During archaeological excavations, some of the most ubiquitous artifacts unearthed are ceramic sherds that were once part of bowls, plates, vases, or other decorative pieces. It is relatively easy to appreciate the skills and techniques that go into the creation of meticulously crafted ceramic vessels. …
Author: Jack Biggs
The presence of international students on campus began early in MSU’s history. Not even two decades after MSU’s founding, four international students were enrolled for the fall semester in 1873. Two of these students were from Japan, one from Holland, and one from Canada . …
With COVID-19 still dictating much of our day-to-day lives, Campus Archaeology made the early call to put all of our outreach events for the foreseeable future online or in some digital format. One of our most popular and fun events we put on is the annual Apparitions and Archaeology Haunted Campus Tour. This usually takes place in the week before Halloween. This year, we made our haunted tour a virtual event that occurred in the form of videos, a choose-your-own-path digital tour, and a live panel Q&A session. This event was facilitated by the MSU Alumni Office and hosted by CAP director Dr. Stacey L. Camp along with the CAP Fellows and Brienna Shear, Co-President of the MSU Paranormal Society.
In the usual in-person event, CAP Fellows and MSU Paranormal Society members are stationed at the “haunted” locations on campus. At each stop CAP and Paranormal Society speakers relay the history, archaeology, and reported hauntings to audience members who then move on to a new stop. In preparation for this year’s virtual event, CAP released a new choose-your-own path digital tour (made through Twine).
The benefit of this version of the tour was that CAP was able to add much more historical, archaeological, and contextual information to each of the stops than we could possibly share the in-person event. This new information includes descriptions of historical campus figures, artifacts, student life, and even administrative and construction accounts that played a part in the shaping of campus. Additionally, Elizabeth Schondelmayer, the Communications Coordinator for the College of Social Sciences created a spooky trailer for the event while Devante Kennedy, the Digital Production Lead for the Alumni Office, helped CAP create a haunted tour video.
As mentioned above, CAP hosted a live Q&A session on Wednesday the 28th, the same night the in-person event would have occurred. After some technical difficulties getting started (archaeologists are more comfortable around dirt and old artifacts than computers!), viewers who joined in were able to ask the panel questions about the history or hauntings of campus. While we love doing the in-person event, this virtual format afforded some great advantages.
First, we were able to have a much more open dialogue with the audience. During the normal in-person event, speakers are not afforded much time to answer questions about specific locations or paranormal experiences. Speakers at each site present quick spiel of the history and hauntings and there is time for maybe one or two questions before the next group of attendees arrives. The virtual panel hosted on October 28th gave the audience the ability to ask many more questions, even if they were submitted beforehand, and allowed us (the panel) to answer to a degree or depth for which we normally wouldn’t have the time.
Secondly, and related to the first point, the panel format allowed a much larger breadth of questions. In the in-person event, the few questions there is time for are usually related to the specific site or location where the speakers and attendees are. Hosting a virtual Q&A session meant that people could ask any question they wanted about our normally discussed sites, different areas on campus that they may have a connection to, campus history in general, our experiences within Campus Archaeology, and even about hauntings in other areas of campus. The amount and range of topics we were asked about could have only been addressed in this digital format.
Lastly, the virtual event meant that attendees did not even have to be in the East Lansing area to attend. While the pandemic has been rough on us all, it has simultaneously made everyone rethink how to best communicate and share information with each other. As a result, some of the attendees for the event may have even been on the other side of the country! This means that while we may all prefer in-person events, the Covid-19 pandemic has not stopped us from sharing fascinating histories, accounts, and artifacts from MSU’s campus.
While the in-person Haunted Tour is always one of our favorites to host, the virtual Q&A session gave us the opportunity for a more in-depth and personal dialogue with attendees. Hopefully, this pandemic will come to a swift end so that we can get back to “normal”. Until that time, though, CAP is committed to public outreach in the safest and most impactful way possible.
If you happened to miss the event or would like re-watch any of the videos or take our Twine Tour, please click on the links below!
- The Q&A Event on Oct. 28th:
- WILX Channel 10 story
- Apparitions and Archaeology Virtual Tour
- Our spooky trailer for the event:
- The Haunted Tour – via Twine
One of the most important infrastructural aspects of buildings today is how to get water to and from the building. Plumbing, of sorts, has been archaeologically visible and investigated at sites throughout the world. The earliest evidence of plumbing dates back to the civilizations of …
As I have discussed in previous posts, my project for this year in CAP is to make 3D models of different artifacts found around campus that we have here in our collections. You may have also seen many of these on our Instagram and Twitter …
The Saints’ Rest excavations conducted by the Campus Archaeology Program have been well-documented and researched not only because this was the inaugural project for CAP, but also that it is one of the earliest buildings on campus, giving us a rare glimpse into how students lived during the formative years of the institution. Due to the many posts written about his site, I will not attempt to synthesize the vast amount of information we have gathered here, but will focus on a particular artifact that that I feel is particularly pertinent for this time of the year.
During the 2005 excavations of Saints’ Rest, CAP unearthed (and expertly reconstructed) a mid-19th century shaving mug. Given that the close of No-Shave-November is upon us, it is only appropriate that I delve into the history of personal hygiene and social interactions through the lens of cumbersome facial hair. The mug in question was possibly a deep or royal blue color during its use-life, but was likely damaged in the fire that consumed Saints’ Rest, thereby distorting its true color and any decoration applied after it was fired in a kiln.
Facial hair hygienic practices have archaeological roots indicating that before the adoption of metallic shaving devices, sharpened shells were likely used (1). Once copper began being utilized for various other reasons, the metal was manipulated into rudimentary shaving implements. During the 18th century, the straight razor is known to have been manufactured in England (2). Yet shaving mugs, and its not far-off cousin the shaving scuttle, were not officially patented until 1867 (3). Shaving mugs (and scuttles) were used mainly for mainly two functions: 1) to hold hot water used to heat up the brush, and 2) whip up a large lather from the shaving soap. Traditional shaving soaps were hardened soap discs, not the canned foams or gels we know today.
The mug would be filled with water that had been heated over a stove and then let the soap brush sit and warm up in the water. After the water was dumped out and the brush had coated in the shaving soap, the mug was then used to create a lather by whipping the soapy brush until a thick foam appeared.
This is obviously a much more laborious process than we know today, especially since the straight razor was the most popular shaving implement until the invention and patent of the safety razors in 1887 (although the most popular was designed by King C. Gillette in 1895), although it still took some time before these razors were widely used (4). The safety razor changed the culture of shaving by making it less time-consuming, less intimidating, and an overall easier process since the razors were designed to be discarded after one use.
Given the date of both the patent of the safety razor (1887) and the date when Saints’ Rest burned down (1876), this mug would have been used during the hey-day straight razor shaving. Additionally, since no other shaving mug pieces have been found or identified from the Saints’ Rest assemblage, this might indicate that shaving may have been a social bonding experience between students as well as a representation of social identity. The modification of any type of appearance on the body is both a reflection of the self as well as a reflection of the culture in which one exists (5). Although the vast majority of men do not let their facial hair grow wild and untouched, grooming by means of shaving off all facial hair or implementing certain styles is a social communication that produces, reproduces, and emphasizes a sense of self within a cultural system.
In order for these excavations and artifacts to have any meaning, we must root them within the cultural context from which they were found. Only then do we go beyond the description of an object, such as a simple shaving mug, to the interpretation and social importance that the object can convey. So as the end No-Shave-November is creeping near, grab your shaving mug, your shaving soap, and your straight razor and participate in the culturally communicative body modification process and express your social identity! (or keep the beard, it matters not to me)
Be sure to check out our 3D photogrammetry model of the shaving mug linked here!
- Sherrow, V. (2006). Encyclopedia of hair: a cultural history. Greenwood Publishing Group.
- Brown,K. (2009). Foul bodies: cleanliness in early America. Yale University Press.
- Brooks, J. P., & McGrady, J. (1867 – July). Improvement in shaving-cups. U.S. Patent 66,788.
- Thorpe, S. C. (1953). Practice and science of standard barbering, Milady Publishing Corp.
- Turner,T. S. (2012). The social skin. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2(2),486-504.
The Saints’ Rest Dormitory has a foundational history with Michigan State University, acting as the first dormitory for the fledgling college, and with the Campus Archaeology Program itself, being the first large-scale excavation and archaeological fieldschool on campus. Built in 1856, Saints’ Rest was the …
One of the best parts about doing research on artifacts we find during CAP excavations is coming across incredible stories or histories that stem from what some people would consider mundane and ordinary objects. Such is the case with a seemingly ordinary piece of a plate recovered from the Brody/Emmons Complex. The plate sherd (Figure 1) is about 15cm long and 7cm deep and is a from a pleasant jade-colored plate. Since only the rim and part of the base are present, the portion with maker’s mark (which is usually centrally located on the underside) is not there. However, the design of the plate itself hints at its origins. Around the rim of the plate is what appears to be a petal design such that when whole, the plate would quasi-resemble a big flower. Based on this rim design, it is most likely that this plate is part of the Petal style from the Mount Clemens Pottery Co., made right here in Michigan.
The Mount Clemens Pottery Co. has its origins back in the 1910s in the aftermath of an area-wide economic depression in the Mount Pleasant area [1, 2, 3]. A local businessmen’s association looked to economically boost the area and traveled to pottery factories in Ohio and Pennsylvania and looked at how these different companies produced their wares. After a few years preparation, production officially started in 1915 in a warehouse built on an old farm. By the end of the first year, over 36,000 pieces per week were produced . The Petal style seen by the plate discovered at the Brody/Emmons Complex was mostly produced during the 1930s. Right after this period, the company became embroiled in a legal battle that still has ramifications today.
In 1941, workers were being docked pay for the time between when they clocked in and when they started work due to long prep time before they would actually start working. Workers had to clock-in, walk a long way down to their work stations (the factory was 8 acres large), and prepare their work station before finally starting work [1, 4]. The workers filed a class-action lawsuit (Anderson v. Mount Clemens Pottery Co.) claiming that the company was unfairly docking their wages and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The district court ruled mostly in favor of the company and that it was up to the employees to prove that needed to be compensated for their prep time, although they did require the company to pay the workers over $2000 in back-pay. The workers then appealed the decision which made its way all the way up to the United States Supreme Court . They remanded the case back to the lower courts with the strong recommendations that it was up to the employers, not the employees to provide the proof for such decisions. This led to the creation of the “Portal to Portal Act” in 1947 which defined work time as the time you entered the workspace to the time you leave it, and it is then up to the employer to justify docking wages within that timeframe . These court cases have been revisited and used over the years, most recently in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo in 2016 where workers claimed that the company was unfairly docking wages for the time it took them to put on the protective gear needed for processing pork.
After the case was settled in 1946, Mount Clemens Pottery Co. still had issues with workers but things eventually stabilized. The factory permanently shut its doors in 1986 after sales plummeted. Researching these histories lets us rediscover the stories that otherwise are unknown to us. What seems to be just a normal plate is actually symbolic of workers’ right that still have lasting effects into the 21st century.
 MCPL (Mount Clemens Public Library), 2008. Mount Clemens Pottery Company – Local History Sketches, pp.1-3
 Doll, C.E., 1993. The Mount Clemens Pottery Company: History and Memories.
 Goldberg, H.M. et al., 2014. When Does Compensation for “Time Spent Under the Employer’s Control” Include Pre and Post Shift Waiting and Other Activities?. Southern Journal of Business and Ethics; vol. 6:33-45.
As technology constantly changes, so too does the constructed landscape to accommodate those changes. One major notable change that has occurred in recent memory is the mass-production and availability of cell phones in the 1990s and 2000s. Cell phones allow people to talk to anyone …