Spring classes have ended, thousands of people have graduated, and a relative calm has spread over the campus. While many people kick back and relax over their summer vacation, this is the busy season for us here at CAP. During the summer we’re busy excavating, …
In continuation of my semester-long research project on Beaumont West, MSU’s sole prehistoric site excavated by CAP, I have entered the initial stages of report writing. This requires not only the results of the artifact analyses, but also the details of the site excavation so …
The summer field season has started out pretty busy this year. During our first day of monitoring the fourth phase of the North Campus Infrastructure Improvements, we received a call from Granger regarding some bricks that were found by the Museum. They were beginning to open up a large pit to remove and replace a steam tunnel junction underneath the Museum’s West Circle parking lot. The bricks were covered by a layer of concrete and remained insitu, mortar and all. Nearby this feature we found a large amount of concrete, brick, stone, and metal rubble. We did a quick rescue to record and learn what we could from the find as it had to be removed to progress the steam replacement.
I spent some time before construction began making some maps of the affected area using overlays with historic maps of the area and the locations of current buildings, sidewalks, and roads. Based on the maps I made, we are pretty sure the wall and rubble we found near the Museum was part of Williams Hall, which burned down in 1919.
Following the Williams Hall discovery, we continued to monitor by the Museum as well as the pulling up of the parking lot in front of and the sidewalks around Olds Hall. We also dug some test pits in the green space to the east of Olds Hall as well as underneath the parking lot located between Olds Hall and the Main Library. Neither of the surveys revealed anything of concern, although we began finding brick, cement, glass, nails, and other metal underneath the sidewalks around Olds Hall.
A couple of days following the Williams Hall discovery, a series of bricks that looked like a corner was found while we were digging shovel test pits underneath some of the sidewalks by Olds Hall. We opened the area up a bit and realized that the bricks were still arranged like a wall with an ash-heavy soil on one side that was full of nails, metal, and glass. There was also a large amount of loose bricks, mortared-stone, and cement around the wall. We dug down on the other side to find that after a few courses, the bricks stop at a layer of cement that continued into the bottom of our unit. We also chased the wall to either end until we found where the bricks stopped. After cleaning up and documenting, as well as consulting the maps I made, we believe it was a wall from the old engineering shops that burned down with the original engineering building.
We started the second week of the summer off right with some grilled cheeses from the MSU Dairy Store! We are currently working in the lab to finish up accessioning and cataloging artifacts from last summer and those we have from this summer so far. We are also continuing to monitor the steam tunnel construction and will keep you posted of any further developments!
Author: Josh Schnell
For those of us who have been involved in Campus Archaeology for a while, it is hard to believe that it has already been almost a decade since the first MSU excavation occurred. In honor of this, we are beginning the 2015 year by looking …
On November 24th, Turkey’s president Erdogan declared that women are not equal to men. However, the specific statement that rung across the archaeological community was “You cannot tell them [women] to go out and dig the soil. This is against their delicate nature”. Archaeologists, both …
Greetings gentle readers. I have admittedly procrastinated the writing of this blog post. In my procrastination, I stumbled upon a buzzfeed.com post (link below) referencing a recent interview with actor Nick Offerman in which he was asked about his preplanned funeral arrangements. His brilliant response involved an elaborate, if inventive, recreation of a Viking burial ritual, flaming arrows, and Chris Pratt. Last year I read a book chapter that cited a detailed eyewitness description of a Viking funeral, but one which included neither fiery missiles nor a burning longboat welcoming the deceased to the Great Beyond (Parker Pearson 1999). I am a touch disappointed that history seems to lack this dramatic theatrics, but I digress. I was reminded of the never-ending discussion among archaeologists regarding the public’s perception of archaeology and the past. We are often mistaken for paleontologists or are asked even more frequently if we own a fedora and/or bullwhip.
The Campus Archaeology Program at MSU has consistently maintained a visible presence, whether by social media or fieldwork on campus. By frequently updating the website with our findings or participating in events such as the annual Michigan Archaeology Day, we not only inform the public about what it is that archaeologists do, but also generate interest in MSU’s rich history. I remember my excitement at learning about CAP when I first came to MSU. My undergraduate institution did not have a similar program, nor have I heard of other universities having archaeology programs that focus work specifically on university history. I have only conducted fieldwork with CAP a few times and was initially a bit surprised but always excited when passersby visited our work areas. Some would briefly stop and ask if we had found anything exciting before continuing their day, but many would stay for several minutes and ask questions about what we were looking for, why we were excavating in a given space, etc. A few even participated in screening soil for artifacts. It was always apparent that students and non-students alike take a special interest in Michigan State’s heritage and hold it as a source of university pride.
My primary project for CAP this year involves determining a suitable location to hold the 2015 Campus Archaeology field school. The project will involve a combination of archival research and shovel testing across campus. Current areas of interest include the botanical gardens, the Forestry Cabin once located at People’s Park, and an area of the River Trail near the administration building that yielded what appears to be a large trash pit comprised mostly of discarded lab equipment. In the weeks to come, you may see us around campus with our shovels and screens digging away. If you do, feel free to stop by with any questions or if time permits you could even help us uncover, preserve, and share our university’s heritage.
We hope to see you soon.
Author: Josh Burbank
Parker Pearson, Mike. 1999. The Archaeology of Death and Burial. Texas A&M University Press,
Link to Buzzfeed article: http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/nick-offerman-has-already-planned-
*Disclaimer: The Offerman interview includes a single instance of profanity at the end.
As our archaeological investigation of People’s Park continues, so does our archival investigation. As Adrianne explained in our last blog one of the motivating factors behind our shovel test survey of People’s Park was pinpointing the location of the Chittenden Memorial Cabin; however there were …
For the past two weeks, we have been surveying in Munn Field prior to the installation of new astroturf. Last week, a test pit on the western side of the field caused some excitement! It revealed a puzzling amount of iron wire. The wire didn’t start appearing until about 50cm down and increased in frequency until about 60-70cm where what looked like a floor of wire was revealed. We opened up the pit a little more to investigate further and found even more wire as we dug. The “floor” was still covering the bottom of the pit so we decided to open it up even more by setting up a 1-meter by 1-meter excavation unit. As we dug this out, we were finding even more wire, some nails, glass, and other metal bits and upon reaching the wire “floor” we realized it wasn’t actually a floor at all but rather clusters of bundled wire. Some of the wire was braided together, other pieces were looped together, but most of it came out in bundles consisting of numerous strands of wire bound together by several other pieces wrapped around the rest.
Upon removal of these bundles we found pockets of ashy, burnt soil mixed in with this layer of wire. Slag and charcoal were also found throughout this layer in the unit. Underneath the wire, we found several horseshoes, including one fused one, remnants of what appears to have once been a metal box, a Benzedrine inhaler, a math compass, an iron clip, a milk bottle base from a Lansing creamery, more nails, more wire, and a portion of a doll’s face! As can be seen, the unit proved to be very puzzling. Nothing quite seemed to go together and there was really no discernible strata or profile at this layer. Our research at the archives revealed that Munn Field used to be home to several barns, a horse track, and also served as the ROTC drill field for a time. However, what we were finding didn’t really fit into any of those scenarios, or at least not obviously.
One of our team members suggested that it might have something to do with a blacksmith servicing the horses kept on the field. There was some evidence to suggest this, namely the staggering amounts of wire, chunks of metal resembling iron ingots, the horseshoes, and some tools including the compass and the clip. After some research around the internet, I think it is possible that some of these things were used in blacksmithing or in MSU’s machine shop. Based on the Benzedrine inhaler and prior archival research, we are pretty sure that this find would have been from the 1930s-40s. From that time period, the iron we were finding would have likely been wrought iron. After smelting, wrought iron is turned into one of several forms of bar iron for transport and turning into finished materials. One of those forms, rod iron, is used as the raw material for nails and those who read our blog regularly should know that nails are no small part of our finds here on campus! However, the size of the wire we found is a little on the small side for it to be rod iron kept around for working later on. That doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility if blacksmith activity though.
When smithing wire, the iron is pulled through increasingly smaller draw plates, usually made of wrought iron during this period. We found a piece of metal that we had initially thought was part of a door hinge, but it very well might be a draw plate used for smithing wire.
What I think is most likely is that we found a trash pit used during Munn Field’s occupation by the ROTC program. The overall structure of the feature and the artifacts we recovered suggest that this was all trash. The wire was disposed of is loose bundles which would make transporting large amounts of wire easy. The fact that some of the wire was braided and looped makes me think they were meant to be discarded even more. Braiding wires is a method of creating wire rope, which before the widespread availability of steel, was usually made form wrought iron. Some of the wire we recovered was half braided, and some of it was braided and looped at the end, a form of terminating wire rope that we know today as a Flemish Eye. All of this, the braids, the loops, and the straight wire, was all bundled together loosely in several large bundles. The range of materials we recovered, from wire to milk bottles, inhalers to doll parts, makes me increasingly confident that what we found was a discard pile.
What do you think? Evidence of blacksmithing or a trash pit?
Author: Josh Schnell