Dating a Site (With Milk Bottles)

With only one week until the CAP 2015 Field School begins, where we’ll be digging behind the Hannah Admin Building, we came across one more means in which to narrow down the date of the Admin Assemblage. Getting an idea of how old a site is can be tricky, especially when all that remains of it is rubble, which, is exactly what we stumbled across in our survey of the river trail sidewalks last summer. What began as just another shovel test pit in the lawn behind the Hannah Administration building quickly turned into a full scale excavation unit as we started pulling handfuls of window glass, ceramics, and metal out of the ground.

In situations like this we try to document and recover as much of the feature as possible, preserving artifacts and structures before either covering the feature back up or allowing construction crews to continue working. Finding this refuse pit on the last day of our field season however meant we could only recover so much before the end of the day, leaving the mystery of this feature still largely unresolved. As such, the question still remains: what is it?

Due to the array of artifacts from fine china to lab equipment, there were two buildings that we hypothesized for the origins of the assemblage, the Engineering building and the Gunson House/Home Management program. After intense archival research this past semester, we began to think the the Admin assemblage had its origins in the Gunson House/Home Management program.

Milk Bottle labeled MSC Creamery, found at Brody.
Milk Bottle labeled MSC Creamery, found at Brody.

Working with this in mind, the recovery of several milk bottle fragments allowed us to place the feature within a relatively precise time frame. Now, it is important to note that MSU’s name has changed several times over the course of its history, with one such change occurring in 1925 from the Michigan Agricultural College (M.A.C) to the Michigan State College (M.S.C.). So the fact that we found milk bottles stamped with “M.A.C. Dairy” instead of ‘M.S.C Creamery‘  shows us that the rubble belongs to a source that was buried prior to the name change in 1925. Knowing further that the MSU dairy program started in 1895, we arrive at a probable time frame for the feature between 1895 and 1925, which potentially negates our hypothesis for the Bayha House since it was not established until the 1940s.

Before the Bayha house was used for the Home Management program, it was the private residence for Prof. Gunson and his wife from 1892-1940. The date range on the milk bottles in the Admin assemblage fit the time frame for the Gunson house, but the range of material still leaves us with questions.

Hopefully, field school excavations of the area will lead us to more answers about the Admin Assemblage.

Author: Ian Harrison

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