So what does history really taste like? As you can read from Susan’s event preview blog post, this past week we hosted a 1860s MSU-inspired meal based on archival and archaeological research. This event took place through the collaboration of Campus Archaeology and the MSU …
Author: Autumn Painter
It’s official… the fish skeletal material recovered from the Saint’s Rest privy, the toilet associated with the first dormitory on campus contained walleye! Walleye are the largest member of the perch family and can be caught in shallow bays and inland lakes. As there are …
During Susan Kooiman and I’s research on the early foodways of MSU’s campus, we scoured our way through a number of purchasing records in the MSU Archives. After Susan’s blog post on the seasonality of food purchased, we realized that it might be interesting to see if there were any patterns of meat purchasing through time! To accomplish this, I reorganized all of our data from the 1861 to 1874 archival records by meat type (i.e. ham, chicken, salt pork, lamb, whitefish, etc.). While we have a few lost years, 1864-1866, I was able to see a few changes through this period of time.
In the beginning, during the early 1860s, the purchasing records were very specific, not only recording that MSU purchased “fresh fish”, but the specific species as well, including trout and whitefish (sometimes even listed as Lake Superior White fish; read more about this here). Through the entire period I analyzed, they also recorded specific cuts of meat, instead of just beef or pork. The types of meat that were listed in detail include bacon, beef shanks, coined beef, beef steak, beef roast, corned beef, shoulder, salt pork, and salt beef.
While there are no clear patterns of changes in purchasing preferences in these early years, the records became much more difficult to interpret during the late 1860s into the 1870s. During the 1870s, it becomes more vague, sometimes only listing from whom the meat was purchased from and not always including the type of cut or even species! This lack of detail makes it much more difficult to recover any changes in meat purchasing and use over time, meaning that other means of gathering information, such as the bones themselves, will be critical for looking at meat use over time at MSU.
While I am unable to uncover any changes in meat use at this time, I did find a few fun entries in the purchasing records as I was compiling the data. The first comes from 1867, citing the specific purchasing of meat from the MSU farms. While it doesn’t say what type of species, it is one of the few accounts that we have come across that specifically cites the purchasing of meat from our very own farms! Second, lists the purchasing of chickens in 1869, not for everyday consumption, but for winter commencement. Commencement would have been one of the larger events held on campus every year, so the college had to buy a lot of food specifically for this event. Lastly, one of my personal favorites, were listings over multiple years for the purchase of steak as well as beef and pork roast, not for the boarding halls, but for President T.C. Abbot. The purchasing records do not list the occasions that the meat was destined for, but from the pounds of meat purchased each month, one may assume that it was purchased for sharing at small functions… unless President Abbot really loved his steak.
Author: Autumn Painter
MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. “Agricultural boarding hall”
MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 82. Folder 11, Box 2531. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account with Boarding Hall”
MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 108. Folder 11, Box 2533. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account With Boarding Hall”
MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 32. UA17.107. “Accounts 1867-1873”
For Valentine’s Day, let take a dance through time! MSU has a long history of university dances. As we learned through Susan Kooiman’s blog post from October, there are archival records, such as dance cards, from the 1880s that list the order of dances with …
The analysis of animal bones from historic MSU involves more than the identification of species. While it is important to determine the species that were being consumed, we are also very interested in the specific portions of animals that were being purchased and produced by …
What is zooarchaeology and how is it actually done? This is a question that I get a lot when I talk about my research. Zooarchaeology is the study of non-human animal remains; specifically this involves the identification of animal species from archaeological contexts. However, it’s not as simple as just looking at a bone and easily knowing what it is right away! Typically, within archaeological contexts, animal bones are highly fragmented, leaving the zooarchaeologist with small pieces of an animal skeletal element. This fragmentation could be from both human and natural processes including: the butchering process, disposal practices, trampling, exposure to scavenging animals, and/or weathering.
So how are zooarchaeologists supposed to figure out what the broken bones are if they don’t look like a normal skeletal element, like an entire femur or scapula? To determine the identifications of archaeological animal bones, zooarchaeologists use a comparative collection. A comparative collection is a collection of identified animal bones by species and skeletal element.
The first step in analyzing animal remains is to sort the bones by animal class: mammal, fish, reptile/amphibian, and bird. It is possible to separate bones by animal class because each animal class is different, and can be determined visually by zooarchaeologists.
After the animal bones are sorted by class, the next step is to sort them by skeletal element (if possible). These first two steps allow for easier use of comparative collections for specific identifications.
Zooarchaeologists then take the sorted animal remains one item at a time, and based off of their initial evaluations compare each bone to the bones of previously identified species within the comparative collection. For example, if I have a bone that is thicker and/or larger than most of my mammal animal remains from a prehistoric archaeological site that is located in an area that has a lot of white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus), I would start by looking at the deer comparative skeleton to identify the bone.
Conducting zooarchaeological research at MSU is a little more difficult than you would expect because there is not an established zooarchaeological comparative collection. However, I have been working with the MSU Museum for the past year on developing one! While it is not finished, we have selected complete skeletons that have been reviewed and deemed fit to be included in the comparative collection. After I finish as much analysis as I can using the MSU Museum comparative collection, I will take the remaining unidentified animal bones to Springfield Illinois, to use the collection at the Illinois State Museum Research and Collection Center.
Currently, I am in the process of pulling out the animal bones recovered during the Campus Archaeology excavations of site from the Early Period of MSU’s history (1855-1870). Below are some photos of the bones that I will be analyzing in the coming months!
With these identifications, we are able to estimate the number of individuals that are found, the seasonality of the resources exploited, meat cuts based off of butchering methods, or even how different pieces of meat from the same animal are distributed. Stay tuned to learn about the results of the animal bone analysis and the methods we use to make our interpretations!
Author: Autumn Painter
As I have been going through the purchasing records for the college’s first boarding halls (housed at the MSU Archives), I’ve noticed some interesting purchases that I did not expect. Scattered among the many notations about common veggies and other foodstuffs were the purchasing notes …
As I began my archival research about food in the Early Period (1855-1870) I continued to run across stories about students activities on campus related to food procurement. While the students paid weekly for room and board, they also supplemented their diet by hunting on …
Analyzing and interpreting past food practices has always been one of my passions. This year for CAP, I will be working with Susan Kooiman to explore and recreate the food environment during the Early Period of MSU’s campus (1855-1870), as explained in Susan’s previous blog post. While Susan will take on more of the background research of this period, I am going to delve into the animal bones uncovered through Campus Archaeology excavations. I began my training as a zooarchaeologist while earning my Master’s degree at Illinois State University. Most of my experience has been with prehistoric animal remains and I am very excited to work with the animal bones recovered from Campus to better understand food production, preparation, serving, and consumption at Michigan State!
I will first begin by sorting the animal bones by animal class: mammal, bird, fish, and reptile/amphibian. After this initial sorting I will use a osteological comparative collection to conduct my identifications. From previous initial zooarchaeological analysis, we know that there are many different butchering marks present on many of the mammal remains. This will be one of my focuses during analysis. I hope to be able to determine what types of cuts of meat were being produced on campus, or if there were students learning butchering practices.
In addition to conducting a faunal analysis on the remains from the privy and Saints Rest excavations, I will be working on creating a website for this project. While we are in the initial stages of the project, we are working on formulating how we want to portray this project online. Currently, we would like to highlight the various aspects of food practices at MSU during this period including cooking, sustainability, production, ceramics, animal bone analysis, and food reconstruction. In addition to discussing our results from this project, we will also be documenting each step of our research. Our hope is to create videos showing how we learn about MSU’s history, from searching through archival records, visiting with MSU’s farms, to animal bone analysis. I can’t wait to see where this project takes us!
Author: Autumn Painter