This past summer has been one of the busiest, if not the busiest, summers of my time as director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program. While we did not have a field school as we generally run them every other year, a remarkable discovery was …
Construction along Service Road in 2020 found a mid-20th-century midden. The artifacts found were associated with the history of temporary post-World War II student housing on Michigan State’s campus. After the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the GI Bill, became law, college enrollment increased …
This last summer, I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of CAP Crew, the group of MSU Archaeology (or archaeology-curious) students that conduct the compliance archaeology during the summer. Although, there is significantly more paperwork and lab work than there is fieldwork – alas, such is the life of an archaeologist. So, by the time we began work on the “Spartan Solar” project, we were all itching to get our trowels dirty.
The “Spartan Solar” construction project is planned by MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, and encompasses ~100 square acres of pastures between Jolly and Bennett off of Hagadorn. CAP researched the historical background of the area and identified several areas of high historic sensitivity. This brought those of us that were working on CAP crew away from non-air-conditioned classrooms and endless artifact forms (thank goodness) and finally out “into the field”.
When we got out there, we spent a few days walking and driving around each pasture to identify which area we would conduct our survey that season. Next, we established a survey grid in the pasture between Beaumont Road and Cattle Drive. Shovel test pits (STP) were placed at 15m intervals and when we found a significant level of materials in an STP, we dug radials at 7.5m intervals in cardinal directions from the positive STP. We excavated 61 shovel tests from June 22 to July 12, 2022. As someone who had dug very few STPs before the summer ’22 season, there was a decent learning curve when it came to digging efficiently.
Digging somewhere that is actively being used to raise animals is always super fun – you get to have many cute and fuzzy coworkers. Perhaps the highlight of the season was watching the farmers move a herd of cattle from one pasture to another, right through where we normally parked our cars!
As is typical in archaeological field work, one of our STPs was interesting enough to warrant us opening a full unit on the second to last day of the season. It seems that all the “cool” stuff hides until we are nearly out of time, which is frustrating and leaves you wanting a longer season! We spent the last day and a half excavating unit 1, taking turns practicing our shovel skimming in the different quadrants. Eventually, the amount and size of artifacts became too dense, and our trowels came out (finally). Even though hearing the word “archaeology” tends to make people think of Indiana Jones, we are certainly no treasure hunters. That said, it is always rewarding to find more than dirt and rocks!
This past summer, the Campus Archaeology program had the opportunity to offer a field school to archaeology students from MSU and across the state—our first field school since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Directly taking part in ongoing CAP research into life in the …
During archaeological excavations, some of the most ubiquitous artifacts unearthed are ceramic sherds that were once part of bowls, plates, vases, or other decorative pieces. It is relatively easy to appreciate the skills and techniques that go into the creation of meticulously crafted ceramic vessels. …
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 and MSU’s history that we can’t help but find ways to connect with our local community here so we can all understand and learn about our history together.
However, over the past year and a half, we’ve had to adjust our events – some were cancelled while others were transitioned to an online setting. In fact, we have only started back in person this semester and still have certain protocols in place to protect us and those that come to our events. And this has been a different experience for us, as we usually love the opportunity to answer questions and listen to stories from our participants. But during this process, we learned a lot more about tools available for online learning and how we can engage with all of you in a new way!
I (Rhian) got to work with our Campus Archaeologist, Jeff Burnett, last year to create the Virtual Haunted Tour twine. I had never encountered Twine before, but loved how we could create an interactive exhibit that provides more information than we are able to do in person! Plus, we could incorporate more primary sources of photos and information available through the university archives! I personally learned a lot making the Twine and I’m hopeful that others felt the same way when reading it.
Based on this experience, I started to think about how we could use digital outreach again this year as an educational tool for those who are interested in learning more about the process of archaeology. I am in the forensic anthropology program here at MSU and while I knew the methodology for forensic archaeology, I joined CAP specifically to get more experience with traditional archaeological methods – both in the field and in the lab. Now that I’m getting more familiar with the nuances of archaeology, I wanted to create a tool to help others out there like me, who also want to learn about archaeology!
So I am teaming up with another CAP Fellow, Aubree Marshall, to create a new Twine tool for learning archaeology! We will be creating two different Twines:
The first Twine will guide our users through one of our more famous excavations: Saints’ Rest! While many of you may be familiar with this site, as we found many exciting artifacts at this site, we will walk you through each step of the process over the years and why we used certain methods, tools, or protocols. We hope this can help everyone understand why we process sites in a formalized way – and how that helps us to preserve the context and association of the artifacts we find and understand their historical significance!
The second Twine will be a choose-your-own-adventure format! Based on an excavation we did this summer at Spartan Village, we will provide a practice scenario for all of you: at each step of the process, we will provide you with the information we are typically given regarding a site (e.g., MSU’s construction crews were digging and hit a bunch of artifacts!) and you will be able to choose what you should do in response (e.g., go out now, wait one hour, start in the morning, etc.). In this way, you will understand how we make choices as how to excavate a site without delaying construction while still doing our best to preserve the history of our campus.
Twine is often used for interactive fantasy/role player games online where players can choose their own character and then decide what path they choose in a hope to win the game! Because of its success in that format, we believe this choose-your-own-archaeology-adventure will be a great learning tool as anyone who goes through our Twine will learn via experience!
We will be working on writing the script for the Twines this semester and will begin piecing together the html code next semester – hopefully these will be available for next summer and we can’t wait to make them available for all of you!!
Campus Archaeology had an exciting summer field season, from the archaeological field school to field crew work across campus. We also hosted a class for Grandparent’s University and painted the MSU Rock! Below you can read more about each project. Archaeological Field School This summer …
Still searching for an archaeology field school for this summer? The Campus Archaeology Program will be offering a field school—right here on MSU’s campus—from May 13 to June 7, 2019.
A field school is one of the best ways to learn what it takes to be an archaeologist, because you learn by actually doing archaeology. CAP summer field school students will earn course credits while gaining hands-on experience and developing key archaeological skills: how to survey, excavate, and map sites, how to identify and interpret artifacts in the lab, how to record and communicate findings, and how to maintain and preserve cultural heritage.
Past CAP field schools on MSU’s historic campus have focused on a number of sites across the oldest area of campus known as the “Sacred Space,” a midden associated with construction from Professor Gunson’s house, and Station Terrace, a building that served many uses ranging from housing for bachelor faculty to a post office.
The 2019 summer field school will focus on the site of a historic homestead, located near present day Shaw Lane and Hagadorn Road on the eastern edge of main campus.
Over the past year, the CAP team has conducted archival research to learn more about the history of this area. Using documents such as U.S. Census records, plat maps, and deeds, we were able to discover how the land was used and who lived there from the mid-1800s to the time it became part of campus in the 1950s.
Peter Toolan and his family owned a strip of land between modern Hagadorn Road and Bogue Street (Plat Book of Ingham County, 1939). From at least 1870 until at least 1920 Peter, and later, his son Peter Jr., farmed land in Meridian Township (U.S. Census 1870-1920). After Peter Jr. died his sister, Mary Rogers, became the head of the household (U.S. Census 1940). Census records from 1940 indicate Mary rented space on the property to John Wesley and Lucy Westrom and Lawrence and Annie Bush (U.S. Census 1940). By 1953, the Westroms must have owned the Toolan property, because warranty deeds show that John Westrom and his son Chester transferred ownership of the land to the Michigan State Board of Agriculture in June of that year.
We also consulted historical maps and aerial photographs to learn about any potential buildings associated with these families. Within the investigation area planned for the field school, these documents show evidence of various structures on the Toolan property. A USGS topographic map of the East Lansing area shows that there was a structure on the property by at least 1909 (USGS 1909). However, since the Toolans were in the area since the 1870’s, a cabin or house could have been present there long before the map was made. The first moderately clear aerial photos of the area, from October 1953, show a house and possible outbuildings on the eastern edge of the Toolan property (MSU IPF). All of these structures appear to have been removed by 1965 (MSU IPF), probably to make way for Holmes Hall’s construction. Based on this evidence, we expect that structural remnants or historical artifacts dating from the 1870s to the 1950s are likely associated with the families living on the Toolan homestead.
CAP first began investigating this area during summer 2018 in response to construction projects taking place near the Shaw and Hagadorn intersection. In May, the CAP team conducted pedestrian and systematic shovel test pit surveys. The team recorded various artifacts including colored glass, milk glass, decorated and undecorated ceramics, bath tile, nails, medicine bottles, and butchered animal bones. In June CAP returned to host an Archaeology STEM camp for IB high school students at the site. Most of the artifacts found in May and June are consistent with dates between the mid to late 1800s and the 1950s, the period it was occupied by the Toolan and later the Westrom and Bush families.
We are excited to learn more about this site because it is one of the few known homesteads in the area that may have been in operation around the same time the university was founded and throughout its expansion. Investigation of this homestead can give us insight into the growth of campus and the surrounding city of East Lansing. As we continue work this summer we hope to find more artifacts and potentially locate structural remnants from the house associated with the Toolan, Westrom, and Bush families.
If you’re interested in joining the team for the 2019 field school, you can find more information and the application form here. Applications are due to CAP Director Dr. Stacey Camp (firstname.lastname@example.org) by March 1, 2019.
Michigan. Ingham County, Town of Meridian. 1870 U.S. Census, page 18.
Michigan. Ingham County, Meridian Township. 1920 U.S. Census, Sheet No. 9A.
Michigan. Ingham County, Meridian Township. 1940 U.S. Census, Sheet No. 20A.
United States Geological Survey. Michigan (Ingham County), Mason Quadrangle. Map. U.S. Department of the Interior. 1909. Accessed: http://historicalmaps.arcgis.com/usgs/
Plat book of Ingham County, Michigan. Meridian Township. Map. W.W. Hixon & Co. 1939. Accessed: http://www.historicmapworks.com/Atlas/US/31498/Ingham+County+1939c/
MSU Infrastructure, Planning, and Facilities (IPF) Public GIS. Accessed: https://apps.gis.msu.edu/facilities-information-tool/maps/campus/
- Aerial image, October 15th 1953
- Aerial image, 1965
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 …