Tag: excavation

Recording History (by Olivia Cardinell)

Recording History (by Olivia Cardinell)

The importance of archaeological excavations revolve around the drive to uncover forgotten, and missing pieces of history; my time with Michigan State’s Campus Archaeology Program aided in doing just that. I worked alongside Dr. Stacey Camp and 12 other CAP crew members to dig up 

Campus Archaeology Director (Dr. Stacey Camp) Belated Fall 2023 Update

Campus Archaeology Director (Dr. Stacey Camp) Belated Fall 2023 Update

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 

Doing the Dishes: Institutional Ceramics from the Service Road Collection

Doing the Dishes: Institutional Ceramics from the Service Road Collection

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 in the United States (Dressel 1987). This required more housing on campus, especially for married students, many of whom had families (Offices of Board of Trustees and President 1944).

During the summer of 2021, I worked on the Campus Archaeology summer crew. On rainy days, we worked in the lab, cleaning and cataloging materials from Service Road. While cataloging, we noticed a lot of underglaze, decal-decorated institutional-ware ceramics with similar patterns. By the end of the summer, we identified four distinct decorative patterns, which we named MSU Green Band, Esquire, Mobile, and Cross Stitch. These would have been used in dining halls, and their decorative styles allowed us to learn more about the places on campus where these ceramics would have been used. Additionally, we were able to find distinct dates for the ceramics based on the maker’s marks and date codes, when present. Date codes allow for a level of granularity in our analyses that is rare with other kinds of artifacts, providing a means to trace shifting patterns of institutional requisition.

Maker's mark with red arrow pointing to the date code.
Ceramic plate with the Shenango China Company maker’s mark. The date code is indicated by the red arrow.

MSU Green Band

The MSU Green Band design is named for the single green line just below the rim. Additionally, on some vessels the institution’s seal is located just below the green band. This pattern was used on dining hall dishes for much of the 20th century. Based on our preliminary analyses, it appears this design may have been gradually replaced by the Esquire pattern.

Two versions of the MSU Green Band design are pictured. As Michigan State shifted from College to University in 1955; the MSU Green Band design shifted as well, which can be seen reflected in the two distinct seals pictured in the examples provided above. MSU seems to have ordered this design from multiple companies, and the examples in the Service Road collection were produced by either the Shenango China Company or the Mayer China Company. MSU Green Brand was the most enduring ceramic style in the Service Road collection, with maker’s marks indicating a date range of 1950 to 1963. The MSU Green Band design is the most represented of the four ceramic types, comprising the majority of ceramics recovered from the site.


Mug with a broken handle, the Esquire design runs below the rim.
Mug with a broken handle, the Esquire design runs below the rim.

A second decorative pattern identified in the Service Road collection has been named ‘MSU Esquire’. The Esquire pattern takes its name from a similar Shenango China design called “Esquire.” Relative to the original Shenango design, the vessels recovered from the Service Road landfill had rectangular spiral designs rather than squares, and the laurels extend along longer stretches of the design (Replacements 2021). It seems likely that MSU commissioned a distinct version of the Esquire pattern for the university, though we have not been able to locate records to corroborate this. Our preliminary analyses suggest this design may have gradually replaced the MSU Green Band design.


Cup with the Mobile design running from rim to the center of the body.
Cup with the Mobile design running from rim to the center of the body.

The Mobile design consists of a fading grey band along the rim and a singular black and grey baby “mobile” motif that then extends from the rim to the larger undecorated portion of the vessel. The Shenango China Company created these ceramics, and the dates for this vessel range from 1951 to 1961. This pattern was created specifically for MSU’s new Kellogg Center for Continuing Education (Pratt 2003:116).

Cross Stitch

Cup with the Cross-Stitch design running below the rim.
Cup with the Cross-Stitch design running below the rim.

The last design found was Cross Stitch (Arthus 1955). The pattern consists of squares arranged in a floral motif, resembling traditional cross-stitching patterns. The stems and leaves are green, with blue and red alternating flowers; these designs run below the rim. The Cross Stitch design had Shenango and Mayer China maker’s marks. Compared to other designs discussed here, we recovered substantially fewer examples of the cross-stitch pattern. The few finely-dateable examples of this pattern in the Service Road collection were produced between 1958 and 1959, though we know from the archival photo below that use of this pattern at the university extends back to at least 1948.

Women being served on Cross-Stitch design ceramics, which are circled in red.
Women being served on Cross-Stitch design ceramics, which are circled in red. Dated January 15th, 1948. Photo courtesy: MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

This archival photograph of dining service at Landon Hall features this pattern, suggesting that it was used in women’s dining halls alongside other patterns like the MSU Green Band (also pictured). Given this photographic evidence and gendered imagery incorporated into the design, this pattern may have been exclusive to women’s dining halls (Michigan State University 1960; UAHC 2021).

Final thoughts

The ceramics found in the Service Road midden were used in several distinct areas of campus, ranging from dining halls to the Kellogg Center. The abundance of complete and near-complete dishes in the Service Road collection allowed us to begin serializing ceramics used on campus in the mid-twentieth century. Being able to identify different ceramic designs utilized across MSU’s campus supports future CAP research efforts, as we now have a better sense of when and where on campus they were utilized.


Arthus, Gerard (1930) Mayer China: Illustrated Book of Decorations, No. 10. Mayer China Company, Beaver Falls, PA.

Dressel, Paul (1987). College to University: The Hannah Years at Michigan State, 1935-1969. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI.

Michigan State University (1960) “The Helot: Student Handbook”, Michigan State University Publications, East Lansing, Michigan. Available online, https://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/162-565-2184/student-handbook-1960/, accessed December 23, 2021.

Offices of Board of Trustees and President (1944) Meeting Minutes, December 21, 1944. UA 1. University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Pratt, Michael E. 2003. Mid-Century Modern Dinnerware: A Pictorial Guide: Red Wing to Winfield. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub.

Replacements (2021) “Esquire”, Webpage, Replacements Ltd. https://www.replacements.com/china-shenango-esquire/c/117007, accessed November 4, 2021

University Archives and Historical Collections [UAHC] (2012) “Quonset Village”, blog, Archives @ MSU, July 9, 2012. https://msuarchives.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/quonset-village/, accessed December 29, 2021.

Summer fun with “Spartan Solar”

Summer fun with “Spartan Solar”

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 – 

A Look Back at CAP’s 2022 Field School

A Look Back at CAP’s 2022 Field School

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 

Getting ‘Ghosted’: Calamitous Clay Creations from the Outré Outhouse

Getting ‘Ghosted’: Calamitous Clay Creations from the Outré Outhouse

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. Even in the cases of plainer wares whose value comes from their utilitarian style, there is still an immense amount of training and proficiency required by the individual at the potter’s wheel.

Variety of decorated ceramic sherds from Gunson site.
A variety of decorated ceramic sherds from Gunson site (also excavated in 2015) showing some of the more stylistic and detailed artifacts typically found in historical archaeological excavations and on MSU’s campus. Photo by Jeff Painter (https://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=5002).

The CAP archaeological collections contain thousands of ceramic sherds that exhibit exquisite designs, motifs, and the utmost finesse in their creation. Within these assemblages are fragments from a few terracotta flowerpots that absolutely do not display any of these characteristics. AT ALL. WHATSOEVER. In fact, these vessels look like they had the “help” of Patrick Swayze as they were on the potter’s wheel, all the while “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers crooned in the background. In other words, these flowerpots look like they got “Ghosted”. Although this description may sound disparaging, it is truly not intended to be as such. In fact, it is the belief of the author that this flowerpot fiasco, this terracotta transgression, this clay catastrophe, this misshapen malady of moistened minerals (I have more) actually brings the human aspect back into the cultural and historical significance of these forgotten faux pas.

These flowerpot fragments were found during the 2015 excavation of the Saints’ Rest privy, the outhouse associated with the first dorm on campus that burned down in 1876. Based on other artifacts found within the privy, it is obvious that it was used as a convenient disposal area for unwanted or broken items, most of which date to the mid-late 19th century (see numerous other blogs on the CAP website discussing the privy finds). It appears that this was the same fate that befell the terracotta flowerpots discussed here, and one in particular. It is unknown whether they were dropped down the privy because of cracks in the vessel walls, or possibly due to disappointment in how they came out of the kiln. However, their presence in the undisturbed midnight soil meant that one of the vessels could be fully reconstructed by the author.

3D model of the flowerpot created by the author, Jack A. Biggs using Agisoft Metashape. You can also access the model on the Sketchfab website by clicking here.

While most flowerpots have straight walls that terminate at the rim, the one seen in the 3D model above clearly bulges near the base, giving it a somewhat lumpy appearance. The bulging indicates that the pot started to collapse while the clay was still wet. Wide and spiraling grooves about the width of a finger can be seen on the internal surface. These grooves probably occurred as the potter tried to pull the clay upwards to both widen the pot and make it taller, but accidentally applied too much force. As a result, the walls near the base became too thin and weak to support the weight of the thicker and wetter clay above. In other words, this sad vessel was doomed to collapse.

Compounding the weakened walls are two areas just above the bulges where the walls are slightly pinched in. These are located roughly on opposite sides of the pot from one another. This suggests that the pot was stuck to the bat (the spinning disc where the clay is thrown) and the potter grabbed it with a little too much force to remove it. Subsequently, indentations were formed with their thumb and another finger on opposite sides of the pot. It is also equally possible that grabbing the pot off the bat caused the bulging in the walls. The already weakened walls near the base were on the brink of collapse, but the catalyst for their failure may have occurred as it was removed too forcefully from the bat.

Screenshots of the flowerpot 3D model. The image on the left shows the external surface of the pot with the bulging wall (indicated by the blue arc) and the indentation just above it (indicated by the red arc). The right image shows the internal aspect of the pot with the indentation just above the red arc. Also notice the spiral grooves on the internal aspect near the base that weakened the overall structure.

Other interesting aspects of this flowerpot are the presence of thumb- or fingerprints as well as (likely) unintentional textures made by the wet hands of the potter that were still covered in sticky clay. This could have been made in the process of removing the pot from the bat or placing it on a shelf to dry. However, as these marks are not all over the pot, it is clear that they were not intentional and could have easily been smoothed off. It is in the author’s honest opinion that after the collapse of the walls, the potter probably saw these fingerprints and other marks and thought “I’m too angry to care about making it look pretty at this point…”

Smudges and fingerprints left over by the potter. The left image shows where hands wet with sticky clay left behind slightly raised lines. The right image shows where the potter grabbed or attempted to smooth an area, only to leave behind striations from their finger- or thumbprints.

Lastly, and despite the numerous ‘unintentional traits’, the rim of the flowerpot has decorative grooves and is smoothed and rounded off. This was likely done in the ‘leather hard’ stage where the clay is still wet so that it can be sculpted, but dry and sturdy enough that it will not collapse (any further). Although not perfect and following the narrative the author is unjustifiably weaving, these finishing touches suggest that maybe the potter had an emotional cooling off period while it was drying. Perhaps they decided to finish and take pride in their work despite the flaws that almost made them want to throw the collapsing pot on the studio floor.

Screenshot of the flowerpot 3D model showing the decorative grooves and smoothed rim.

There is no way of knowing who the individual was that made this flowerpot, but they clearly left their mark. Many of the artifacts we find in archaeological digs so rarely have such a personal touch to them. Artifacts on display at museums generally represent the pinnacle of artistic achievement, unmatched skill, or the finalized and perfected form of an object. The “mistakes” and “works in progress” do not usually receive the spotlight.

It is very unlikely that this flowerpot was ever sold or even given as a gift (unless it was to a family member…a very close family member who loved it because of who made it…not necessarily because of the way it looked…). This means it was possibly used by the actual person who made it, specifically because it looked “Ghosted” (i.e. no one else would probably want it). Accompanying this misshapen flowerpot are the emotions that the potter could have felt had while making it. They may have been just learning how to work with clay, so this vessel represented the exploration of a new hobby and the joy of being able to create something. Conversely, it may represent anger and frustration as they saw their hard work begin to collapse in front of their eyes. The author can also confirm that both these emotions occur simultaneously as a very similar scenario played out when they took a beginner’s ceramic class many years ago. Whatever the case, this frumpy little flowerpot has a much more human connection than the vast majority of the artifacts in the CAP collections. This is especially true because it has the literal fingerprints of its creator on it.

While this misshapen goblin of a flowerpot might not have the sophisticated execution compared to some of the more artisanal examples in the CAP collections, it undoubtedly has much more personality. Its life history can be more readily interpreted since its flaws are closely connected to the emotions its maker likely felt. Whatever the reason for being unceremoniously placed (or perhaps ritually deposited) in their final resting place, these ceramics with spunk bring a fun and more easily understood human component to the cultural history of Michigan State University.

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 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Greetings! For those of you just joining our blog for the first time, I am Dr. Camp, the Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program (CAP). I am entering my 5th year here at MSU, and my 13th teaching as a tenure track faculty member 

Summer 2019 Re-CAP

Summer 2019 Re-CAP

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 Dr. Stacey Camp taught a 4-week archaeological field school that took place on Michigan State University’s campus. We had 15 students, and 2 volunteers participate! The field school focused on learning more about a historic homestead that was located on the corner of Shaw Lane and Hagadorn Road. You can learn more about this area’s history in a previous blog post.

The field school students were taught archaeological field methods in addition to learning how to conduct archival research, use digital technology (KoBoToolbox) to record data, artifact drawing, how to make 3D artifact models using photogrammetry, and how to identify and research artifacts.

Munsell also visited the field school to show us a few of their products and see how we typically use their soil color book. The products they brought and taught us about included their new Munsell CAPSURE Color Matching Tool! You can read more about their visit in our Color Me Excited blog post.

We will be posting blogs written field school students about their experience throughout the year.

Field Crew Work

The CAP field crew worked all across campus during the summer, from the Brody Neighborhood construction to the South River Trail sidewalks near the Business College Complex. Most of the work that took place by the CAP crew was for construction mitigation.

These projects included monitoring construction taking place near the Brody Neighborhood Complex and shovel test excavations for the Munn Ice Arena renovations, Williams Hall sidewalks, Parking Lot 7 sidewalks, Student Services sidewalks, and the South River Trail sidewalks. The CAP crew used the South River Trail sidewalk project to teach the archaeological field school students how to conduct shovel test pit surveys.

In addition to construction mitigation, the CAP Crew finished field research project on the Sanford Natural Area historic Sugar House. A report on the results of this research will be available on our website later this fall!

Grandparent’s University

This year, Grandparent’s University participants in our History Beneath Our Feet: The Archaeology of MSU class learned about the archaeological field school that took place, and then assisted us in cleaning artifacts uncovered just weeks before from MSU’s campus. We also had coloring pages, 3D artifact models, a stratigraphy game, and artifacts available for the participants to interact with!

Painting the Rock

The MSU Rock painted by the Campus Archaeology Program field crew.

In order to promote the MSU Campus Archaeology Program and the archaeological field school taking place on campus, the CAP crew painted the famous MSU Rock. The 3D model made of the rock was then included as the final artifact #ArchaeologyofMSUin20 series.

Stay tuned to learn about our 2019-2020 Graduate Fellows and undergraduate interns!

Author: Autumn Painter

Introducing the Site of the 2019 CAP Summer Field School

Introducing the Site of the 2019 CAP Summer Field School

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