Identifying Something You Didn’t Know Existed (by Hank Leversedge)

Identifying Something You Didn’t Know Existed (by Hank Leversedge)

One of the most exciting things about archaeology is that you never know what you’ll find until you start digging, and sometimes you don’t know what you find when you find it, and that is exactly the case with this discovery. While digging the shovel test affectionately named “M-4”, my groupmates (Madison Brown and Josephine Cowles) and I came across a small, shiny circular artifact that I thought may be a coin. Upon closer inspection and a light dusting off, it clearly wasn’t a coin, as it lacked any sign of relief marks, felt too light and thin, and had a gaping hole in the center of it. My groupmates and I bounced ideas back and forth on what it might be, even enlisting the help of our professor, Dr. Camp, and PhD student Gabrielle Moran eventually settling on a washer as being most likely. The image below is shovel test “M-4.”

There was only one problem with this theory in my mind: that this washer didn’t appear to be made of metal, plastic, or rubber like all the other washers I had previously encountered. We determined that the washer was made of mica, which was interesting to me as I had never heard of washers being made of mica. So, the first thing I did was look up if mica washers even existed, and low and behold, they did, being a preferred washer for electrical work as it has “excellent electrical properties and high heat resistance” (Medium). So, it’s a super cool find, but unfortunately, it seems unlikely that it would be connected to the observatory site or any building in that area. The image below is our mica washer.

So why would I choose to blog about this find if it isn’t directly connected to the observatory? I found the process of identifying this artifact fascinating. From the first moment of finding the washer and thinking it may be a coin to learning about the special qualities of mica, it was an extremely exciting process. The most surprising part about the process to me was how important communicating and bouncing ideas off multiple people was to identify artifacts. Witnessing and engaging in this process alleviated one of the big concerns that I had entering this field school and archaeology in general, that I wouldn’t be able to identify the artifacts that we were discovering. It also showed me in real time how important it is to have people from different backgrounds and perspectives involved in the archaeological process, as you never know when an experience, hobby, or special interest is going to come in handy. 

This process of consensus building was used with every unique artifact or feature we found at the observatory site. For example, one of the projects’ first big finds, a lead pipe in the east wall of the observatory, was weighed in on by students, faculty, professional archaeologists, MSU IPF workers, utility locators, and others. While we are still yet to discover exactly what the pipe was used for, it was interesting to see the process of communication and cooperation extended to anyone who could potentially share insight into the artifact, not just those of us working at the site. This field school has taught me that you don’t need to be an expert in every kind of artifact to be successful in archaeology, but you do need to be willing to reach out to people who may know more about something than you. Below is an image of the lead pipe in the eastern wall of the observatory.


Mixa, Axim. “Mica Washers: A Brief Introduction and Their Applications.” Medium, Medium, 14 Nov. 2022, 

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