Author: Ian Harrison

Dating a Site (With Milk Bottles)

Dating a Site (With Milk Bottles)

With only one week until the CAP 2015 Field School begins, where we’ll be digging behind the Hannah Admin Building, we came across one more means in which to narrow down the date of the Admin Assemblage. Getting an idea of how old a site 

People’s Park: the Short Course Dormitories

People’s Park: the Short Course Dormitories

As our archaeological investigation of People’s Park continues, so does our archival investigation. As Adrianne explained in our last blog one of the motivating factors behind our shovel test survey of People’s Park was pinpointing the location of the Chittenden Memorial Cabin; however there were 

Auditorium Plaza Debrief

Auditorium Plaza Debrief

Recently, a construction project began in the small plaza between the MSU Auditorium and the Kresge Art Center, which meant that we Campus Archaeologists got to go in first and see what (if any) historic materials were hidden beneath the topsoil. The plaza is an unassuming space really, and without much in the way of benches, shade, or activity space,  the little grass and concrete clearing doesn’t receive much foot traffic despite facing the relatively busy auditorium road sidewalk. As such, one of the goals of the construction project is to rebuild the plaza into a more comfortable and habitable outdoor space.

Kresge Art Center 1959, courtesy MSU Archives
Kresge Art Center 1959, courtesy MSU Archives

With the construction of the MSU Auditorium in 1940, and the later opening of the Kresge Art Center/Museum nearly two decades later in 1959, the Auditorium Plaza was created. As such, while the plaza has not had as substantial of a history as other parts of MSU, its location in the older section of campus maintains the possibility that this construction project will disturb cultural materials from the earlier period of campus history, necessitating that we survey the area prior to its disturbance.

With a large portion of the plaza covered by concrete sidewalk however, we needed to wait until the construction crew had used their excavators and backhoes to break up and haul out the massive pieces of pavement. Once we were able to get to work though, we quickly found that our test pits were coming up empty. As we shovel-tested the area by digging 40-60cm deep holes in a 5 x 5 m grid, one after another each successive pit was turning up nothing.

Auditorium C. 1950, courtesy MSU Archives
Auditorium C. 1950, courtesy MSU Archives

Aside from a sparse few nails (both modern and historic), pieces of brick, and a fragment of ceramic electrical conduit, the whole plaza seemed largely devoid of any cultural materials. Supporting the theory that the plaza was most likely highly modified before construction, wiping away all previous occupation/use debris. The plaza had several tiers, indicating the space was built, and rebuilt, leaving no original stratigraphy. With this in mind, the construction crews were able to proceed with their work to renovate the plaza knowing that they would not unknowingly damage any historic materials. When the project is finished and if these renovations are successful such that the space becomes more heavily used, who knows what future generations of MSU students will leave in the plaza’s archaeological record.

Also, with the 4th of July holiday coming up, take a look at this picture of an MSU student taking part in her hometown independence day parade C. 1949 that we found in the MSU online archives.

Cisterns: MSU’s History of Water

Cisterns: MSU’s History of Water

Earlier this week, a group of construction workers excavating trenches for the new campus steam tunnel network came across a circular brick enclosure on the south side of Cook Hall. Returning their call, we went to the site and exposed the circle of bricks to 

The Engines of MSU

The Engines of MSU

As the heat of summer sets in, the winter cold is likely the last thing on anyone’s mind yet throughout campus history, heat (and later electricity) have been substantial and reoccurring problems for the university, their solutions to which have left an indelible mark on 

MSU Olympic Athletes

MSU Olympic Athletes

The winter is an interesting time for archaeologists. With the ground still frozen we are largely relegated to working with materials that have already been excavated during previous field seasons. In fact, winter has traditionally been the time when archaeologists un-box materials from the previous summer’s field season and begin the process of cataloging, categorizing, and analyzing. But this process also has its limitations, with my own project for example, I recently mailed a number of pieces of charcoal, pottery, and decayed wood to an outside lab to be radiocarbon dated. Carbon-14 isotope dating like this however takes a minimum of 2-4 weeks to receive results, meaning that this part of the project can’t continue any further until the lab sends back the dates. Lulls like this in the workload are not terribly uncommon though, as the working pace of a project can often vary drastically throughout its lifetime depending on the specifics of the given situation.

That said, during such interludes we archaeologists often do things like dread the cold and take on small side projects to occupy the time. In my case watching the winter Olympics spurred me to wonder what kind of contribution Michigan State had made to the Olympic games over the years, and how past MSU students competing in the games is a part of our own campus history. Moreover, Campus Archaeology is about researching the history of MSU, and while artifacts and excavations are a major part of that, some research requires a different kind of digging. Something that archaeologists share with historians is the utilization of archival data: texts, journals, documents and other records that augment the archaeological record to give a better understanding of the past. Luckily, archival sources such as those in the Spartan Athletics Hall of Fame turned out to be exactly the kind of resource I needed to see what kind of contribution MSU had made to Olympic history.

As I found out, there are eleven former MSU Olympians, each of them listed below. For more information check out the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame here.

Fred Alderman (Frederick Pitt Alderman; June 24, 1905 – September 15, 1998, Hometown – East Lansing, MI); was a track and field athlete and the first Spartan to become an Olympic gold medalist after wining the 4x400m relay at the 1928 summer Olympics.

Charles Pierce Davey (Chuck Davey, 3 May 1925–4 December 2002, Hometown – Dearborn, MI); a welterweight boxer for MSU, who went on to compete in the Olympics on the U.S. boxing team in 1948. Davey eventually retired from the sport to become the state of Michigan’s boxing commissioner.

Linda Gustavson (Hometown – Santa Cruz, Calif.); Swimmer – 1968 Olympic gold medalist in the 400-meter relay,  silver medalist in the 400-meter individual freestyle and bronze medalist in the 100-meter individual freestyle.

Weldon Olson (Hometown – Marquette, MI); Played on the MSU ice hockey team from 1951 to 1955 before winning an Olympic silver metal in ice hockey during the 1956 Olympics, followed by a gold metal in 1960.

Ken Walsh (Hometown – Ponte Vedra, Fla.); Swimming (MSU – 1965-67), won two gold metals at the 1968 Olympics in the 400m relay and 400m freestyle relay.

Ryan Miller (Hometown – East Lansing, Mich.); Michigan State ice hockey player between 1999 and 2002. Became an Olympic MVP/silver medalist in 2010 and is currently competing on the US Ice Hockey team in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Currently plays for the Buffalo Sabres.

Judith (“Judi”) Lynne Brown-King (Born July 14, 1961); Competed for the United States at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where she won the silver metal in the women’s 400 meter hurdles.

Clarke Scholes (Hometown – Detroit, MI); Swimming – 1952 Olympic gold medal in the 100m freestyle.

Steve Smith (Hometown – Detroit, MI); Basketball – 1994 Olympic gold medalist on the U.S. basketball team.

Doug Volmar (Hometown – Cleveland Heights, OH); Ice Hockey – (MSU 1965-60) – competed in the 1968 US Olympic hockey team.

Ernestine Russell-Weaver (Hometown – Windsor, Ontario); Gymnastics – Former MSU gymnast from 1957 to 1960. Ernstine Weaver competed on the Canadian Olympic gymnastics team in 1956 and 60. Earned her degree from Michigan State in physical education and dance.

Through these athletes Michigan State University has become a part of Olympic history, and Olympic history has become part of our own campus history and identity. For additional athletes competing in the Sochi Olympics with ties to the State of Michigan as a whole, take a look at this article.