Saints’ Rest dormitory. The end goal of this research project, in conjunction with research by Lisa Bright, Amy Michael, Jeff Painter, and Susan Kooiman, is to better understand the everyday lives of the early MSU students.

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Field of Dreams: An Eclectic History of the Adams Field Area

During this semester, I have been researching the use history of the Adams Field/Music Building area ahead of proposed construction.  This work has reminded me just how complex, and sometimes odd, college campuses can be, and the many activities that take place within them.  On researching this one particular area, it seems as if a million different things happened there in just the last 162 years; a slight exaggeration, but not by much! Sporting events, side shows, dances, two presidential visits, farming, construction and landscape modification, and temporary camps are just a few of the many documented happenings in this particular part of campus.  Here, I will quickly review a few of these events that I have not already discussed elsewhere and explore their importance for us at the Campus Archaeology Program.

One of the more important activities, the reason an armory and Adams Field were originally constructed around 1885, was for military training.  While much of this training involved marching, drills, exercise, and the occasional skirmish, practice with different firearms also took place (Kuhn 1955:155-156).  Physical training facilities, in high demand by students, were also housed in the armory, such as “parallel and horizontal bars, a trapeze, rings, ladders, dumb bells, and Indian clubs” (Kuhn 1955: 156).  Directly north of the armory, an updated bathhouse was constructed in 1902 in order to aid in this physical training and provide students with a readily available place to bathe.  The two buildings were connected by a corridor and the bathhouse held, among other features, a “plunge bath” that was 35 ft. by 17 ft. in dimensions and about 5’ 6” deep (Beal 1915:277).

1886 image of officer candidates drilling with firearms on Adams Field.

1886 image of officer candidates drilling with firearms on Adams Field. Image Source

While military and athletic pursuits were a major activity in this part of campus, other events took place here as well.   The armory was occasionally used for lectures, speeches, and even commencement ceremonies early in the history of the University (Beal 1915:271).  It was also utilized as an extra living space for summer visitors when rooms were short, as well as the headquarters for doctor’s visits before a hospital was established on campus (Kuhn 1955:168, 188).  While we don’t often think of this space as a residential area, in 1888 the first Abbot Hall was built just north and east of the present Music Building.  This space became the women’s dormitory early on and housed a fully equipped cooking laboratory and dining room (Beal 1915:271-272; Lautner 1978: Key to Map, 120).

Large university events also have a long history in this part of campus.  Before the university athletic program was funded by the university and ticket purchases, teams were supported by fundraising.  The largest fundraiser, started in 1907, was the athletic carnival, which took place in the armory and Adams Field.  For one day each year, each campus group would host or create an attraction or side show, including a gambling station, wild west saloon, shooting gallery, the Russian bearded lady, and “Wadji, the fossil bedbug, sole survivor of ‘Saint’s Rest’” (M.A.C. Record, March 2, 1909; April 13, 1909).  Along with these attractions, the domestic science department supplied food for hungry attendees.  The day began with a parade through campus and ended with a large dance in the armory, where the “floor was covered with dancers tripping the light fantastic” (M.A.C. Record, April 30, 1912).  The revelry continued long into the night (M.A.C. Record, April 30, 1912).  This event was able to raise enough money to help support the athletic program each year, until it became unnecessary in 1912 (Kuhn 1955:257). Other campus dances, such as the Junior Hop, an institution in campus social life for decades, were held in the armory as well (Kuhn 1955:191). One sitting President, Theodore Roosevelt (1907), and one future President, Barack Obama (2007), have also given speeches on Adams Field, which drew massive crowds from all over the area (Kuhn 1955:202; Stawski 2011).

1909 Athletic Carnival. Costumed students marching in front of Morrill Hall.

1909 Athletic Carnival. Costumed students marching in front of Morrill Hall. Image Source

The crowd at President Roosevelt’s 1907 address on Adams Field

The crowd at President Roosevelt’s 1907 address on Adams Field. Image Source

All of these different activities involve material culture in some way.  While many of these events would have been cleaned up, leaving few archaeological traces, even the loss and trampling of individual objects over time may contribute to the archaeological record that we at Campus Archaeology find and document.  Other activities, such as the leveling of Adams Field for sports and military drills, might destroy earlier archaeological evidence and context by moving and mixing up objects that were once peacefully buried.  All of these events, no matter how large and what types of objects were used, are important to document, as they all, over time, possibly contribute to what we find, or do not find, in a particular area.  They also contribute to our overall understanding of a space and the role it played over time in campus history.  While this area today is just an open field and a few school buildings, it has seen things over the last 162 years that few other parts of campus have.


References Cited

Beal, W. J.
1915   History of the Michigan Agricultural College and Biographical Sketches of Trustees and Professors.  Michigan Agricultural College, East Lansing.

Kuhn, Madison
1955   Michigan State: The First Hundred Years.  The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.

Lautner, Harold W.
1978   From an Oak Opening: A Record of the Development of the Campus Park of Michigan State University, 1855-1969.  Volume 1.  Self-published manuscript on file at the MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

MSU Archives and Historical Collections
M.A.C. Record, Vol. 14, No. 22, March 2, 1909

M.A.C. Record, Vol. 14, No. 27, April 13, 1909

M.A.C. Record, Vol. 17, No. 30, April 30, 1912

Stawski, Christopher
2011   “Walter Adams Field Survey: Archaeological Report”.  Campus Archaeology Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing.

If the Shoe Fits: Understanding Changing Fashion Through Footwear

It may seem unusual to dig up a pair of shoes, yet shoes are not totally uncommon on archaeological excavations. Just last week a report from Northumberland, England announced a find of more than 400 shoes discovered at the Roman fort of Vindolanda. Typically the entire shoe is not preserved, rather the leather from the soles or uppers, as well as any metal used for the lace rivets are what preserves. CAP has uncovered parts of shoes several times, including in the West Circle Privy, the Gunson trash pit, and excavations at west Beaumont Tower. However this summer, while working at Station Terrace we encountered a nearly complete pair of shoes near the bottom of the excavation unit.

Shoes from Station Terrace after removal from excavation unit. Photo by Lisa Bright

Shoes from Station Terrace after removal from excavation unit. Photo by Lisa Bright

You can learn a lot about fashion, gender, and even identity from shoes. Sure, you can get technical and talk about the way the shoe was crafted, is the outsole stitched, nailed, cemented, etc. But shoes can also inform us about changing gender perspectives as seen through fashion over time.

Stenciling (brogueing) detail from lace area of the right shoe. Image Source: Lisa Bright

Stenciling (brogueing) detail from lace area of the right shoe. Image Source: Lisa Bright

When the field crew was working to uncover and remove the shoes, they informed me that they had found a pair of women’s shoes. At first glance, it’s easy to see how they came to this conclusion. The pointed toe, the stacked heel, the decorative brogueing, and the loop style ties are typical of women’s shoes today. But these are not women’s shoes, these are a pair of men’s dress shoes. We needed to remember the context and time period of this particular site to properly identify these shoes. Station Terrace was used on campus from the early 1890s until 1924, and men’s fashion, specifically footwear, was very different during this period.   Based on the shape, style, and height/width of the heel these shoes were most likely produced in the the early 1900s (1900-1920).

Closeup of men of Tr'e House circa 1908. Note the different styles of shoes. Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Closeup of men of Tr’e House circa 1908. Note the different styles of shoes. Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Chemistry Class circa 1914. Several different shoe and suit styles are represented. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Chemistry Class circa 1914. Several different shoe and suit styles are represented. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The history of men’s fashion is often overlooked, or overshadowed by women’s fashion.  Although the changes in mens fashion from the 1890s to the 1920s is not as drastic as changes in women’s fashion, differences do exist.

Group of students pose with frame c. 1895. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Group of students pose with frame c. 1895. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The Edwardian clothing era (named for England’s Prince Edward VII) was characterized by slight changes to the cuts of jackets, collar styles, and sport and fitness clothing. Men wore lose, plain, suits with wide lapels, called Sack suits (see the above image).  During the Edwardian era the shoes did change considerably from the Victorian era. Men’s shoes fell into three distinct categories; boots, oxfords, and pumps. Boots were designed for every day wear and traveling. They were often two tone, with a dark bottom half and white upper half designed to mimic a shoe spats. The oxford, typically used for business or work, is very similar to men’s dress shoes today.

1912 Sears Catalog ad for men's dress shoes. Note the bows and high heel. Image Source

1912 Sears Catalog ad for men’s dress shoes. Note the bows and high heel. Image Source

Men’s dress shoes are where perhaps the greatest variation from todays style occurs, for they were classified as pumps. Yes, pumps. In the Edwardian era, men’s formal dress shoes look like a hybrid of today’s men’s oxford and a women’s low-heeled flat. Typically they had the same stenciling (broqueing) details of an oxford, a high arch, and a 1-2 inch thick heel. It’s also important to remember that thin string shoelaces weren’t a thing yet. Shoes either buttoned, or were laced with a ½ inch wide silk ribbon and tied in a bow. You can even see these bows in the two historic pictures featured earlier in this post.

Today we may think that a 2 inch heel and bow are feminine, but it’s important to remember that cultural ideals of what is appropriate for a particular gender change through time. In fact, men’s shoes had high heels long before women’s shoes did. (See this article, or if you find yourself in Toronto stop by the Bata shoe museum’s exhibit “Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels”).

The teens marked the end of the Edwardian period (1890-1910). During the teens men’s fashion was heavily influenced by military apparel from WWI.

These shoes provide a unique glimpse into everyday life at Station Terrace.  Although we will never know why these shoes were left behind in the buildings basement, I’m glad they were.


Making Sense of a Little Piece of Leather: Behind the Scenes with the Shoemaker’s Apprentice


Memorial Grove of the Great War

The West Circle neighborhood is known for its beautiful Collegiate Gothic dorms, with beautifully sculpted gardens and peaceful stands of trees. One grove of trees though holds exceptional significance in the legacy of our university. Just east of Williams Hall is a grove of thirty-three oak trees overlooking Michigan Avenue. Few students notice the nondescript fieldstone slab nestled within the small park space.


Via Maxwell Forton

A brass plaque explains that this grove of trees is a memorial to the thirty-three students and graduates of the college who gave their lives in World War One. Back then our school was still the Michigan Agricultural College (M.A.C.), and contained few of the buildings that now dominate our campus. Next year will mark the hundredth anniversary of the start of what would become known as the Great War. The conflict exploded the world into the modern era, where industrialized warfare clashed with outdated military doctrine creating tragic consequences. In all some 8,500,000 soldiers would die in the conflict that pitted the Allied Powers (France, Russia, America, and the United Kingdom) against the might of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire).

America would not enter the war until 1917, when German U-boat attacks on commercial vessels would compel the nation to declare war on the Central Powers. America would mobilize over four million men to fight in Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Force. American soldiers would play a pivotal role in the battles of the Second Battle of the Marne and Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Ultimately America’s contribution would play a key part in bringing about the end of the war, but with a cost of 116,516 soldiers killed in action and a further 204,000 wounded.

Among the men who would never return home were students and alumni of the Michigan Agricultural College. In all thirty-three students and graduates of the college would give their lives in service to their country. Ten of the young men would never live to see their graduation from M.A.C. Their sacrifice would not be forgotten though.

1922 memorial service at the grove. Via the Michigan State University Archive flikr.

1922 memorial service at the grove. Via the Michigan State University Archive flikr.

The college community decided a memorial grove overlooking the Red Cedar River and Michigan Avenue would be a fitting way to pay respect for their fallen brothers. The planning for the memorial was headed by the Forestry Department lead by faculty chair Professor Alfred K. Chittenden (for whom Chittenden Hall is named after). An oak tree would be planted for each of the soldiers and a large fieldstone would bear a plaque listing the soldier’s names.

The dedication took place on the college’s Commencement Day of 1919. Following a parade and a review of the college’s R.O.T.C. unit, Lieutenant Colonel A. H. Gansser of the 125th infantry formally dedicated the memorial grove. Gansser was well known in Michigan for the published letters he would send from the front, and was well regarded as a skilled speaker and critical analyst of politics and the war. The day was especially meaningful to Gansser, as many of the memorialized men were fellow members of the 125th infantry.

The thirty-three oak trees still shade the sidewalks west of Wilson Hall and the memorial is right off the sidewalk following Beal Street. This quite corner of MSU’s campus may remain largely unknown to the student body, but it remains a somber and beautiful reminder to the sacrifices made by our fellow Spartans.


Via Maxwell Forton



Ledger, May 9, 1919 vol.24, no. 29 The M.A.C. Record, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Ledger, June 6, 1919 vol.24, no. 32 The M.A.C. Record, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Royde-Smith, John Graham, and Showalter, Dennis E. “World War I” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., n.d. Web. 7 Jan. 2013

A Personal Connection to Landon Hall

Landon Construction, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

Landon Construction, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

This summer CAP has the opportunity to again look for the site of the Faculty Row buildings located where Landon Hall currently is as well as artifacts that might give us insights into early student life. Cowles House is the only building left of the Faculty Row buildings that ran along West Circle Drive from almost the beginning of MSU to the 1930s-40s. Landon Hall was built in 1947-1948 on the site of two of the Faculty Row buildings. As former Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock stated in an earlier CAP blog post from 2009: “Previous archaeological work done by CAP has investigated the sites of the other Faculty Row buildings, located where Landon and Campbell Hall are now located, but there were no intact archaeological deposits.” With the removal of asphalt and concrete behind Landon Hall this summer to renovate and enlarge Landon’s dining hall, CAP will again have a chance to investigate this area that has been so important to the development of Michigan State University.

Linda Landon in the Linton Hall Library, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

Linda Landon in the Linton Hall Library, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

The dorms that make up West Circle Dormitory complex are all name for women that have made important contributions to MSU. Landon Hall was named for Linda Eoline Landon the first female instructor and the first female librarian at MSU. According to the Board of Trustees minutes from 1891, Linda’s first salary as a librarian was for $500 a year. This was during the time that the library was in Linton Hall which was also the administration building. Linda oversaw the library from its time in Linton to when it was in the current MSU Museum. For 30 years Linda was also the person that put the ribbons on diplomas. She was beloved by her students which is shown in the 1912 yearbook which was dedicated to her for “tutoring thousands of students in the art of appreciating, loving, and valuing these true friends in life – books”.

Landon Hall has a particular personal interest to me as my mother Karen Moon Schaefer (known as a student by her maiden name Karen Moon) lived in Landon as a student from 1966 till her graduation in 1969. She served as Landon Hall’s President in 1969 and therefore sat on the Women’s Inter-residence Council which was made up of all of the presidents of the women’s residence halls.

Landon Hall has four floors and an “H” shape to it with the east wing smaller than the west wing and the middle hall extending slightly beyond both the west and east wings. In the center of the building on the ground floor is the cafeteria that is being expanded this summer. In the cafeteria there are terra cotta reliefs that where created by Professor Leonard Jungwirth who also created Sparty (Standford and Dewhurst 2002:67). Landon was a female only dorm but now is co-ed. My mother told me stories that during her time there if a boy was in the dorm on her floor the girls would yell out “Boy on the floor!” to the rest of the girls so the girls would know not to leave their rooms in robes, curlers or other states of undress that they wouldn’t want a boy to see.

My own personal connection to Landon Hall drove me to volunteer to investigate the history of Landon for CAPs when it was offered. What I found makes me hopeful that our investigation this summer will be successful. As well I am proud to be a student at a university that from its beginning has recognized the women that have been a cornerstone of its success.


Brock, Terry. September 9, 2009   Survey Spot: Cowles House. CAP Blog,

Stanford, Linda and C. Kurt Dewhurst. 2002    MSU Campus: Buildings, Places, Spaces. The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI


What Happened to the Brook?

Carefully look at this map of MSU’s campus from the 1880’s.

1880’s Map of MSU, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

There is a dark black line running from East Grand River Road into the Sacred Space, and then it turns into a squiggly line that goes all the way into the Red Cedar River. That was once the brook that ran through the middle of campus. The dark line is a drainage system that was meant to aid in draining the swamps north of East Grand River Road. The little brook was important to keeping the swamp areas from flooding and also helped direct wastes into the Red Cedar River. Of course, today there is no brook running through the Sacred Space. So what happened to it? This is the question I’ve been trying to answer the past week. Thanks to Whitney from the MSU Archives and Historical Records I have a couple answers.

Bridge from Chemical Lab to Botany, 1884, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

Other than the brook being present on maps, it is mentioned in a few historical documents that help us determine where it was located and what happened. In Beal’s (1915) history of the Michigan Agricultural College, he notes that in 1877 they botanic gardens were created, and were located in a ravine northwest of the greenhouses (located once at the SW edge of the Library) and north of the Red Cedar on the banks of a brook. From the Michigan Board of Agriculture Report 1880, Beal reports that there was a footbridge that crossed this ravine from the Chemical Lab (which was located where the fountain in front of the Library currently is) to the Botany Lab (which was located just east of IM West). It was a fairly large bridge, 16 feet wide with five piers supporting it. Pictures of the bridge show that it was primarily meant for the ravine since the brook is barely visible. In 1884, when Abbot Hall was constructed (now the location of the Music Practice Building), it was determined that this bridge wasn’t sturdy enough. The soil removed from the basement of Abbot Hall was used to fill in the ravine where the bridge was, and the brook was directed through via cement drains. So now we know when the ravine was filled in by the roadways, but not when the brook vanished.

Small Bridge in the Botanical Gardens over a Brook, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

We know from both Beal (1915) and Darlington (1929) that the brook and river would often flood the gardens. From 1904 to 1910, Beal raised the level of the garden from four to five feet to prevent the high waters from destroying the garden. Beal (1915:254) wrote “Most perplexing of all, was the habit of the Cedar river in overflowing its banks and covering most of the garden with water, for three to seven days at a time and if this freshet occurred during the growing season, two or three hundred attractive plants are killed outright. To overcome this difficulty a section at a time during six years was raised from one foot to five feet or more.” Due to these alterations, “the brook now flows under ground through a cement tunnel for nearly four hundred feet” (Beal 1915:254). So we now know that the brook that once ran through the garden was still there, but was underground.

There are reports beginning in 1874 and 1890 that sewage from North campus often flowed through this ravine into the river. As the brook became more placed in culverts and drain pipes it further became used for sewage. In 1927, East Lansing determined that a proper sewer system needed to run through campus to prevent pollution. Alumni were up in arms according to various newspaper clippings since the sewer plan involved destruction of a portion of the Beal Gardens. A compromise was made, and it was decided that the new sewer system would run through the pipes of the old brook. By 1929, this plan was enacted, and the brook is no longer evident on campus maps or garden maps. According to Forsyth however, there are drain covers still evident in the gardens, and during periods snow melting the brook can be seen in that a green strip through the garden above the drain will melt first.

In the upcoming summer, construction will begin of West Circle Drive along the area that once was the ravine and bridge. During this, we hope we will be able to document this exactly what happened to the brook by examining the soil stratigraphy of this area!

Works Cited

Beal, WJ. 1915 History of the Michigan Agricultural College. MSU Archives UA 943. LD 3245.M28 B4

Darlington, HT. 1929 Letter to President Shaw Regarding the Beal Gardens. MSU Archives Beal Botanical Gardens 1925-1932. F 17. B 37. C UA 2.1.12

Thank you to MSU Archives for all their help!


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.

End of the Summer Wrap Up!

CAP excavating test pits

CAP excavating test pits

It’s been a busy summer for Campus Archaeology. If you were on campus it was hard to miss all the construction thats been going on. West Circle Drive was completely torn up on the northern side, Chestnut Road and Kalamazoo Street were alternatively interrupted, and various smaller projects are continuing to occur across the campus. Campus Archaeology was quite busy bouncing around these projects. We conducted surveys along the entire length of the northern portion of West Circle Drive and along Chestnut Road’s western boundary. We also were actively overseeing and testing areas around the Hannah Admin building, Music Practice building, and Brody-Emmons complex. We conducted a major excavation of a portion of the Morrill Hall boiler building found under East Circle Drive as well!

Overall, we were actively present at 8 different construction or demolition projects on campus, conducted 3 full archaeological surveys, surveyed 11 sweeps, dug 220 survey test pits, opened up 3 excavation units, and conducted one rescue excavation. Our team varied over the year, but in total we had 11 field and lab volunteers including graduate, undergraduate and high school students from a variety of schools. From our field work we recovered approximately 640 artifacts including various nails, pieces of bottle or window glass, ceramic sherds, and unique items like a portion of a plastic comb, a penny from 1897, a porcelain bead, and the great bottles we discussed in the past couple weeks (Read about the Vicks and Whiskey bottle here or the Listerine and Vitalis bottle here). We also found the old boiler building for Morrill Hall that dates from 1900-1904! You can read about the find and excavation on this blog post: Historic Boiler House Uncovered.

West Circle Steam Survey

West Circle Steam Survey

The map above shows all of the shovel test pits (STPs) that we excavated for the West Circle Steam project, with the blue dots representing holes that we didn’t find artifacts and green representing those which did contain artifacts.

So after five months of survey, excavation and lab work, what have we learned about MSU that we didn’t know before?

  1. Morrill Hall had an early boiler building attached to it that fueled the women’s dorm prior to the construction of the larger main utilities facility in 1904. It was a large stone building, and while it was razed to make room for new roads there are still portions of the foundation and walls left underneath West Circle Drive.
  2. The sidewalk pattern currently found within West Circle Drive (also known as the Sacred Space) are not where the historic sidewalks are. We found remnants of the old cinder pathway near Linton hall that travels in a completely different direction than the modern sidewalk. It also matches a historic sidewalk we uncovered last summer during the fieldschool!
  3. The current elevation of campus isn’t what it historically used to be either! Throughout our excavations near Linton Hall, we found layers of old rubble and building material suggesting that when buildings were removed they were placed on the landscape to even out the elevation. As we know from testing near Beal Street, the campus has frequently used collapsed buildings in order to build up the landscape and prevent flooding. Our finds this summer show that it wasn’t limited to the banks of the river.
  4. Our community wants to learn more about our history at MSU! Throughout the project we’ve had numerous people stop by to check out our work including those attending Grandparent’s University, the various construction crews we worked around, and people who were just walking by. We’ve even had people get involved in our work, bringing us historic photos and artifacts that they’ve found on their own.

Thanks for following us throughout the summer. We’re looking forward to the return of students in the next week and the beginning of the new semester!

My Experience as a Campus Archaeology Tech

Rachel excavating with Eve

This is a blog post by Rachel Cohen; Rachel has been volunteering for Campus Archaeology throughout the summer. She is an undergraduate student from University of Michigan, majoring in archaeology.

While I had some previous experience working with ancient artifacts, this was my first experience with historic artifacts.  Most of my time was spent digging Shovel Test Pits (Also known as STPs, see this post for more info).  I also worked in a couple of the archaeological units we opened up.

CAP was a big learning experience for me.  We found a lot of historical artifacts that are still in use today—pieces of glass, bricks, and metal pipe—as well as less common historical items such as “clinkers”, which are essentially coal waste.   Some of the items we found have been around a lot longer than I expected; pencil erasers, for instance, date to 1858.  The survey also let us map out what artifacts were found where, to get an idea of what sorts of things were going on historically at MSU.

Rachel with the historic picture showing the lake near Linton Hall

One thing I really liked was how eager CAP was to explain our work to anyone who walked by.  While digging in front of Linton Hall, a man stopped by to talk to us.  He told us that there had been a lake nearby in the early 1900’s, which we had never known anything about.  It turned out that the lake was in an area where we had found river mud the previous day.  We were confused at the time, but now it made sense.  It was really cool to see a member of the public who was so knowledgeable and so interested, and who was able to help us solve a problem.

Working in the units was also a good experience for me.  I learned how to tell each layer of the soil apart based on its color and composition, how to draw those layers on a map, how to make decisions about what and how to excavate, and how to clean an area for a photo.  This helped me a lot when I went to a month-long excavation in Italy; the decisions and directions of the supervisors made a lot more sense than they would have before I did CAP.

This past week, now that we’re done with digging, I’ve been working in the lab analyzing the artifacts.  This involves attempting to find a similar object in a textbook, on the internet, or, occasionally, in the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue.  That reference is then used to determine the object’s date and function.  It was initially a bit of an overwhelming experience for me to sort through all this information, but I’m learning and becoming more familiar with the research process.

Overall, CAP was a great experience for me and a great way to spend my summer, and I know that it will be a big help for my future career in archaeology.  Thanks to everyone at CAP, particularly Charlotte and Katy, for letting me participate and for teaching me so much!

An Unexpectedly Old Artifact: The Paperclip

Ad for Common Sense Clip, Via Office Museum

On June 7th during an excavation in West Circle Drive we recovered a paperclip. Now, you should know that we don’t keep anything that is definitely modern. We don’t keep the crushed beer cans from tailgating or the McDonald’s straws from littering. We did keep a paperclip, although whether or not to do this was debated. Can a paperclip really tell us anything about the past? Are they even considered historic?

For a while the paperclip was forgotten among the dozens of bags of artifacts from our extensive surveys, that is until yesterday when we began our identification and cataloging. Out of sheer curiosity we searched online for information about the paperclip and were shocked at how old the paperclip is. Paperclips were invented the same year as the typewriter, ten years before the telephone, and twenty years before Coca Cola or barbed wire. That’s right, by the time the matchbook was invented, paperclips were already of legal drinking age.

History of the Paper Clip

Gem Clip, Via Office Museum

The first bent steel wire paper clip was patented by Samuel B. Fay in 1867. Its original purpose was for attaching tickets to fabric, although the patent recognized that it could be used to attach papers together. However, advertisements for the paperclip aren’t found until 1899 so it is unlikely that there were any significant sales prior to the late 1890’s. Another design of the paperclip was patented by Erlman J. Wright in 1877 and was advertised at that time for use in fastening newspapers. A flood of paperclip patents were found for 1897, indicating that there was widespread use of this item in offices in this period. A trade publication from 1900 stated that “The wire clip for holding office papers together has entirely superseded the use of the pin in all up-to-date offices” (Early Office Museum 2012).

Paperclip Artifact from June 7 Excavations

Paperclip- The Artifact

Based on the descriptions from early advertisements, we can tell that our paperclip is a Gem type that was first introduced in 1894. The only problem is that Gem style paperclips are for the most part unchanged since their introduction in material and design, and the machines for creating them are same in design as the 1930’s machines. Some are covered with colorful plastics, but ours was not so this distinction is unhelpful. Given that other artifacts from the level include historic cut nails and glass, it is likely our clip dates to the early 20th century.

Fun Facts about Paperclips

While doing research on the paperclip, we also learned some fun facts. Did you know the Herbert Spencer (individual who coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’) is often attributed with inventing the clip in the early 19th century based on a journal entry that describes a paper fastener he is using?

A Norwegian, Johan Vaaler (1866–1910), has erroneously been identified as the inventor of the paper clip due to some poor German reporting in the 1920’s. During WWII the Norwegians wore them on their lapels after national pins were outlawed by the Nazis. It was a symbol of solidarity and being bound together, combined with the nationalism of the country’s supposed invention of the tool. Following the war, the paperclip became a national symbol!

20 billion paperclips are produced annually in the United States, and a study estimated that the majority of these are not used for holding paper together- but rather are used for other tools for technology (CD-ROM ejector, iPhone SIM release, etc), bent apart, used to make chains and bracelets, or even used as lock picking devices (Wikipedia).