Tag: education

3D Prints and Public Outreach: A Refit Activity

3D Prints and Public Outreach: A Refit Activity

In CAP this year, we’ve been brainstorming about public outreach activities. We’ve been focusing on activities for kids – who sometimes need a little extra help engaging with archaeological materials. This is my first year as a graduate student at MSU, and my first year 

Archaeology, Communities, and Civil Rights: A Review of the 2022 Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference

Archaeology, Communities, and Civil Rights: A Review of the 2022 Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference

As we near the end of the semester, I want to reflect on one of my favorite experiences of fall 2022: the Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference! This year’s conference was organized by: Dr. Michael S. Nassaney, Professor Emeritus of Western Michigan University; our own Director 

Walking Through MSU’s Culinary Past

Walking Through MSU’s Culinary Past

When COVID hit our campus, CAP was forced to rethink how we perform our community outreach. We needed new, innovative ways to engage and educate the public without requiring them to meet in large groups. One of the ways we did this was to transition our outreach to digital platforms. This led us to create a series of tours about MSU’s history through the archaeology and archives.

CAP is working with the Geocaching Adventure Lab smart phone application to create seasonal adventures around MSU campus based on different themes. Each tour will have 5 stops for explorers to visit and learn interesting facts about each location, as well as about any excavations CAP has performed at that site. Our first adventure tour, entitled Walking Through MSU’s Culinary Past, is being released today! This tour teaches explorers about the history of MSU’s foodways, including various aspects of food production and consumption.

The walking tour comprises five stops, including the Old East Lansing Dump, Beal’s Lab, the West Circle Privy, the Gunson home, and the MSU Dairy Store. Each stop has a georeferenced location allowing the Adventure Lab app to map users to each stop. You can visit the Old East Lansing Dump to learn about how campus residents consumed alcohol during prohibition or community dinners that took place at Gunson’s house.

When approaching each location, explorers will be presented with a brief history of the site followed by the archaeological connection. We describe any excavations that took place at the site, as well as the artifacts recovered and their significance to MSU’s culinary past. Explorers will also be presented with archived photographs of the site, such as the historic Gunson home and Diary Store, and images of the excavation and artifacts. Additionally, we included 3D models of notable artifacts associated with each location.

The tour will end at the MSU Dairy store where explorers can partake in MSU’s cuisine by stopping in to get a delicious ice cream! All of the stops are easily accessible from sidewalks and do not require locating any tangible objects away from the sidewalks. Explorers will simply navigate to the location and explore the digital resources from their phones!

Access our tour directly though the QR code linked here or search for the tour on the Geocaching Adventure Lab app! We hope this will be a good way for students, alumni, and local alike to get outside safely and learn about the work we do around campus. Please feel free to suggest tours you would like to see in the future! Have fun exploring Spartans!

Looking to Have a Good Twine? Get Ready for Our New Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Archaeology Twine!

Looking to Have a Good Twine? Get Ready for Our New Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Archaeology Twine!

Here at Campus Archaeology, we love outreach – just this past week, we presented at both Michigan Archaeology Day and at our annual Apparitions and Archaeology Tour! (Thank you to those who stopped by!) We love outreach so much because we are passionate about archaeology 

Guess That Artifact! The 2021 CAP Team Takes a Mystery Quiz

Guess That Artifact! The 2021 CAP Team Takes a Mystery Quiz

Welcome back to our CAP blog! As many of our readers know, CAP has many posts dedicated to the identification of artifacts and their relationship to MSU’s campus. While we love sharing the interesting things we find on campus, this got us thinking a little 

Emphasizing Laboratory Work in Archaeology: A New Outreach Activity

Emphasizing Laboratory Work in Archaeology: A New Outreach Activity

MSU’s Campus Archaeology Program is well known in our community for our public outreach events and our archaeological excavations. These activities allow our archaeologists to be visible members of our MSU community and gets us out of our laboratories so we can teach and dig! However, most of the work we do at CAP occurs behind the scenes, after excavations end and between outreach events we clean and catalog artifacts, we analyze these collections and research sites, the artifacts and historic landscapes we excavated, and we write about those projects. We want to share that side of our work with the community just as we do the excavations and the researched artifacts and have been working to develop outreach activities to bring the lab to the public.

Our idea was to produce a game which let people reconstruct ceramic vessels out of broken sherds, letting us talk about how most of the artifacts we find during excavations are fragmentary, not the whole vessels they see in the display boxes. We also thought it would help us demonstrate how archaeologists turn these fragments into whole objects, how difficult it can be, and how it helps archaeologists learn. We wanted to have a version of this game ready for Michigan Archaeology Day.    

Early 20th Century Mercer Pottery Co. “Bordeaux” Pattern https://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=5002

One common bit of lab work archaeologists do is reconstruct the ceramic pottery we find during our excavations. Only rarely do we find intact vessels or tableware, most often the objects we find are highly fragmented. Having only fragments makes it difficult to identify what the ceramic would have been used for (usually determined by its form and material) and when it would have been used (can determined by decoration). A great blog post by former CAP fellow Jeff Painter demonstrates the connections between refitting and identification for historic ceramics.

Archaeologists use artifacts to ask questions about the people who would have used them, to ask the most interesting questions we need try to get the most detailed information as possible. To transform the fragments into complete or nearly complete ceramics archaeologists work to refit, or reconnect, the pieces. It can be similar to working on a puzzle, except our puzzles are three-dimensional, most of the pieces are missing, and you have to use lots of glue – better not make a mistake or leave gaps!

Our Goals

Archaeologies actually get really excited when fragments of the same vessel fit together, or cross-mend, because we know we can use this information to better understand the site and the people who lived, visited, or worked there. We wanted our puzzle game to convey this experience, both the joy that comes from completing a refit and the new insights that come from seeing an intact vessel compared to a pile of fragments.

Our Design

To achieve our goals, we decided we would break actual, though non-archaeologically sourced, ceramics and use magnets to allow users to refit them without glue. We believed having actual ceramics which would hopefully hold their shape would best show the vessel’s form. To assist in this, we planned to prompt prospective puzzlers to guess if it was a plate, bowl, cup, chamber pot, etc. before they completed the refit and then ask the same question afterwards.

Our Build

We had to start out build by first breaking our newly purchased ceramics. Wearing safety googles and gloves, we dropped these into the sinks in our lab. Surprisingly, each one broke on the first drop, though the finer ceramics (porcelains) were so highly fragmented that they could not be used. Our suggestion is using other ceramics or possibly dropping them from a lower height, we will try this next time.

Next, we sanded the edges down so the edges would be smooth and safe, ceramics can cut like glass!

After that we drilled holes into the now smoothed edges, dropped in a small amount of super glue, inserted 0.1 inch diameter disk magnets, and added a coating of glue to the outside to help secure the magnets. It was important to ensure the magnets on the edges we wanted to refit were polar opposites, otherwise they pieces would repel and never cross-mend. Once or twice the small margents flipped on us and we had to extract and re-set them. We also experimented with putting magnets on one edge and ferrous metal fragments on its opposite, which saved time and drill bits, but was less secure then having magnets on both sides.

Playing the game

The game worked! The people who came to our table during Michigan Archaeology Day seemed to really enjoy the puzzle, though some were frustrated trying to figure out how it fit together, a feeling all archaeologists can empathize with. We hope they gained a better sense of what archaeologists do in the lab and all the work which occurs after excavations. Though we did not do an official survey, participants seemed to make more informed guesses as to the vessel’s form. When it was a pile of fragments many said they had no idea, but after working on it they often stated that our shallow bowl reconstruction looked like a bowl or it looked like a plate.


This design is a working prototype and throughout the construction process we learned that there is plenty of room for improvement.

  • The first area is that we need to locate softer paste ceramics, today’s kitchenware and porcelain are fired at incredibly high temperatures, meaning that their paste is incredibly hard, we quickly exhausted our supply of drill bits.
  • Secondly, and related to the first, we needed more magnets, especially for using curved bodied vessels, to ensure they hold up on their own. Because the ceramics we used were so hard, we put fewer magnets than we probably should have.
  • Thirdly, we need to make sure to drill the magnets deeper into the fabric of the pottery. If they extend to far out the pieces being to offset and large gaps appear. In addition to the refit appearing less fine, it also artificially increased the difficulty of the puzzle and reduced the structural integrity of the mended fragments.  
  • Lastly, people told us they were disappointed that we didn’t provide the entire ceramic for them to refit. Only having a portion of a vessel is a common frustration for archaeologists, but it was not one we were really expecting the puzzlers to feel and not something that we prioritized in our design. Our decision to use a section of the ceramic was related to the difficulty of drilling into the paste and the related time constraints. We will make sure our next version of this game includes ceramics which are more, if not entirely, complete.  


If you are looking forward to trying our new outreach activity and seeing how we have improved it the Campus Archaeology Program will be at MSU’s Science Fest in April 2020. Hope to see you there!

Scout’s Honor: We are getting a Girl Scout badge!

Scout’s Honor: We are getting a Girl Scout badge!

Over the past couple of months, Campus Archaeology has been in communications with Girl Scout Regional Program and Event Specialist, Bethany Wilson, to develop an archaeology badge for girl scouts across Michigan. We are elated about our new partnership! These annual events will be a 

Modeling the Past: Photogrammetry and Anthropological Research

Modeling the Past: Photogrammetry and Anthropological Research

For my CAP project this year, I decided to do something at which I feel I’m particularly good: creating 3D models of artifacts found during CAP excavations. I have been using digital technologies to render 3D models for about three years now and have created 

Creating a New Outreach Activity

Creating a New Outreach Activity

Those who follow us know that outreach is a big part of what we do in the Campus Archaeology Program. Every year, CAP participates in several public outreach events including Michigan Archaeology Day, Grandparents University, ScienceFest, and more. These events are important because it gives a chance talk to people in our community and raise awareness about what archaeologists do and why this work is important. We can also raise awareness of our program and show people that archaeology is everywhere – even in our own campus backyard.

In this photo, former Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright shows a large crowd of attendees some artifacts and explains the artifact memory matching game. 
This photo from Science Festival (2017) captures what most of our public outreach events are like. During a single event we may get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of people.

One of the most effective ways to engage people at these events is through fun, eye-catching educational activities. In the past we have had success with an artifact memory matching game. This month, however, CAP has been working to create a new outreach activity. Here are some steps in our thought process as we developed this new activity:

Step 1: Talk to our colleagues

CAP fellow Susan Kooiman helped put us in touch with Elizabeth Reetz and Chérie Haury-Artz at the Iowa Project Archaeology Program, who gave us some great ideas about activities they’ve used at their public outreach events. This was enormously helpful because it allowed us to consider activities that have already been field-tested for success.

One activity that appealed to us involved having participants place artifacts on a simplified stratigraphic map in order from most to least recent.

Step 2: Consider our goals

When we attend public outreach events, one of our goals is to create interest in the Campus Archaeology Program. Therefore, we wanted our activity to showcase some of things CAP encounters on campus. Another goal is to educate participants about archaeology. As such, we wanted an activity that gets people thinking like archaeologists.

The stratigraphy activity meets both of these goals. For one, this activity introduces a key concept in archaeology in a simple, visual manner. We can make it relevant to CAP by choosing artifacts we have actually found on MSU’s campus and creating a stratigraphic profile reflective of what we encounter on campus.

Step 3: Think about logistics

The best way to learn is by doing. As much as we’d love to give participants a chance to do an excavation, this is obviously impractical. Therefore, we had to consider several factors to develop a reasonable activity. One factor is time. In order to reach as many people as possible, we wanted to develop an activity that can be explained and done relatively quickly. Another factor is space. We wanted to build the activity such that it can be adapted to a small space if necessary.

The stratigraphy activity fits both of these needs. Most participants should be able to place 3-5 artifacts in under a minute. This will prevent long lines and allow many people to participate. We are also designing the stratigraphic profile specifically so it fits on a standard tabletop. This will allow us to have two or more stations going at once, depending on the amount of space we are provided at an event.

Step 4: Think about design

The design of an activity is also important to consider. One factor we considered is durability. We wanted to build our activity to withstand some wear and tear. For this reason we decided to make our profile out of felt, which is less easily ripped than paper and can be folded for storage. We are also using laminated photos of real artifacts so that everyone—CAP volunteers and participants alike—can enjoy the activity without fear of breaking the physical objects.

Current Campus Archaeologist Autumn Painter takes photos of artifacts to use in the stratigraphy activity.

Another factor we considered is participants’ abilities. People of all ages attend these events, so we wanted to design an activity that is suitable for young children but that can also be adapted to appeal to older attendees. As such, we tried to select a variety of items that will allow us to provide participants with an appropriate challenge.

Step 5: Build the new activity

This week we selected and photographed artifacts from the CAP Lab to use for the activity. Our next step will involve sewing the stratigraphy map together based on our hand-drawn design.

Sketch of our design for the stratigraphy activity.

Step 6: Debut at Michigan Archaeology Day!

Come check out our new activity for yourself! We plan to debut our new activity at Michigan Archaeology Day. This event will take place from 10AM to 4PM on October 13th at the Michigan History Museum.

Author: Mari Isa

Summer 2018 Recap

Summer 2018 Recap

This summer was an eventful one for the Campus Archaeology Program field crew! We monitored construction, conducted several pedestrian and shovel test surveys, excavated one test unit, conducted lab analysis, and helped with the IB STEM archaeology camp and grandparents university. Plus, we uncovered an