TP 6 yielded far more artifacts than TP 4, along with much more construction material. But we did not find many of them until we dug out our first cultural feature. 15 cm down we hit a cinder path, which ran from north to south through three quarters of our pit. This is especially interesting to the many other groups, who’ve discussed it in their blog posts, because we think it’s part of the cinder path excavated in the southern pit TP 2. The pit on the southerly adjacent edge, TP10, also had part of this path. It went about 50 cm down, and sloped on either side. It was especially irritating to excavate because the cinders, which are burned coal, are very sharp and unyielding to shovel and trowel. The cinders also didn’t occur in one area. We would run into patches of it on either side of the main path, which to me looked like cinders and topsoil were alternated on either side of the path – or the cinders were sloppily laid. It did not look like the work of a landscaper… possibly the students of the university were required to do more than cut down trees, but lay walking paths as well? This theory that the path was laid by students solidified further in my mind when we found several large bricks at the base of the cinder path. They was no soil buffer between the cinder and brick, which lead me to believe they were laid directly before the cinder. The bricks were likely used as fill, where the dirt was dug too deeply. There was also a large mortar layer directly below and on the lateral edges of the cinder path, which followed the slope of the path. Below all this construction mess, we started to find window glass, nails, and some ceramics. One of the whiteware pots we found appeared burned on the outside, which seemed odd at the time. We also found larger bones in this pit, parts of cow pelvises and vertebrae. But after around 70 cm of digging, we abruptly stopped finding artifacts.
Since we are done excavating, we are ready for the interpretation stage. One of our working interpretations while excavating was that this trash pit was the result of professor Beal’s desire to fill in a stream off the Red Cedar River that was flooding his gardens during his tenure at Michgan Agricultural College from 1871-1910. The river would have been filled in during that time. The high amount of construction material may help us constrain the time period more. The red brick and mortar is constant with many of the early buildings on campus. If the trash pit contains these materials, it can be assumed that they were from a collapsed or destroyed building somewhere close by. College Hall collapsed on July 4th, 1904 and stood where Beaumont Tower now graces the Sacred Space. By my logic, where we are excavating would not only be close by, but has a good downslope for dumping trash. The trash found by ourselves and the pits around us is consistent with the artifacts found last year – glass, ceramic, animal bones that show evidence of botched butchering, construction materials, and even a few unique pieces such as shoe heels and cut human hair. Next is the question of the cinder path. Since the cinder path is on top of the trash deposits we found, we can say that it was laid after the stream was filled in. But this presents a problem – this path doesn’t seem to relate to any geographic or natural features in the area. My hypothesis while digging was that the path ran along the stream, before it was filled in by Professor Beal. But looking back, that theory does not match with our stratigraphic evidence – and thus with the Law of Superposition (horizontal layers that are deposited in time sequence, with oldest on bottom and youngest on top). I hope that further research in the archives may yield an answer to this question, but until then, I went back to the excavation sites and just did a little looking around the area. I noticed that the cinder path seems to run parallel to a current concrete path through the Sacred Space. Perhaps it was not a walkway along any specific feature, just a walking path through the sacred space that went from Beal Gardens to Faculty Row (what is now West Circle and the Union).
Where does this place us for further years? We have successfully constrained the easterly portion of the trash pit by our group’s excavations, as well as the westerly edge of the pit by the excavations run by other groups this summer. The only other place to go is north and south… maybe excavating closer to the Union, or on the other side of the hosta plants next to our pits would yield the edges of the pit.]]>
Little did we know, that we would experience an unexpected déjà vu …
As you may remember from Andrew’s previous blog post, we ran into an old cinder path going through test pit one that we had hypothesized ran parallel to the old creek the Prof. William Beal filled in. Well, let us introduce you to the “Path to the Past 2.0”. As we began to clear level one, we noticed that we were having a bit of a hard time digging the shovel into the unit. As we would pull up dirt, we noticed tiny specks of charcoal. I think all three of our blood pressures began to rise. “Had we hit another cinder path? No, we couldn’t have. That would be crazy!” Well, it turned out that we did in fact encounter another cinder path. This path, although slightly different from the first (the cinder was much thicker), was most likely a continuation of the path running through test pit number one. It gets even better, though! As the crew for test pit number six (Nancy, Erin, and Max) began their excavations, they ran into the path as well! This provided us with an even broader view of the historic landscape as we were able to piece the cinder paths together.
Although frustrating and challenging to dig through, we are able to learn a lot from this continuous cinder path. The most important thing that we are able to gain is a visual reconstruction of the past landscape. Maps often did not show walkways or paths as they do today. By finding these cinder paths running through multiple units we are able to visualize the landscape as it was at the turn of the century. So, although it’s not a shiny piece of whiteware or a unique artifact, our beloved cinder path is crucial in reconstructing the historical landscape of MSU.]]>
Other things that need extra time are cleaning walls, mapping, sifting through the dirt, and measuring for a profile wall. After these past 5 weeks I can confidently say I know where that happy medium is. We finished our pit today before lunch. Perfect timing. Once that middle area is found things are a lot easier to handle and you can even learn to play the changes to your advantage. An hour of shoveling is tiring but when you know some slow relaxing troweling is coming up next it’s something to look forward to.]]>
So why would we be finding a fire clay brick in TP-6? Well, as Dr. Goldstein talked about on the first day of field school, the first dorm rooms on campus, including those in College Hall, were heated by wood-burning stoves. Since we are digging on what is thought to be a former garbage dump associated with College Hall, it can be inferred that the fire clay brick we found was perhaps formerly lining a stove or oven somewhere in College Hall. My best guess, based on the fact that we’ve found all sorts of bits and pieces of building material in many of the test pits in the garbage dump area, is that the materials we are finding are relics of College Hall, either discarded in the trash dump or used later in order to prop up the cinder path that we are all-too-familiar with.
While this hypothesis is only that, a hypothesis, this sort of logical deduction based on a combination of in situ observations and background research is a major aspect of archaeology. When trying to make sense of what he or she is finding during an excavation, the archaeologist must incorporate both qualitative and quantitative in-the-field observations and apply knowledge from secondary research in order to come up with the most likely explanation for what they are seeing. This is not an easy process. It asks the question, “How can I make the most coherent sense of what I am finding?”, when in reality, humans don’t always do what makes the most sense. This dilemma is unavoidable, but it’s what makes archaeology challenging and stimulating.]]>
pieces of white ware
pieces of clay pipe stem
glazed brick pieces
an old pull tab
a thick, dark green glass shard
a broken test tube bottom
an oil lamp
The items in the list above are just some of the things we of Test Pit 8 have uncovered since opening the pit on June 17th. Not all of these artifacts were found in the same level, but all were found in the same pit. Before we started digging, we were pretty sure that we were in the area of a trash deposit from the late 1800s. We based this on the artifacts that the 2010 field school found in the same area. We dug our pits this year around the one from last year in order to try to establish the limits of the trash deposit, find more artifacts, and perhaps determine with more certainty who used this pit. By this I mean, was this pit used by the dorms, the classrooms, construction sites, all of the above, or something completely different?
Personally, I expected to just find artifacts from the dorms. I thought we’d find things like broken inkwells, broken pipes, and shattered plates or bowls at the most. And we have found these items, minus the inkwells. But just looking at the list of artifacts above, it’s easy to see that we found unexpected items. The obvious one is the human hair. Whenever I fantasized about finding stuff in the pit, finding hair never crossed my mind. Based on the length and texture of the hair, we think it is human and was part of someone’s haircut. It was an unexpected find, but it really got me thinking. I guess I never thought about finding hair because whenever I get my hair cut, I just sit in the chair, watch as my hairdresser chops my hair off, and walk out with a brand new look. After the hair is off my head, I never take the time to consider what she does with it. It has to go somewhere, right? And the most logical place is in the trash. Things were no different in the late 1800s. I guess someone gave him- or herself a trim and threw out the clippings in the next day’s trash. I just never considered where cut hair went, or that it would even still exist after over 100 years in the ground.
In addition to the hair, we found what looks like the base of a lamp, candlestick, or vase of some kind. I believe that this item was something that was discarded from the dorms based on the decorative nature of the stunning cobalt blue coloring and the ornamental design. This find did not surprise me as much. On the other hand, our pit contained an oil lamp that we believe was used in the science classes. Just like with the hair, I never considered what would be done with broken scientific materials. I’ve never had to deal with discarding them, so it’s never crossed my mind.
There’s so much that I just completely disregard after it’s thrown away that I forget that we could be finding the same kinds of things in our pit. Did people of the past have the same disregard for their trash that I do? Out of sight, out of mind? Would I be less surprised with our finds if I pay more attention to what I throw out? One thing is certain though: you never know what you’re going to find.]]>
I found it in the north wall of level three, near the north-east corner. It was protruding from the wall and I probably would have missed it if it hadn’t been for Dr. Goldstein reminding me that our walls were supposed to be flat, whoops. As I worked on the north wall I started to see the edge of the piece; Dr. Goldstein advised me to leave it alone and finish the level so that it could be mapped. This is so hard to do, as soon as you find something, especially in an area where you have not been finding any artifacts. You want to dig it out and see it clean and in all its glory! But I waited until we were done with level three. Then Dr. Goldstein made the decision to let me dig it out. She was sure to explain to my group and I that normally you would never dig something out of a wall–you would extend the entire pit–but because our field school is on a time limit and we were not going to extend the pit, she allowed me to carefully dig it out. I was so excited when it finally came free, it was a “real” artifact and it was just so pretty!
The next part was to clean it, which I did very carefully (I really don’t want to be the person to break an artifact) with a soft brush, my bandana, and water. I used a rim chart to find the approximate radius of the piece, which came out to be about 14cm and, therefore, the approximate diameter of the plate would have been 28cm. Most likely this would have been a dinner plate. I decided to find out a little more about transfer-printed whiteware in general. Whiteware is a type of ceramic that is known as earthenware, which is a softer type of ceramic. It came about in the 1820s when people were starting to move away from using pearlware. The glaze on whiteware appears whiter than pearlware, but they are decorated in basically the same way. The 1820s – 1880s was when transfer-printed whiteware was the most popular. Transfer-printing blue designs on whiteware was mostly done in the later 1800s. Because the art of transfer-printing was constantly being perfected you can use little time tricks to help identify when the piece would have been made. Older pieces have blurred lines from the imperfect transferring methods of earlier times. As the art was perfected the lines and designs became more clear and crisp.
It’s amazing that finding something like a piece of a broken plate can be so exciting, but it’s not just the find that has interested me so much, it’s the idea that this little artifact used to actually have function. It belonged to someone and, before that, someone put work into making it. It makes me wonder if 100 years from now people will be digging up our garbage, find a piece of a plate and take the same amount of interest as I have in this little piece of transfer-printed history.]]>
We do make a difference. We learn through being involved in fieldwork. Many people visit us and we talk to them about what we are doing. Grandparents and children from Grandparents’ University came to visit the other day and they appeared to be not only fascinated but inspired by our project. Two articles were written about us within the five weeks, one on the front page of the Lansing State Journal and the other in the State News.
It’s a profound feeling when we find something. The discovery of an artifact brings the feeling of excitement and accomplishment. Artifacts can tell us so much about the past we do not know and invites us to think of the many possibilities about how it got to its resting place. This class reminded me why I wanted to study archaeology in the first place and enhanced my desire to continue studying in this field. To the rest of the world, it’s just dirt. But to us, it is like a book waiting to be read.
Last but not least are the three small pieces across the top of the photo, which include an end piece of a glass stirring rod (left), part of some uniform glass tubing that may have been part of a funnel (center), and a slightly curved piece of glass tubing with one open end and one end with a pin-sized hole (right), which we think may be an eye dropper. While individually these items give little to no context, collectively they allow us to delve deeper into the history of science on our campus and, pending dating, could be from the earliest days in Laboratory Row and some of the first lab equipment on campus, or possibly used by a well know historical figure .
The possibilities at this point are as endless as our hopes, and while the chances are very low that we will be able to prove that someone as well known as Prof. William Beal may have worked with these artifacts, it is my joy to find them and dream about what they could have been witness to. The only thing left to hope for is the rest of the Erlenmeyer flask with a name engraved on it, or part of an office door with a name still legible. I can’t wait to find out more and I hope you can’t either. In the mean time though, I’ll be searching for answers.]]>
Welcome to Campus Archaeology.
Here in Test Pit 8, we’ve recently found some reddish human hair, which was a lucky find, and something totally unimaginable before it was there. This added to our way crazy hypothesis that someone was murdered directly in our pit and we would find their remains. Then we found the bone.
The first thing you do is identify where the bone comes from in the body, which stops you from deciding what species it is before you can even tell. Around the same time we found the human hair, bones started popping up everywhere; an ilium here, a rib there, until before we knew it we were digging up four or five bones as well as the numerous bricks. It was so exciting to see something besides brick or dirt that I automatically leapt to the conclusion that a giant with red hair was murdered in our pit and we were finding his remains (at least, that was the wild fantasy.)
It turns out that once we distinguished the bones as what they were, and were able to put a species on them, that we found that all of the bones had come from juvenile cows that the old college residents may have butchered for food.
We could tell that the age of the cow (of the pelvis at least) was juvenile, because the ilium hadn’t fused yet. We could also see the saw marks and distinguish it as having been sawn by a hand saw, commonly in use in the 19th century. The reason we knew they weren’t the remains of a giant is that the shape of the pelvis is far more elongated in a cow, and the rib bones are flatter and broader.
Below is a picture of the ilium we found while excavating our unit:
This is a picture of a human pelvis (left) and a cow pelvis (right) so that one can see the difference between the two of them.
You can find this picture and other comparison pictures Comparative Skeletal Anatomy: A Photographic Atlas for Medical Examiners, Coroners, Forensic Anthropologists, and Archaeologists by BJ Adams and PJ Crabtree (2008).
Adams, B.J. and P.J. Crabtree. 2008. Comparative Skeletal Anatomy: A Photographic Atlas for Medical Examiners, Coroners, Forensic Anthropologists, and Archaeologists. Humana Press: Totowa, NJ.]]>
This common misconception brings to light the importance of including the public in our digs on campus. We have had the privilege of being visited by many people throughout these four weeks, and many of them have asked questions very similar to the one above. Because we welcome visitors and their questions, we are able to clear up these misunderstandings, while also being able to talk about what we love! I have been able to explain what archaeology is and what our crew in particular is hoping to find. On top of learning a little about archaeology, visitors then also learn a little bit of history. Many visitors that stop by are alumni of the University. They are often fascinated to hear that we are digging in an old trash dump used by College Hall. We are able to share our own interpretations of the things that we have found with them. For example, one group found human hair. One interpretation may be that it got discarded after a haircut! By sharing this information with our fellow Spartans, they are able to learn a little more about the school that they love so much.
One final benefit to sharing our dig with the public is that we, too, get to learn. I have learned a great deal from a variety of visitors in these last couple of weeks. My group was visited by a couple of older ladies, one who had been at MSU in the 1950s! She loved to hear what we had to say about the history of MSU, and then she shared some of her own memories. She said the campus had changed a lot, but that the Sacred Space was the same. I even learned something from our youngest visitors–kids attending Grandparents’ University! While they may not have known the methods by which we dig, many of them did get twinkles in their eyes when we let them sift through the dirt. They taught me to still enjoy what we are doing, even though at times it may be tiring!
So by sharing with the community, we are changing the way people think about archaeology…one visitor at a time!]]>