Using Ceramics to Understand MSU’s Past Progress

I am currently working on an individual research project for the annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF). My project focuses on how we could use ceramics to understand MSU’s past.I first had to read basic information determining the different types of artifacts that are commonly found on sites and in this context. The next step is to analyze the ceramics based on type collections. By the time that my research is completed, I should be able to develop interpretations about those who lived here based on the different types of ceramics they’ve used and what they were used for. I hope to be able to equate my findings with topics such as socioeconomic status and specialized purpose ceramics.

Ceramic fragments
Ceramic fragments

Right now, I am sorting through different types of ceramics found during last year’s Campus Archaeology Program’s summer field school. These ceramics pieces were found where College Hall was once located. College Hall was MSU’s first building, built in 1856. The building then collapsed in 1918 due to poor construction. (It’s where Beaumont Tower stands today.) These last few weeks I have been generally sorting through about 15 different bags and have been determining minimum number of individuals (MNI) or the fewest number of complete vessels in the anthropology lab. Then, I have been analyzing the ceramic pieces and have been writing down detailed notes about their appearances and their textures. I then organize my notes into a spreadsheet database on the computer. On the spreadsheet, I have columns such as the labeling of the number per item, paste fineness, the unit it was found in, etc. During this process I identify the ceramic types best to my knowledge, using the help of Prudence Rice’s Pottery Analysis and by using some online sources as well. Many of the ceramics I have identified to be whiteware, porcelain, stoneware, earthenware, and rockinghamware.  Each ceramic type though found in different pits, appear to be able to fit together as one MNI. I still have a lot more to analyze and record before April.

This is a very long process because I have to sort, note, record and identify every single ceramic piece. Most of the bags so far, has had over one hundred pieces. It is interesting to work with these ceramics pieces, I enjoy being able to put the broken pieces together. It gives me a better idea about what they were once used for. Some pieces’ shape indicate possible parts of edges, rims and bottoms of various products. It is also interesting to find pieces with prints or a maker’s mark on them. These prints could give us a better idea about the context of these pieces. If a whole print is found we could directly find its maker. Some pieces appear to have been burnt. Things like this can give me an idea about what happened to these pieces or where they were made. The ceramics most likely belonged to the students and professors who once attended College Hall and my guess is that the majority of those pieces are from products that were once from laboratories and possibly were once dining dishes as well.

Soon, I will be able to further my analysis on my collected data and be able to interpret them. I’m hoping to be able to associate them with socioeconomic status. For example, professors might be owners of ceramics that have more worth than those that may have belonged to students. I will also talk about their former purpose, who used them, and why they were found at College Hall. I look forward in completing my research, sharing my findings and presenting them at the UURAF. Learning about the MSU’s past is one thing, but engaging myself in research is a whole new experience.

Author: Circe

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