Field School Recap: Week 1, getting to know you…

Field School Student screens in the shadow of the MAC smoke stack
Field School Student screens in the shadow of the MAC smoke stack

For students, first week of any field school is a process of getting your feet wet, getting to understand your surroundings, getting to know your crew mates, and starting to get a feel for how archaeology works. For the directors and supervisors, it’s a time to get to know the students strengths and weaknesses, understand how to work together, and how to best approach and teach a new group of eager diggers. This past week, our students went through two days of lecture, activities, and presentations about archaeological methods, MSU’s past, campus artifacts, mapping, and an introduction to the class website. We talked about shovel test pits, how to use your tongue to test to see if an artifact is bone, and how to take notes. By the end of those lectures, the students (and supervisors) were ready to dig.

A full 6 in rail spike excavated! A good find...
A full 6 in rail spike excavated! A good find…

Our first two days in the field were at the Shaw Lane Power Plant. The power plant, marked by the iconic “MSC” smokestack that stands next to Spartan Stadium, was built in 1948, a product of the rapidly expanding campus, which was growing exponentially due to the influx of GI Bill students from World War II. The original power plant, located in front of where the Hannah Administration building stood, could no longer handle the load necessary for the expanding campus. Coal arrived by train, which ran from the south, next to Spartan Stadium, over the Red Cedar River, and ran behind Olds Hall. The site of the Shaw Lane plant was chosen largely based on accessibility: it was built alongside these train tracks. The Shaw Lane Plant stopped burning coal in 1975, and has been abandoned for quite a while now.

Our objective for this small survey was twofold: first, to see what types of features may be associated with the power plant, and second, to provide an opportunity for the students to get to know each other and get a feel for how shovel test pit survey works. Our findings were as expected. We found coal. The quantities were heaviest along the west side of our survey area, closest to the Spartan Stadium parking lot. Additionally, we found a compact gravel surface and two railroad spikes (left) in this area, indicating that, if we conducted further excavations, there would be the remains of the old railroad bed.

In all, this was a fantastic first week. The students are energetic, and we managed to dodge much of the rain that threatened us. This week, we will be continuing survey on the west circle area of campus, which is the oldest part of MSU, dating back to 1855. We hope that you will keep following along here!

See some photos from the first week of excavations!

Get to know our students! Check out the rest of the blog posts from last week as they introduce themselves!

Author: Terry Brock

1 thought on “Field School Recap: Week 1, getting to know you…”

  • I love this blog. I’ve been at MSU since 1997, and never would have believed that train tracks ran behind Admin/Olds! Great finds this week, CAP MSU!

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