Author: Josh Schnell

The CAP Summer Season So Far

The CAP Summer Season So Far

The summer field season has started out pretty busy this year. During our first day of monitoring the fourth phase of the North Campus Infrastructure Improvements, we received a call from Granger regarding some bricks that were found by the Museum. They were beginning to open up a 

The Haunted History of MSU: A Historical and Paranormal Tour of Campus

The Haunted History of MSU: A Historical and Paranormal Tour of Campus

This Halloween season, for the first time ever, Campus Archaeology is teaming up with the MSU Paranormal Society to offer a haunted historical tour of campus for those who have always been intrigued by stories of MSU’s haunted past. If you have ever heard stories 

Searching for the Chittenden Memorial Cabin

Searching for the Chittenden Memorial Cabin

Well over half of CAP’s last two weeks of summer work involved an extensive survey of People’s Park. People’s Park, for those who have never heard the term, is the open area between Wells Hall, the Red Cedar River, Erickson Hall, and the International Center. Its name comes from a series of protests that happened there in the spring of 1970. Our primary goal for the survey was to locate the Chittenden Memorial Cabin, a cabin built in the area by Forestry students to commemorate A. K. Chittenden, a beloved Forestry professor. A historical marker was recently put up outside Wells Hall about the cabin.

People's Park Shovel Test Survey
People’s Park Shovel Test Survey

We ended up surveying much of People’s Park via a shovel test pit grid at 5 meter intervals. The areas we surveyed can be seen to the left in light green. Aside from unusually compact gravelly soil, the area held few surprises. The first day of digging, we did find a large, triangular piece of concrete, presumably from an old sidewalk and continued to find large pieces of concrete throughout the week. There were only two STPs of significant interest in our survey. The first was found on the first day and, after expanding, consisted of several large (almost foundation sized) stones, and bricks, concrete, and large fragments of what we think are drainage pipes. This was located at the light blue dot on the below map. The other surprise came later in the week, and was cut short by a short rain storm. The STP marked by a light green dot on the below map had a much higher artifact concentration (including some decorated whiteware) than the rest of People’s Park as well as what appeared to be a burned layer in the stratigraphy, where a good portion of the artifacts were found. Based on the location of the short course dormitories (seen in yellow below), there is a chance it may have been a small trash pit for them, although the density of artifacts was lower and the stratigraphy was different than other trash pits found on campus.

People's Park- 1952 Buildings
People’s Park- 1952 Buildings

The above map was the result of some GIS research I did to further understand the area we were surveying. I used a 1952 map of campus and georeferenced it with our existing CAP GIS database to reveal the approximate locations of the buildings we were searching for. The yellow buildings are the ones found on the 1952 map while the brown ones are modern buildings. It turns out that the memorial cabin is currently mostly located underneath the sidewalk patio outside of the C-Wing of Wells Hall. This georeference in GIS helped us tailor our survey to hit potential “hot-spots” or areas where we were most likely to come across artifacts.

Digging Underneath the River Trail

Digging Underneath the River Trail

CAP took the last two weeks off of work due to the holiday and a lack of major construction needing our presence as we prepared to start the major accessioning project we are currently working on. However, at the tail end of last week, we 

Grandparents University 2014

Grandparents University 2014

Grandparents University 2014 wrapped up last Thursday and, as usual, the Campus Archaeology Program offered its two-day class about the history and archaeology of Michigan State University. This year, our two-day class ended up getting flipped around due to inclement weather. Usually, the first day 

Munn Field: Blacksmithing or Trash Pit?

Munn Field: Blacksmithing or Trash Pit?

For the past two weeks, we have been surveying in Munn Field prior to the installation of new astroturf. Last week, a test pit on the western side of the field caused some excitement! It revealed a puzzling amount of iron wire. The wire didn’t start appearing until about 50cm down and increased in frequency until about 60-70cm where what looked like a floor of wire was revealed. We opened up the pit a little more to investigate further and found even more wire as we dug. The “floor” was still covering the bottom of the pit so we decided to open it up even more by setting up a 1-meter by 1-meter excavation unit. As we dug this out, we were finding even more wire, some nails, glass, and other metal bits and upon reaching the wire “floor” we realized it wasn’t actually a floor at all but rather clusters of bundled wire. Some of the wire was braided together, other pieces were looped together, but most of it came out in bundles consisting of numerous strands of wire bound together by several other pieces wrapped around the rest.

Bundles of wire found at Munn Field
Bundles of wire found at Munn Field

Upon removal of these bundles we found pockets of ashy, burnt soil mixed in with this layer of wire. Slag and charcoal were also found throughout this layer in the unit. Underneath the wire, we found several horseshoes, including one fused one, remnants of what appears to have once been a metal box, a Benzedrine inhaler, a math compass, an iron clip, a milk bottle base from a Lansing creamery, more nails, more wire, and a portion of a doll’s face! As can be seen, the unit proved to be very puzzling. Nothing quite seemed to go together and there was really no discernible strata or profile at this layer. Our research at the archives revealed that Munn Field used to be home to several barns, a horse track, and also served as the ROTC drill field for a time. However, what we were finding didn’t really fit into any of those scenarios, or at least not obviously.

One of our team members suggested that it might have something to do with a blacksmith servicing the horses kept on the field. There was some evidence to suggest this, namely the staggering amounts of wire, chunks of metal resembling iron ingots, the horseshoes, and some tools including the compass and the clip. After some research around the internet, I think it is possible that some of these things were used in blacksmithing or in MSU’s machine shop. Based on the Benzedrine inhaler and prior archival research, we are pretty sure that this find would have been from the 1930s-40s. From that time period, the iron we were finding would have likely been wrought iron. After smelting, wrought iron is turned into one of several forms of bar iron for transport and turning into finished materials. One of those forms, rod iron, is used as the raw material for nails and those who read our blog regularly should know that nails are no small part of our finds here on campus! However, the size of the wire we found is a little on the small side for it to be rod iron kept around for working later on. That doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility if blacksmith activity though.

Braided wire found at Munn Field
Braided wire found at Munn Field
Possible draw plate found at Munn Field
Possible draw plate found at Munn Field

When smithing wire, the iron is pulled through increasingly smaller draw plates, usually made of wrought iron during this period. We found a piece of metal that we had initially thought was part of a door hinge, but it very well might be a draw plate used for smithing wire.

What I think is most likely is that we found a trash pit used during Munn Field’s occupation by the ROTC program. The overall structure of the feature and the artifacts we recovered suggest that this was all trash. The wire was disposed of is loose bundles which would make transporting large amounts of wire easy. The fact that some of the wire was braided and looped makes me think they were meant to be discarded even more. Braiding wires is a method of creating wire rope, which before the widespread availability of steel, was usually made form wrought iron. Some of the wire we recovered was half braided, and some of it was braided and looped at the end, a form of terminating wire rope that we know today as a Flemish Eye. All of this, the braids, the loops, and the straight wire, was all bundled together loosely in several large bundles. The range of materials we recovered, from wire to milk bottles, inhalers to doll parts, makes me increasingly confident that what we found was a discard pile.

What do you think? Evidence of blacksmithing or a trash pit?

References:

http://www.appaltree.net/aba/history.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrought_iron
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wire_rope
http://www.onthebanks.msu.edu

 

MSU’s First Veterinary Laboratory

MSU’s First Veterinary Laboratory

Our first week of CAP summer work focused almost exclusively on the remains of the first Veterinary Laboratory that was uncovered by construction work related to the ongoing West Circle Steam Renovation project. This week we were finally, able to get into the MSU Archives 

Studying the Heart of MSU through GIS

Studying the Heart of MSU through GIS

This semester I have continued to work on the GIS for Campus Archaeology and will be presenting a poster at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) this coming spring. In deciding on a research topic and a question I wanted to answer, it 

The Saints’ Rest Spoon

The Saints’ Rest Spoon

The two trenches dug at the rescue project CAP conducted at Saint’s Rest (1856-1876) this summer were very different in terms of artifacts found. The first trench, located inside of the building, yielded many nails, bits of metal, and other hardware like door knobs and hinges. The second trench started out as a shovel test pit and when a brick formation was found, the pit was expanded and then turned into a trench that resulted in finding one of Saint’s Rest’s chimneys. That trench yielded many “everyday” cultural artifacts such as ceramic (whiteware/stoneware/etc.) sherds, bottle and window glass, and pipe pieces, among others.

Half of the spoon recovered from Saints Rest, minutes later we'd find the handle of it
Half of the spoon recovered from Saints Rest, minutes later we’d find the handle of it

One of the more interesting artifacts to some out of the second trench was a complete spoon, found in two pieces. I was actually the one to dig the shovel test pit that later turned into the second trench. I found the spoon’s head underneath a loose brick in the test pit, and found the handle half when the pit was expanded to get a better look at the brick formation we were seeing.

The spoon is plain and undecorated, most likely made of copper, and is definitely a teaspoon. Its appearance suggests that it was mass produced as an affordable cutlery option. The flat part at the end of the handle curves downward and the spoon’s head is shaped like modern teaspoons, egg-shaped and narrower at the point than at the base. Both attributes are characteristic of the modern spoon, which came into use after 1760. The teaspoon being present in a student dormitory and in such a plain and undecorated state is the result of capitalism.

The teaspoon as a utensil made its debut in the second half of the 17th century, when the English began adding milk to their tea and was used to mix the tea, milk, and sugar together. At that point in time, it was strictly a wealthy individual’s utensil and kept separate from the main dinnerware. The fact that teaspoons are now found in cutlery drawers around the world is a unique phenomenon. Other utensils associated with the English tea tradition such as the tea tongs or tea strainer aren’t nearly as widespread as the teaspoon is, nor have utensils from other tea traditions such as the Japanese one. The teaspoon’s success came when it was adopted by coffee drinkers, a substance that was far more common among lower classes than tea. As the teaspoon became more widespread as a household utensil, stepping down from its lofty perch in the homes of England’s elite, it became a universal “go-to” utensil for meals. It answered a need for a spoon smaller than the English tablespoon or dessertspoon, but larger than the French coffee spoon, one that fit the average human mouth rather nicely. By the mid-19th century, the teaspoon was a staple element of flatware in the United States.

The teaspoon’s adventure from an example of English wealth, to nearly every dining set in the United States adds a rich history to its context in Saint’s Rest, most likely part of a student’s belongings. Our research on this artifact, what it was, who it might have belonged to, how it was made, and why it was there shed light on an interesting history of the modern teaspoon, and the reason it became so widespread.

From the Archives: Jenison Field House

From the Archives: Jenison Field House

Earlier this summer, the Campus Archaeology team surveyed the green spaces behind Jenison Fieldhouse, next to the Red Cedar. We weren’t finding much, just the occasional nail or piece of glass, but regardless, we still wanted to know more about the building and the land