Author: Campus Archaeology Program

Scenes of Summer at Michigan State

Scenes of Summer at Michigan State

Summer in Michigan brings warm weather, thunderstorms, beach days and, for Campus Archaeology at least, shovel testing, construction monitoring, and CAP’s on campus field school. As we head into a new summer of Campus Archaeology we recap some of the great projects our impressive CAP 

CAP Update: Spring 2022

CAP Update: Spring 2022

Here at Michigan State we welcome winter as we return to classes and our labs. I would like share what we have been up to over break and provide a preview of what CAP will be working on this semester. What We Did Over The 

Meet the 2021 – 2022 Campus Archaeology Program GRADUATE FELLOWS

Meet the 2021 – 2022 Campus Archaeology Program GRADUATE FELLOWS

Photo by ©Nick Schrader, All Rights Reserved

In September Michigan State’s Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) archaeologists wrap up our summer field work here on campus and return to the routine of classes, personal research, and teaching that each semester brings.

The start of a new semester also means welcoming in a new cohort of CAP Graduate Fellows. We are lucky to have all five of last year’s Fellows return this year and welcome Aubree Marshall, who after working as part of our CAP Crew all summer, choose to continue as a Graduate Fellow. We are all excited to continue CAP’s mission to mitigate and protect the archaeological resources on MSU’s historic campus and to share that history and artifacts with our local, professional, and student communities.

Learn more about the CAP 2021 – 2022 staff below!

Campus Archaeologist:

Jeff sitting at a green table, hands folded

Jeff Burnett (he/him/his) is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the department of Anthropology. This will be Jeff’s second year as Campus Archaeologist. His research focuses on the archaeology of the 19th and 20th centuries and using community-based practices to explore the intersections of class and race in the construction, maintenance, and memorialization of place and space in the United States. Jeff is looking forward to working with CAP Fellows to write about and share the results of CAP’s summer field projects, to continue re-thinking outreach and work in the ongoing pandemic, and planning (fingers crossed) the CAP 2022 field school.

Campus Archaeology Program Graduate Fellows:

Ben standing in a wooded area looking at an artifact.

Benjamin Akey (they/them) is a third-year doctoral student and graduate research assistant, with an academic focus on North American historical archaeology. They received their BA in Anthropology from University of California Santa Cruz in 2018. Their personal research focuses on the intersections of identity, immigration, and labor in industrial sawmill communities of the Pacific Northwest during the early twentieth century. Benjamin joined CAP as a fellow in Fall 2019, and is looking forward to working with other CAP personnel to continue developing opportunities for creative public outreach, analyzing existing archaeological collections from campus, and performing archival research.

Jack peering out of a cave

Jack Biggs (he/him/his) is a Ph.D. candidate, specializing in Biological Anthropology and is a returning CAP fellow. His research is focused on the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica and how their cultural ideas of age, identity, and cosmology intersect and record themselves within their bones and teeth. As a big proponent of using 3D technologies to teach and show others about MSU’s cultural heritage, Jack is hoping to use this skill-set to bolster CAP’s digital outreach during the current COVID-19 crisis so that anyone can have access to the rich history beneath our feet.

Rhian taking notes at a case site

Rhian Dunn (she/her/hers) is a third year biological anthropology doctoral student, focusing in forensic anthropology. Her research interests include human variation and improving aspects of the biological profile (i.e., human identification). Rhian is starting her third year as a CAP fellow and hopes to continue getting more experience in archaeological surveying and with identifying historical artifacts. She is also interested in public outreach and archival data used to provide context for archaeological work. 

Aubree Marshall (she/her/hers) is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology, with a focus in bioarchaeology. Her research will focus on the health and diet of the ancient Maya from Belize, specifically through dental analysis. This is her first year as a CAP fellow and is excited to expand her skills on archaeological surveys and report writing, as well as public outreach in a virtual setting.

Emily in the High Andes holding a field camera

Emily Milton (she/her/hers) is a third-year dual-degree doctoral student in Anthropology and Environmental Science and Policy. Her research combines archaeology and historical ecology to study changing cultural practices in the Rocky and Andes Mountains. Emily is beginning her second year as a CAP fellow and is excited to mobilize CAP’s archaeological waste collections as a mechanism to encourage sustainable thinking and practice.

Amber Plemons: (she/her/hers) is a fifth year Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology, focusing in Biological Anthropology. This is her third year serving as a CAP fellow. Her research focuses on understanding the causative forces of human variation in craniofacial morphology, specifically the impacts of climate and genetics. Amber assisted in building a database for CAP artifacts recovered and housed at Michigan State University and aims to continue to improve and modify the database and prepare a public searchable front end for the database this year. Additionally, she will continue her work with the Girl Scouts organization to teach the future women of archaeology by creating an online platform and help with other CAP duties, such as site research, report writing, and researching the history of minorities on MSU campus.

Amber using a total station to record measurements
CAP Crew 2021: Start of a new field season

CAP Crew 2021: Start of a new field season

This week marks the start of CAP’s 2021 summer field season; we have completed trainings, designed survey and outreach projects, and finished our academic year. This all means we can now get out into in the field! Over the next few months, we will be 

Starting the New Semester and Attending SHA 2021

Starting the New Semester and Attending SHA 2021

Over the next few days MSU will be welcoming some students back and opening up for some in-person and many virtual classes.  For CAP, the beginning of a new semester would typically mean welcoming new undergraduate interns, preparing outreach events, and jumping back into our 

CAP Fellows Reflect on a Society for Historical Archaeology Anti-racism Training

CAP Fellows Reflect on a Society for Historical Archaeology Anti-racism Training

Poster from a panel discussion on archaeology in the time of Black Lives Matter from June 25, 2020. Discussants included Maria Franklin, Justin Dunnavant, Alexandria Jones, Alicia Odewale, and Tsione Wolde-Michael. It was chaired by Ayana Flewellen.
Poster from a panel discussion on archaeology in the time of Black Lives Matter from June 25, 2020.

In this blog post CAP fellows share our reflections on an anti-racism, anti-bias training we took on Friday October 30th . The training was sponsored by the Society for Historical Archaeology and dozens of archaeologists, educators, and heritage professionals participated in the four hour session. We decided to share out thoughts in a single blog post. This and other recent discussions of anti-racism in archaeology have gained traction and institutional support in part because of the confluence of the Black Lives Matter movement, continued instances of police brutality and the murders of Black women and women by police, the COVID-19 pandemic disporotiantly affecting Black, Indigenous, and communities of color, and increasing numbers of Black archaeologists (Franklin et al. 2020).

The training we attended is relevant because it directly asks how can we as induvial work to make organizations anti-racist? How can we take increased pressure and institutional support of anti-racism and produce social social change within and beyond the discipline of archeology. Additional resources are listed at the bottom of this post.

Each fellow authored their own section in their voice, highlighting what stood out or was important to them. While independent, these reflections represent CAP’s ongoing commitment to ensuring our work and organization is equable and inclusive and that we work to make archaeology a better place for everyone.

The Society of Historical Archaeology’s workshop on “Strengthening Anti-racist and Anti-bias Mindsets” represents a cohesive movement within the field of archaeology to push beyond many of the racist and colonizing notions that shaped the establishment of archaeology, and anthropology as a whole, and still do today. With the current sociopolitical climate, it is beyond time to address these issues that are rampant across the field. I believe this workshop created a valuable opportunity to meet with other professionals in the field of archaeology to exchange ideas and concerns about how archaeology currently functions.

There is a lot to sort through, as it is high time we engage students in all communities so that a career path in archaeology is not accessible to only a portion of the population. But this path is not clear cut and a chance to hear the experiences of others in the SHA brought forth important reminders of ways we can focus our efforts here in Campus Archaeology. We need to identify and confront identity fragility, normativity, neutrality, and privilege already present in our organizations and institutions to ensure archaeology is a welcoming and inclusive environment and career for all. We need to provide engagement opportunities that are accessible and affordable in order to create a space where all students can get involved and develop their own passion and goals for the field. If we ensure that our field and our Campus Archaeology program is fostering a system that welcomes all interested persons, we can move away from the perpetuation of racism and exclusivity.

The Anti-Racism training hosted by the Society for Historical Archaeology on November 30th provided an engaging opportunity to consider how archaeological practice and professional spaces can engage with conversations surrounding restorative justice and reckon with elements of pervasive anti-Black racism. I particularly enjoyed discussions surrounding identity normativity, neutrality, and fragility and how these dynamics impact archaeological practice and conduct in professional spaces. This discussion highlighted the need to address the racist structures and frameworks within the discipline of anthropology, in both the content and practice of archaeological work and the dynamics of professional spaces we occupy (classrooms, conferences, cultural resource management [CRM] job sites, etc.).  

Overall, the discussions prompted me to reflect on what CAP could do to ensure equitable access to outreach events and to direct attention to issues of race and discrimination in Michigan State University’s past and present. I think my most important takeaway from the event was the notion that Anti-racist work within archaeology cannot be solved with any straight forward set of steps–it requires sustained and repeated acts of critical self and organizational reflection, as well as planning concrete steps of action that address specific areas of concern. This requires opening avenues for listening to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and their experiences within and outside of the discipline in order to consider how the SHA, and archaeology more broadly, can seek to be actively anti-racist. The document provided as a follow-up to the event will serve as a useful resource to return to throughout my experience in graduate school and beyond.

The SHA webinar on Anti-Racism and Anti-bias held on October 30th was incredibly interesting, informative, and enlightening. It is very easy to say that you will not be racist or biased in your actions or research. However, this workshop highlighted the mass of complexities that go into putting those thoughts into practice. One aspect discussed that I found particularly interesting was the notion of inherent biases in academic conferences. While in my mind, these conferences always appeared as open spaces for free discussion, exchange of ideas, and overall general inclusion. However, it was discussed that even being able to attend these conferences is itself a privilege. They are usually located in large “exciting” cities which are always more costly to eat, drink, and stay in. Additionally, travel costs are usually high. While professors with permanent jobs at research institutions usually have the funds to attend these conferences, graduate students often do not. We usually have to apply for travel funds from a small pool of money within the department and even then, sometimes only minimal costs are able to be covered, meaning that we must make up much of the money for these trips ourselves.

While I always love attending conferences, I now see that even being able to attend one is a privilege I have had over other graduate students, most notably Black, Indigenous, and other students of color. These students deal with inherent structural biases that I have had the privilege of not enduring. This makes it more difficult for them to engage in conferences and networking events which can play a big part in career trajectories and opportunities. The proliferation of digital workshops and webinars in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as this one we attended, is a step towards undoing this unintentional bias. Having more open discussions tackling these issues and just having more opportunities to share our ideas in these digital platforms overall will definitely shape the way academic conferences function in the future. In this way, there will be more equal opportunity for students of color to be in conversations that I now realize were in spaces that could be exclusionary, even if the purpose was for open and unbiased dialogues. However, once we get back to “normal”, it will be up to us to come up with solutions that are not biased against students and researchers of color, even if that bias was unintentional.

The SHA’s anti-racism training we attended on November 30th focused on making our organization anti-racist through individual actions and behaviors. At the beginning the trainers framed the goals of “becoming anti-racist organizations” as ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workspace and in the SHA in general. They recommended that we start by using the tools developed in the training to make small, actionable goals and build off those. The training was also framed by a series of questions: What does it mean to diversity? Why is there pressure now? What are the dangers or challenges in institution-based DEI efforts? Unlike other trainings I have been to, there was a sense of urgency and a commitment from all participants. In answering these questions in the large group in in break out groups one topic that came up was the need for organizations and individuals to step out of their comfort zones when working to be anti-racist. This resonated with me because of how easy it to continue doing things as they have always been done and how uncritically doing that continues structures of inequality and oppression. At CAP we have been reflecting on our youth outreach and which schools we have over-served in the past and which we have underserved. This has been due to access, proximity, connections, and comfort/tradition, not intentional, but it does present a bias in our outreach programing. The training provided added emphasis and tools to reflect on this and to alter out patterns of outreach.

I appreciated that the training ended with a discussion of action items we as participants and members of organizations could commit to. This allowed me to witness and reflect on what we must do to affect change in the discipline of archaeology and in CAP. Sharing and hearing suggestions from other archaeologists gave me a sense of grounding in this, that others were also committed to it and that there were many things to do. While daunting, it also generated lots of hope because people seemed willing to listen and makes these changes.

The recent training through the Society for Historical Archaeology aimed to gather professionals for an engaged discussion on anti-racism and anti-bias in archaeology. The training was largely interactive to encourage open dialogue on the major issue presented throughout the 4-hour seminar. Attendees participated in intermittent breakout groups to present and discuss ideas on how to improve on the major topics and issues in the discipline, fieldwork, academic settings, and conferences. I found the training thought provoking and appreciated the overall sentiment that SHA members are interested in putting anti-racist and anti-biased initiatives into action by creating community-wide conversations. I also found the training urged me to reflect on my own experiences and behaviors in work environments and beyond.

It’s no secret the archaeology is a predominantly white discipline. There have been conversations of how to improve diversity and inclusion in archaeology for some time and the same suggestions are presented every time: “We need to engage more youth” or “maybe we could give out a couple of scholarships for the conference”. While these are valid suggestions and will perhaps make small scale changes over time, the discipline needs to come up with some new suggestions. More importantly, we need to understand why it is critical to increase diversity and inclusion in archaeology to make meaningful headway.

Archaeologists are responsible for unraveling histories secrets and sharing lived experiences with contemporary society. Archaeological investigations by white Americans are conducted across our country and around the world. Each person brings with them their own lived experiences which biases the ways they interpret material culture of past populations. The researcher could combine archaeological and historical evidence to gain perspective of the population. However, they are likely to be blind to some of the potential biases of their interpretations, as well as the implications of their reported findings. For example, in American historical archaeology there is often a story of inequality and mistreatment of BIPOC, which is undoubtedly true for our country. But what if archaeologists also told stories of strength and overcoming adversity in these communities? Participants in the SHA training suggested working with local communities to develop research questions that frame archaeological research within an anti-racist/anti-biased framework. Understanding how our research impacts modern society and allowing communities to partake in uncovering their own history is one way we can encourage greater diversity and inclusion in the discipline which will eventually lead to greater representation of voices, lived experiences, and perspectives to tell the history of past human populations.


  • Franklin, Maria, Justin P. Dunnavant, Ayana Omilade Flewellen, and Alicia Odewale
    2020 The Future Is Now: Archaeology and the Eradication of Anti-Blackness. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 24(4):753-766.



African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter

Archaeology in the Community

The Society of Black Archaeologists

The African Burial Ground

Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery


Tobacco, Pipes, and Race in Colonial Virginia by Anna S. Agbe-Davies

The Materiality of Freedom: Archaeologies of Postemancipation Life edited by Jodi A. Barnes

Black Feminist Archaeology by Whitney Battle-Baptiste

The New York African Burial Ground Project: Unearthing the African Presence in Colonial New York by Michael Blakey

Constructing an Archaeology of Children: Studying Children and Child Material from the African Past by Flordeliz Bugarin

The Taphonomy of Disaster and the (Re)Formation of New Orleans by Shannon Lee Dawdy

Toward an Antiracist Archaeology by Mia L. Carey

Access Denied: African Americans and Access to End-of-Life Care in Nineteenth-Century Washington, D.C. by Justin Dunnavant

Assessing Heritage Resources in St. Croix Post‐Hurricanes Irma and Maria by Justin P. Dunnavant, Ayana Omilade Flewellen, Alexandra Jones, Alicia Odewale, and William White

Critical Race Theory and the Archaeology of the African Diaspora by Terrence Epperson

African Diasporic Choices: Locating the Lived Experiences of Afro-Crucians in the Archaeological and Archival Record by Ayana Omilade Flewellen

A Black Feminist-Inspired Archaeology? by Maria Franklin

“Power to the people:” Sociopolitics and the Archaeology of Black Americans by Maria Franklin

The Rosewood Massacre: An Archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence by Edward González-Tennant

Whiteness Studies: An Archaeology of White Plurality and African American Material Culture by Lewis Jones

Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance by Cheryl Janifer LaRoche

Beyond Strategy and Good Intentions: Archaeology, Race and White Privilege by Carol McDavid

Public Archaeology and Critical Histories: Collaborative Archaeology in Southern Illinois by Annelise Morris

Archaeologies of Race and Urban Poverty: The Politics of Slumming, Engagement, and the Color Line by Paul R. Mullins and Lewis C. Jones

An Archaeology of Struggle: Material Remnants of a Double Consciousness in the American South and Danish Caribbean Communities by Alicia Odewale

Archaeology for the Next Generation by Alicia Odewale, Justin Dunnavant, Ayana Flewellen, and Alexandra Jones

The Archaeology of Race and Racialization in Historic America by Charles E. Orser, Jr.

Detroit 139: Archaeology and the Future-Making of a Post- Industrial City by Krysta Ryzewski

Slavery behind the Wall: An Archaeology of a Cuban Coffee Plantation by Theresa A. Singleton

The Archaeology of Antislavery Resistance by Terrance Weik

The Archaeology of Mothering: An African-American Midwife’s Tale by Laurie Wilkie



Thank you Autumn Painter, outgoing Campus Archaeologist: As we say goodbye to outgoing Campus Archaeologist Autumn Painter who, in her two years in the position, continued CAP’s legacy of creative outreach, education, and mitigation while also profoundly shaping the future of the program, we welcome 

Check Out “A Tour of MSU’s Historic Faculty Row,” Now Live!

Check Out “A Tour of MSU’s Historic Faculty Row,” Now Live!

Even during a quarantine, archaeology does not stop. While we have not been able to get out into the field until recently, we at CAP have been working hard to create historical background summaries of areas that will be impacted by construction (a critical part 

World Anthropology Day 2020!

World Anthropology Day 2020!

To celebrate world anthropology day, the current CAP graduate fellows wanted to share how they became interested in anthropology, and some current or favorite projects they are involved in!

Grace: As a first-year PhD student moving to a new state and school, I initially came to CAP to move out of my comfort zone and get to know my own field a little better. I came in with no experience in archaeology and very little exposure to anthropology so CAP presented itself as a way I could learn more about the field in an applied manner.  As was mentioned in my blog post from earlier this month, I was drawn to the focus on outreach and education that CAP emphasizes. Coming from a background in education and youth studies, I have always been very passionate about working with youth and community-engaged research practices. Outreach events such as the haunted tour have proven to be a fantastic example of how to get young people interested in research and the sciences.

This semester, CAP fellow Benjamin Akey and I have conducted research to highlight unsung voices from MSU’s graduate student body. Our particular focus is on the history of the Asian pacific American Graduate Alliance (APAGA) which has been a place of professional and social support for the Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American community. The initial idea came from our archival research on the history of the graduate school which showed us that there has been very few records kept that highlight Asian American voices. This semester we look forward to doing what we can to add to supplement the overlooked parts of MSU’s history through an oral history project in collaboration with APAGA founders as well as the MSU Archives. Because I was not well versed in archaeological research methods, the openness that CAP has to diverse forms of research came as a pleasant surprise. As an organization that values community, I think that our current project will serve to bolster community interest in the role that various forms of archaeology can play in recording underrepresented histories.

Ben: While I had taken the opportunity to start taking anthropology courses at my local community college during high school, my fascination with archaeology began the summer after I graduated—on a field school in the rural highlands of Ecuador. I had come intending to focus on the ethnographic components of the field school, but quickly found myself enamored with the pace and physicality of archaeological fieldwork, and gained a new appreciation for how the materiality of the past could be integrated into critical and community-engaged scholarship. While other crews were assigned to Incan fortress sites, I spent the majority of my time helping a PhD Candidate who was interested in studying changing land-use and ownership patterns following the establishment of the Spanish hacienda system in Ecuador. Hearing about why he was interested in these topics—and why he felt archaeology was an efficacious method for exploring them—sparked an enduring personal interest in historical archaeology and relationships of power, resistance, and identity. On return from this trip, I became more involved with the community college’s local archaeological projects and picked up laboratory and survey skillsets which further served to bolster my interest in the subdiscipline.

Upon transferring to UC Santa Cruz for my undergraduate degree, I started to focus on archaeological courses, with a particular emphasis on historical archaeologies of indigenous communities and colonialism. While I remain strongly interested in these topics, the trajectory of my own research foci shifted somewhat when I became involved in excavations at two 19th century lime kilns on and nearby the UC Santa Cruz campus, leading me to begin engaging with historical archaeologies of labor, capitalism, and immigration. These themes ultimately structured my senior thesis project, in which I examined alcohol consumption between two industrial company-towns in Santa Cruz county in relation to diasporic identities and as a form of resistance to paternalistic social controls and class-based victorian moral expectations of temperance. Besides the narrow frame of alcohol consumption, these themes continue to shape my research aims; my current project seeks to understand how contexts of radicalized industrial labor and anti-asian exclusion movements shaped processes of identity formation among early North American Japanese communities in the 20th century.

Amber: During my time as an undergraduate at Texas State University, I changed my major several times before finding Anthropology. I started undergrad in the Interior Design program, explored majors in Math and Biology, and finally switched to Anthropology with the intention of doing archaeology in Greece and/or Egypt. My parents had a bookshelf in my childhood home full of old National Geographic and Discover magazines and I used to spend hours laying in the floor reading through them. There was one that I read repeatedly on ancient Egyptian mummies. This fascination encouraged me to explore a career in archaeology which eventually led to taking elective courses on forensic anthropology and forensic osteology. My forensic osteology class showed me how remains of the deceased can be used to answer questions about the living in past and present populations. I quickly realized that a career in Biological Anthropology was what I had been searching for: a fulfilling job that can provide services to others, a way to meld hard and social sciences, and…of course…travel.

I have had the opportunity to travel to Belize, Greece, Thailand, Colombia, England, and many states in the U.S. for work. If I had to choose my favorite project so far, I would say it is the Mississippi State Asylum project in Jackson, Mississippi. A total of 67 individuals in standardized pine coffins were uncovered during road construction on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. My master’s thesis examined differential health across inmate demographic groups using patterns of oral health indicators. I was interested in determining whether varying life histories influenced survivorship within the asylum environment and whether patients experienced differential treatment based on their sex or ancestry. We combined skeletal data with asylum written records to explore these questions. This sample was also compared to noninstitutionalized samples from the Southeastern U.S. to determine how health and mortality might be impacted by institutionalization. Being involved in the entire process of this project from excavation to data management, curation, and analysis was an invaluable and rare experience for a graduate student. I am very fortunate to have been involved and grateful to the patients and their families for allowing us to carry out this project. There is an ongoing effort to identify these individuals and return them to families for proper reburial.

Rhian: When I applied to UC Santa Barbara for undergrad, I only had a vague idea of what anthropology was – everything I knew came from tv shows or movies I had watched growing up (cue Indiana Jones, as typical as that may seem). In fact, I actually enrolled with the intention to get a degree in philosophy. However, when I took my first anthropology course, Intro to Biological Anthropology, during my first year I realized that all of the questions that intrigued me in philosophy, such as what makes us human, could be investigated in a more scientific, evolutionary framework. As I took more courses in anthropology and was introduced to osteology and the field’s forensic applications, my focus shifted – I realized that this was the path I wanted to take, as I loved how the applied aspect of forensic anthropology can make a difference to modern, local communities and bring closure to family members.

Following undergrad, I continued on to get a masters in forensic anthropology at Mercyhurst University, which helped further develop my passion for the field and for how we can work to refine identification methods. In fact, through my doctoral degree at MSU, I am to hoping to continue working with biological profile methods – specifically, I am hoping to investigate the utility of postcranial metrics for ancestry estimation, as this has received less attention in the field and needs better standardization. But, I love how the field of anthropology always has an open door policy and welcomes forensic students like me to engage in programs like Campus Archaeology with open arms. While I’m only in my first year at MSU, I look forward to these opportunities and how I can use my forensic experience to inform my CAP research and vice versa, which I know will make me a well-rounded and more prepared anthropologist during my career.

Jeff: Unlike a lot of archaeologists that I have worked with over the years, I was not introduced to the field at a young age. Even in college it did not immediately start out in anthropology. I matriculated into my university as an engineering major, and quickly switched to history after about a month. However, when I encountered the discipline in the second semester of my first year, I immediately fell in love. It was Introduction to Archaeology and because the class was taught by a Dr. Lauren Sullivan, a Mayanist, the major context of the class was of the history, peoples, and cultures of pre-colonial Mexico and central America. When Dr. Sullivan discussed her research and fieldwork, I felt that this was the engagement with the past that I had always longed for and which history had left unfulfilled. I also was awed by the stories of fieldwork in the jungle, so many stories about being chased up trees by wild boars!. Mostly though, I was amazed by the idea of touching and studying objects from the past, material culture. In this way, falling in love with seemingly exotic places, ancient civilizations, and thousand-year-old artifacts, my introduction to archaeology was typical.

Years later I find myself far more interested in the seemingly mundane, in the archaeology of the recent past in the United States. During my one and a half years in the PhD. program here at Michigan State University I have had the opportunity to work as an research assistant and intern cataloging, analyzing, and counting glass and ceramic vessels from two sites far more recent than the Mayan archaeology that I encountered in my undergraduate program. One site dates to the 1940s, barely older than my father, and on a daily basis I will encounter and become fascinated by spark plugs, jars of Vick’s VapoRub, and countless indiscriminate shards of colorless glass. I find myself losing time searching eBay, Etsy, and the Sears catalog to understand objects that are so frustratingly familiar, but just beyond my understanding. And when I do find out that that could be or the exact language to describe an object so the search engine will pull up pictures of it, I am probably far too pleased that I have identified a tobacco tin. The other site dates to the 1850s and while the artifacts are more typical – we have transfer printed pottery! – the artifacts came from field that was once an orchard and later soybean farm and these processes broke many of the artifacts into tiny fragments. I spend hours looking at thumb nail sized pieces of glass, pottery, and metal and while it is frustrating, I love it and again, feel a remarkable sense of joy when I identify the pattern on one of the tiny pieces. While my interests have changed over the years, I still am fascinated by material culture, the people who used and produced it people, and places they occupied, I just have a greater appreciation for how complex the seemingly mundane can be. 

Stranger in the Lab

Stranger in the Lab

“What were you thinking?!” I asked myself a cool day in September. I kept my eyes down toward the black tabletop to avoid making eye contact with the trowels across from me that seemed to be staring back and whispering “you’re in the wrong building!”